Mystery Shoppers

One of the more common frauds today are bogus mystery shopper, or secret shopper, jobs.  The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles on December 6 announced convictions of a Canadian couple that had been running this fraud from Toronto.  Idris Nuradin got 27 months in federal prison, and his wife spent eight months in prison and was released for time served.  Here is the press release: canadian-telemarketers-nuradin-gayad-sent-299    And article on this case in Canada.

What is mystery shopping?

Businesses do hire people to go to stores and evaluate customer service or the prices being offered by their own stores or those of competitors, but these are not terribly well paying jobs. Often these involve fast food companies.

In fact, the Federal Trade Commission shut down a company advertising nationally several years ago claiming people could make make $200-$500 per week being a mystery shopper – if they signed up with the company for a $100 fee.  It was bogus – you don’t need to pay anyone to get such a job, and there were not nearly as many mystery shopping jobs available as the company claimed. Here is information that case. /marketers-mystery-shopper-scam-settle-ftc-agree-pay-850000

 

Those truly interested in mystery shopping opportunities might want to take a look at this article.   And there is a trade association for this industry, the Mystery Shopper Providers (MSPA).

What is the scam?

There are a variety of scams that rely on fake checks to rip people off. The Federal Trade Commission received nearly 15,000 complaints about fake checks in 2015.  In the case of the Nuradins, they contacted victims by mail offering recipients jobs as mystery shoppers, and enclosed checks, some of which purported to be from Warner Brothers.  Victims were directed to deposit the check into their own checking account, then to mystery shop Wal-Mart.  Every US Wal-Mart has a MoneyGram counter.  Consumers were told to wire transfer part of the money from the check they had received, write up a report on their experience at the store, and keep the “remainder” as their pay.  But the checks were fake, and victims had simply sent their own money to the crooks.  Wal-Mart has told me that it never hires mystery shoppers.  I’ve seen a number of cases where the fake check was for the sum of $5000, and victims were directed to wire $4600 and keep the “remainder” as their pay.

How do fake checks work?

The frauds obtain checks used by real businesses, perhaps by the theft of mail, scan them into computers, and then print them on check stock.  The check may have the real name and account number of a real company, but any phone numbers on the check will be numbers answered by the frauds. Many of these are cashier’s checks, which most people believe are as good as cash.

When you deposit a check, federal banking rules require the bank to credit the money to your account very quickly, between 1 day (for cashier’s checks) and five days (for many others).    So victims see that the money is in their bank account, and presume that means that the check is valid.  But it is not.  It takes 10 days or more for the actual physical check to move through the system before the banking system determines whether the check is real or counterfeit.

Of course by that time the victim has sent money through Western Union or MoneyGram. The bank does not eat the loss – they simply subtract the funds from the victim’s bank account.  Some fake check victims have even been arrested themselves for using a counterfeit check.

Fake checks are used in a variety of frauds, a subject which will be the subject of a separate article soon.  For more about fake checks see fakechecks.org.

How can you tell if a check is fake?

Never call the phone number on the check. That will be answered by someone assisting with the fraud.  Instead find the real phone number of the company yourself and call.  Even then, I would recommend waiting at least two weeks before spending the money from the check.

How does this fraud contact victims?

In the case above, they simply sent these offers by mail.  Today they also offer these jobs on internet job boards, through email offers, facebook, and many other ways.  But they all involve sending a check.

 Tips to avoid frauds

  • Those interested in mystery shopping jobs should make sure they are dealing with a reputable company. The MSPA has information here.

 

  • NEVER send money through Western Union or MoneyGram to anyone you have not met in person.   It is like sending cash. Once the money has been picked up there is no way to get your money back.
  • Try doing an internet search on the check, such as “fake check warner brothers.” You may find other victims that have receive similar checks for the same type of fraud.
  • See the section on filing a complaint on this web site. It is also very important to be sure and also complain directly to Western Union or MoneyGram. They know where the money was actually picked up. (You know where you were told to send it; that is not necessarily where it was received).

 

Steve Baker

December 15, 2016

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