Consumer Advisory: Harrisburg, PA, Attorney General Corbett cautions consumers about “mystery shopper” counterfeit check scam
Corbett said the scam mailing typically includes an official-looking notice informing consumers that they have been selected to participate in a “secret shopper” or “mystery shopper” program, where consumers are paid to make purchases at stores and then evaluate the service they received. Consumers are told that they can earn several hundred dollars for each shopping assignment they complete, and the scam mailings imply that the secret shopper program is affiliated with retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, JC Penney and other major chains.
“This scam draws consumers in with an offer of ‘easy money’ – getting paid to shop,” Corbett said. “In reality, consumers are being ‘paid’ with counterfeit checks, and are being asked to electronically transfer money to scam artists, often operating outside the country.”
Corbett said the mystery shopping scam typically asks consumers to evaluate a money transfer using a MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfer as part of their first “training assignment.” A check is normally included with the mystery shopper mailing, which consumers are instructed to deposit in their bank account to cover the cost of their first shopping assignment.
Corbett explained that consumers are often promised earnings of $500 to $800 per week for future shopping assignments, if they successfully complete their training. Consumers are also told that they must keep the nature of their work completely confidential, in order to avoid alerting businesses that they are being evaluated and to preserve the “integrity” of the mystery shopper program.
Corbett said the typical scam instructs consumers to wire-transfer $3,000 to $4,000, often to an address in Canada. Consumers are told that they are sending the money to a training supervisor or account manager, who will evaluate the consumer’s potential as a full-time mystery shopper. After completing the electronic transfer, consumers are asked to immediately send a copy of the MoneyGram or Western Union receipt to a fax number provided in the initial mailing.
Corbett noted that the scam artists are attempting to take advantage of a time-delay between when you deposit their check, and when your bank discovers that the check is actually counterfeit. In some cases, this could take several days, allowing unsuspecting consumers to transfer money long before they discover that the original check was counterfeit – and that consumers are responsible for repaying missing money to the bank.
Corbett said that modern computer and printer technology allows scam artists to generate extremely realistic checks, forms and letters. He urged consumers to look beyond the authentic appearance of any documents, or the attraction of quick money, to identify the basic framework of all these scams.
“Alarm bells should go off in your head any time someone sends you a check, along with a request that you deposit the check in your bank and wire-transfer a certain amount of that money to another person,” Corbett said. “Whether it’s a mystery shopper offer, payment for an online auction, a classified ad, or some other transaction – scam artists are hoping that you send them money quickly, without thinking about the offer, and fall for a deal that’s too good to be true.”