It’s the Holiday season and everyone is busy doing their shopping and preparing for celebrations. There’s that special feeling in the air and you’d like to think everyone is jolly. However, we have to remember not to let our guard down, because scam artists are out there waiting to snag you during this magical time of the year.
Recently a new scam has come to light and even has roots in New Jersey. It’s called the Mystery Shopper Scam.
Here’s how it works- you might receive an unsolicited email offer to be a mystery shopper. Or, get a message on social media from a “friend” who says they’ve had success with mystery shopping in reality, that friend’s account had been hacked. Other scammers will put ads in newspapers or online posting sites like Craigslist, promising an easy way to make money. There have even been cons offered through regular mail.
Once contact has been made with a person who wants to be a mystery shopper, they’ll send a check to the shopper. Of course, the check is a fake, and it will bounce, but not until days or even weeks later. The shopper is instructed to cash the check and take the funds for the shopping assignment. The assignment is “to analyze the ease of purchasing MoneyPak cards, or using a wire service such as Western Union”.
The shopper is instructed to visit a local retailer to buy MoneyPak cards (in some examples it was 3 cards worth $500 each) with the bulk of the money from the fake check. The rest is meant for the shopper to keep as a fee. After the purchase, the shopper is supposed to report on the shopping experience. To report on the experience the shopper must complete a survey, there are questions about the shopping experience, but also the shopper is supposed to enter the numbers that appear on the MoneyPak cards. You see, the scam is that the con artists take the money from the purchased gift cards, the check sent to the mystery shopper bounces and boom the scammers get the money and the shopper is out of up to $1,500.
The moral of the story is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t real. Please use caution, especially during this holiday season.
Here are some red flags identified by the Federal Trade Commission to look out for:
Legitimate mystery shopping companies won’t:
• Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email.
• Require that you pay for “certification.”
• Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
• Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
• Sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers.
• Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.
To sum up, The Federal Trade Commission states that you should never pay to be a mystery shopper, you shouldn’t wire money to someone promising you a mystery shopper job and do research if you are interested in legitimate mystery shopper jobs. You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don’t need “certification” to look – or apply – for assignments in its database.
If you think you’ve been a victim of this or another scam, you can make a complaint through the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or contact your local law enforcement.