How about going shopping and getting paid to do it? With so many Americans out of work – or under-employed – it’s alluring to think of being able to go to a store, spend someone else’s money, and get paid to do so. But consumers are complaining to BBB that some mystery shopper job offers are nothing more than scams involving counterfeit checks.
Here’s what happens – letters claim that consumers have been selected to work as a mystery shopper, going to stores, buying items, and reporting on the customer service. The letter tells which stores to go to. A reporting form is enclosed, along with a check, usually between about $1,000 and $4,000.
The consumer is instructed to deposit the check and make purchases. For one purchase, consumers are told to go to Western Union or MoneyGram and wire most of the amount of the check to a certain address. The balance of the check amount supposedly is the consumer’s pay for doing the mystery shopping.
Recently a consumer asked BBB Dallas about an offer from a business in New York City. A check was enclosed. The consumer was told to spend $100 at either Wal Mart, Macy’s, Sears, Best Buy, Kroger, or Walgreens, and keep the items. He was also told to “evaluate” Western Union by wiring $1,425 to a person supposedly in Spain. His pay would be $350 out of the original money deposited in his bank account.
The problem in this type of scam is that the check sent to the consumer turns out to be counterfeit. The check may look very real, and the bank might even accept it at first. But soon the bank determines that it’s counterfeit, and if the consumer has already wired the money, then the consumer is on the hook to pay back the money to the bank.
The Dallas man was suspicious, so he checked with his bank and learned the check was invalid. “If I had not waited to see if the check cleared, I would be out $1,425 of my own money!” he said.
Mystery shopping scams involving fake checks are very widespread, and the scammers are always changing the business names, addresses and phone numbers on the letters and on the fake checks. Very often the scammers use business names and addresses that are the same or nearly the same as real businesses.
There are many variations on fake check scams. BBB warns consumers not to wire money to unknown persons as part of a job, lottery winnings, grants, or other pretexts. The request to wire the money is a red flag that it may be a scam.
To learn more about different kinds of fake check scams, see http://www.fakechecks.org/.
If you have lost money to a fake check scam, file a complaint with your local police department.