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Don’t Wire Money to Strangers: Mystery Shopping Scam Victim in Buffalo Grove

Wed June 20 2012 11:24 am
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Buffalo Grove police received a report of fraud via a secret shopper scam that occurred between June 6, 2012 and June 11, 2012.

Police received a report that a resident filled out an online application to be a secret shopper. She then received a check for $970.00 with instructions to cash the check, shop at WalMart, and return $657.36 via Western Union. The resident’s bank — First Midwest Bank, 555 West Dundee Road –- informed her that the check she cashed was stolen and she is the victim of a scam.

Secret shopper scams usually work when a victim falls for fake payment via check for secret shopper services. The promotion is usually described as a paid, stay-at-home position in which the consumer will evaluate customer service at large retail stores with familiar names, such as Best Buy, Walmart and Home Depot. In reality, these stores have no affiliation with the scam artist placing the ad. An “employment packet” often accompanies the fraudulent check with instructions and a list of products to purchase at the stores.

The victim is asked to deposit the check, and use the money to make purchases and keep some money as a salary. The secret shopper is also instructed to wire the remaining money to their new “employer.”

A few days later, the fraudulent check from the “employer” bounces and the victim is responsible for the amount of the fraudulent check plus penalty fees, and possible criminal charges.

Some of the scams request personal bank account information, which is then used to commit identity theft in addition to the check fraud.

Legitimate Mystery Shopping Arrangements?
Some retailers hire marketing research companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores, but the companies don’t pay in advance. Legitimate companies use mystery shoppers to get the information anonymously. They assign a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, for example, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed, and can keep the product or service.

Legitimate mystery shopper offers act via the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), which is a trade association for member companies that include mystery shopping firms, marketing research and merchandising companies, training organizations, private investigation firms. However, some scammer mystery shopping companies use the MSPA logo without authorization.

Legitimate mystery shopping goes back to the 1940’s and has included shopping experiences at retail stores, apartments, banks, car dealerships, fast food businesses and restaurants, gas stations, health clubs, health care businesses, and movie theaters.

The biggest clue that the mystery shopping offer is a scam, is the involvement of wire transfer of money. Valid mystery shopping companies do not normally send their clients a check prior to work being completed, and they don’t trust high value amounts to new secret shoppers. Online mystery shopping scams may also charge victims’ money for either training or for signing up without the promise of any work.

If victim’s become aware of the crime, and don’t use the funds they believe are available from the deposited fraudulent check, they can still be charged for penalties involved with depositing a fraudulent check.

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