We were approached recently by a client believing he was the victim of a scam. He had answered an advertisement online about becoming a mystery shopper. Next, he received a $2,000 check in the mail and deposited the check in his bank account. Within an hour of depositing the check, he received a text message from an individual who claimed to be his account representative on behalf of the mystery shopper company. The company looked legitimate with a website and corporate identity, both of which wound up being bogus.
He was then instructed to withdraw the aforementioned $2,000 in cash. He was told that his first assignment would be to evaluate money transfer services like Western Union and MoneyGram. The $2,000 would be deposited and then wired to a third party. The client did as he was instructed. Once completed, he received another text message advising of his second and third assignments. Once all three assignments were completed, he would receive a commission from the company. When our client requested to speak with someone to find how he would be paid, the phone number he called just rang. Our client then proceeded to text his contact to arrange for a phone conversation. The phone conversation never materialized, leading him to become very suspicious.
Unfortunately, the check our client received was bogus. He was caught up in a mystery shopper scam. The aim of the scam is to get unsuspecting individuals to complete as many assignments before learning that the check they received was fraudulent. Banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. While it may seem that the check cleared and the money posted into the account, if the check is bogus the person who deposited the check would be responsible for paying back the bank the money plus penalties. In essence, the client deposited a bogus check from someone he did not know and then wired his own money back to the scammers.
The “representative” of the mystery shopper company was going to send another check by overnight mail. The intent of the scam is to get the person to conduct as many transactions prior to learning that the original check was bogus. Our client was relatively lucky in that he realized that he was scammed, but there was little that we were able to do since all of the names and phone numbers were bogus. However, we advised the client to report the case to his bank and immediately tell them that he deposited a bogus check to avoid paying penalties. He also filed a police report. Unfortunately, the damage was done; he was out $2,000, but he was able to minimize his loses.
The internet is rife with scammers, so it is important that one remain both vigilant and careful. If you were scammed or believe you are being scammed, contact the local police and file a report, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and file a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office. If you have doubts about a company that claims to be a mystery shopper representative, you should contact a security services company trained to root out scams and frauds like Integrated Security Services. We maintain a confidential database of information and will be able to decipher if the company you are communicating with is a fraud.