The Secret Shopper Scam
Just When You Thought You Heard About Every Scam – Enter The Secret Shopper Scam
I call this one the “secret shopper scam”. Stores hire individuals to pose as a shopper to test employees knowledge of certain products or services, and also to see how a particular service is functioning.
It didn’t take long for scammers to figure out this could be a very profitable con. They simply revived a similar scam and adapted it to the secret shopper. The Federal Trade Commission has picked up on this and has reported a number of cases it is aware of lately.
This particular con begins in a very subtle way. You pick up your mail and find an important looking envelope, and when you open it, you see a check for several thousand dollars payable to you. A letter of instructions is enclosed and it states that you are being offered a job as a secret shopper.
It goes on to say that after you make just one trip to a local store they have selected, and make certain purchases, the balance of the check will be your commission. This amount is usually high enough so that you are anxious to start.
The letter instructs you to deposit the check at your bank, and as soon as it has cleared, to visit a certain store in your area, usually a Walmart. The teller at the bank tells you that the check should be cleared in a few days. Sure enough, you call your bank manager, and he tells you that it has cleared.
You are now hooked and head to the Walmart to earn this easy money. Your first assignment is to test the store’s money transfer system, which could be a Western Union or a MoneyGram outlet. You give the cashier the necessary transfer information per the letter and you have them charge your checking account where you deposited the check.
Your second assignment is to buy a reloadable bank card and a couple of gift cards. The letter instructs you to either make copies of the cards or to send them the numbers on each card that you purchased. That was the final purchase and you are amazed at your high commission for such little work.
Over the next couple of weeks, you’re thinking of things that you wanted to buy and suddenly, a horrible shock. Almost three weeks after you deposited that check, you get a call from your bank manager telling you that the check is a fake and is being returned and will be charged back to your account.
The bank manager tells you that unfortunately, the bottom line is that you personally are on the hook for the full amount of that check. You ask him that with all of the high tech systems in place, how could this happen? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is the secret shopper scam.
The fact of the matter is that banks are now required by law to make deposited checks available to draw against in a few short days. Con artists know this law and they also know that it can take three weeks or more to discover that a check is a fake. They work in that window to perform this scam.
A visit to the store where the first money transfer was made reveals that the money and the scammers are long gone. You show your gift cards to the store cashier and they too have been cleaned out.
There a couple of morals to this story. Firstly, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The second is no matter who sends you a check for you to deposit and then transfer money from it, you can bet your last dollar that it is a scam. Don’t fall for it. It may be the secret shopper scam.
Gust Lenglet is the CEO of HBS Financial Group, Ltd., an accounting & tax preparation firm in Maryland. He has more than 25 years of experience in the banking and financial industry. Gust started his career as a loan officer at a major national bank, and then moved on to become controller of a major law firm. In recent years, he has written many financial articles that have been published on Ezine Articles and many websites.