January 23, 2012, Milwaukee, Wis. — The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been receiving numerous complaints and inquiries from consumers across the country about fraudulent job offers for positions as “mystery” or “secret shoppers.”
Consumers report receiving a letter, generally by postal mail, containing instructions, and accompanied by a check. The instructions usually direct the recipient to deposit the check, spend a specific amount of money in local, retail stores as a “secret shopper” and send the remaining amount back via Western Union or MoneyGram. In most cases, consumers are instructed to spend a couple hundred dollars, while the balance of the check is to be wired to an unknown individual, often located outside the U.S.
In the past, consumers who followed these instructions have informed the BBB that the cashier’s check was later determined by their banks to be counterfeit. The result was that not only were they now responsible for the amount of the bad check, but they also faced the danger of having their accounts closed.
The Wisconsin BBB has been receiving an increasingly large amount of reports of mystery shopper scam letters being sent, using Wisconsin return addresses. The addresses are fraudulent and often are found to be rented boxes at UPS stores to make it look as if they have a valid, tangible location, when they do not. In some cases, the perpetrators actually "hijack" and use valid company names and real addresses to stage their scheme.
Recently, a Florida consumer attempted to file a complaint with the Wisconsin BBB, because the letter and check she received appeared to come from a local Milwaukee address. However, after requesting copies of the letter and the envelope it came in, we found the local address to be fake and the postmark, Canadian.
Mary F. of Tampa says, “The letter I received says I have been chosen to become a consumer mystery shopper from a list of retail stores and (it) included a check for $2,495.”
She deposited the check in her bank account, withdrew the funds and wire transferred the instructed amount. She reports, “my bank closed both my accounts and is charging me for the fraud check. I cannot use banks in Florida for seven years. I’m a disabled citizen with a fixed monthly income.”
Ran Hoth, president/CEO of the Wisconsin BBB says, “Don’t become a victim of this scam. If you wire transfer money, it’s gone for good. You’ll never get your money back, plus, you’ll just be helping the culprits sustain their scheme.”
If you or someone you know receives such a mailing, the BBB offers these tips:
- Whether it is in the form of a job, loan, grant, sweepstakes or lottery, do not fall victim to any advance-fee scams. All of these scams work the same way: The crooks send the victim a check, which is counterfeit or invalid, ask the victim to deposit the check and then forward a portion of it to some person or company. The victim does not realize that the check is not legitimate until long after the payment has been sent to the crooks.
- Although the funds from a deposited check may be available for use within 1-5 business days of deposit, it can take several weeks for the bank to determine that the check is counterfeit or otherwise invalid. Instructions to draw money on checks shortly after they have been deposited may be the work of unscrupulous companies attempting to take advantage of this technicality.
- Promises of financial relief, suspicious job offers, or prize winnings for contests you did not enter are ploys to trick you into wiring considerable sums of cash to random individuals, usually overseas. Once the scam artists receive your money, you will never hear from them again. In addition, acting on such offers also puts you in danger of unwittingly violating local, state and even federal laws.
- Never wire transfer money to any unknown person with whom you have never had personal contact.
- Always check with the BBB before doing business.
If you believe you have been a victim of a mystery shopper scam:
For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.wisconsin.bbb.org or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.