Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scam Alert: The "Mystery Shopper" Racket

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.


  1. Last summer my wife received a check from the C. H. Robinson Company of Eden Prairie, MN, for $3,990. It was a sweepstakes scam, and the check looked awfully authentic. However, on further examination, 1) the C. H. Robinson logo on the check was fuzzy and jagged-edged, 2) the company logo only appeared on the check, not on the stationery, 3) three different addresses for the company appeared in the letter, envelope, and on the check, 4) the letter had poor grammar, 5) the envelope cancellation mark was Canadian, 6) the stamp was Canadian, 7) calling the "authorization" phone number given in the letter just resulted in endless rings.

    To top it all off, even though I could see watermarks on the back of the check and micro-printing in the signature line, I could also see the word, "VOID", in a sort of pin-point dotted moiré pattern in two places on the face of the check. Wow! You really had to be looking to see it.

    I still have the check someplace. Apparently these outfits can net quite a lot of money in a short time when a chunk of the money is sent back, in this case for payment of taxes.

    The Town Crank

  2. P.S., that's one good reason for mastering English grammar: the knowledge allows one to spot a scam!


  3. if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    Good start to an essay on Democrats in Government...