It’s an alluring concept: get a big check, spend some of the money shopping at two or three stores; keep some of the money for your “time and trouble”; and then wire the rest of it back to us. The “mystery shopper” scam has been around for a long time, but it’s back again, in a new form.
Folks all across the country are getting what looks like an official check from the State of Tennessee or Maryland Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Typically the Tennessee checks are in the amount of $3400. The Maryland checks are typically for $4,940. The letter that comes with the check says the money is from a special program to help the unemployed, and all you have to do is cash the check, shop at a store (Wal-Mart and Sears are frequently mentioned), fill out the enclosed form about your experience and mail it back to us, keep a couple hundred bucks for your trouble, and then wire the balance back to us to help evaluate Western Union’s service.
In times like this, it’s tempting; and the check looks VERY real and official. And even though it’s bogus, your bank will likely cash it. It can take the bank weeks to discover the check is bogus, and when the bank finds out, you end up on the hook for every cent of it…what you spent at the stores, the money you put in your pocket, and the huge sum you wired via Western Union – which went right into the scamster’s account.
AARP says the bogus “mystery shopper” checks from Tennessee and Maryland are showing up all over the nation.
Around Dane County you’ll see mystery shopper classified ads everywhere from local newspapers to Craig’s List. Many of them are bogus come-ons, very few are legitimate mystery shopper jobs. How do you know if any particular one is real or not?
There really are mystery shopper jobs. Over 300 retailers hire shoppers for millions of secret shopping missions every year.
AARP says the real mystery shopper jobs never send money up front. You pay out of your own pocket and are reimbursed after the assignment is completed. They’ll ask you to make purchases in the $8 to $20 range.
No legitimate mystery shopper job will ask you to complete a wire transfer of money, particularly to an overseas destination, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement. That’s an immediate red-flag tipoff.
And the old adage is still true: if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.