Tag Archives: Mystery Shopper Scams

Why I keep badgering you about mystery shopper scams

I seem to be on about mystery shopper scams a lot on this site, and if you’re reading these posts, you might eventually wonder: why does this subject keep coming up?

Below is an excerpt from a recent CUNA press release about a credit union member in Pennsylvania:

A Lancaster Red Rose CU member became a victim of a mystery shopper scam that reportedly took his name from information provided to an online job search database.

The individual received a letter from FreePayingSurvey.com of Wichita, Kan., which included a check for $2,960.50, and instructions to deposit the check into its account and get “trained in financial transaction by sending an international Western Union transfer (of $2,320) to our training agent: Rachel Thomas in Valencia, Spain.”

The letter also instructed the recipient to spend $50 at two of the listed retail locations, and offered a rate of $100 per hour for four hours of evaluations (mystery shopping).

It is unfortunate that the member—who is unemployed—fell for this scam, and as a result, now has a negative balance, Dave Kilby of Lancaster Red Rose CU, told the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association.

So, the reason I’m always on about secret shopper scams is that people keep falling for them. Do yourself a favor—don’t become the subject of a press release.

By the way—look at that URL one more time: FreePayingSurvey. Remember what I said about words that usually mean something is a scam? “Free” was one of them. Add “paying” and “survey” to your mental list.

Mystery Shopper Scams Forever, Continued

Yesterday I posted the text of an email our CEO received from “US_Surveys Inc.” and challenged you to see how many “this is a scam” warning signs you could spot.

Here are the answers I came up with:

  1. The “From” and “To” field both contained the recipient’s email address. Now, she didn’t send this thing to herself, so that means they were spoofing the “From” line. If this was really from a company called “US Surveys,” wouldn’t you think it would say “From: [somebody]@ussurveys.com,” or similar?
  2. It was set on “high priority.” They want you to think it’s a limited time offer, and if you don’t act now, you’ll lose out.
  3. Wonky spacing and punctuation (“Our company(US Surveys)” and “Secret/Shopper”) throughout. Most real companies take a little more care when sending official communications.
  4. Look at the payout: $100 for 30 to 60 minutes of work. That means they’re promising $100 – $200 per hour. I hate to break this to you, but real secret shopper jobs don’t pay anywhere near $200/hour.
  5. This: “The requirements for this position is to be no younger then 21 years old.” Bad grammar is a red flag (as is poor spelling).
  6. They want you to have an account at a certain financial institution (Citibank). The only jobs that usually require you to use a certain financial institution are when you work for that financial institution.
  7. They want you to open a new Citibank account, to be used “for this position only.” That’s even weirder than #6 above.
  8. The contact person uses a Gmail address. Gmail is a free email service like Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc. Real companies have their own email addresses (okay, small local businesses use free ones sometimes, but they’re usually not trying to get you to fall for a mystery shopper scam).
  9. The corporate “branding” isn’t consistent within the message. They’re “US Surveys” one minute and “US_Surveys Inc.” the next. Real companies are a lot more careful about how they refer to themselves.
  10. The whole concept of the message. Companies don’t just contact strangers out of the blue for job openings. Even companies that do the “recruiting” thing make you fill out an application and hand in a resume first. Okay, companies with $200/hour positions might contact you if you’re a well-known expert in your field, but their credentials will be visible (and you’ll already know who they are). They also won’t be in the mystery shopper business. Rocket science or brain surgery would be more like it.

So these are ten things I found that should tip you off that it’s a scam. I’m sure there are even more, but ten is such a nice, round number.

This message has made its way around the world—we’ve had a pretty big jump in traffic here the past two days. I hope everyone is realizing that this email is fraudulent, and nobody ends up wiring money to these clowns. You may have lost your job in this lousy economy, but losing several hundred dollars to a scam isn’t going to help you one bit. Keep looking for a real job (or strike out on your own), and stay positive.

Mystery Shopper Scams Forever: Play along at home!

The President/CEO of our credit union got this charming little email message today. I’m just going to post the full text here, and you see how many warning signs you can spot that this is not a legitimate job offer, and is in fact a scam:

From: [CEO’s email address here]
Sent: Monday, August 31, 2009 8:03 AM
To: [CEO’s email address here]
Subject: Regional Representatives Needed
Importance: High

Our company(US Surveys) is glad to let you know that we now have a vacancy for the Secret/Shopper Position.
This is a part time position as it requires no longer then 30 minutes to an hour to complete an evaluation.

For each assignment you carry out you will receive a commission of $100. Most of the time a shopper gets assignments on daily basis.
The requirements for this position is to be no younger then 21 years old and to own a Citibank account.

Regarding the account, it is recommended to apply for a new one that you will use for this position only.
If you need more information about applying for this position you can reply to [removed]@gmail.com.

Thank you,
US_Surveys Inc.

Needless to say, she wasn’t interested. Tomorrow I’ll post my list of warning signs that this thing is an attempt at fraud. There are tons of them.

Seriously, if there was a Mystery Shopper Scams Hall of Fame, this one would have its own room dedicated to it. It’s just a classic example.

Scamming the scammers: a really, really bad idea

One of the cool things about running this site is that I get to see the search terms people have used to find their way here. “WA Surveys” has been a surprisingly common search that has led visitors to the FPU, and “mystery shopper scam” has brought in some traffic. I hope I’ve provided some value to those folks.

However, you also get some weird ones.

The other day, the search term that led someone to the Fraud Prevention Unit was “i want to scam the mystery shopper scam.”

This was a little disturbing to me.

I know what some people are thinking; “Well, they’re crooks, so it’s alright to try to rip them off, right?” And I can understand the impulse—vigilante justice, give them a taste of their own medicine, free money in a down economy, etc.

But it’s a really bad idea to even try. For one thing, the crooks perpetrating the scam aren’t going to feel your wrath at all. They just printed up a bunch of fake checks and sent them out to thousands of people. They’re usually not linked to any real accounts at all, and they’re certainly not linked to accounts owned by the criminals themselves.

But wait, there’s more!

At the point you knowingly present a fraudulent instrument (such as a cashier’s check) to a bank or credit union, you are committing fraud on a financial institution. That is a federal offense, and it carries a prison term if you’re found guilty.

This is serious, serious business.

Besides, a lot of these scams are run by organized crime operations. At some level, there are probably some violent people involved. These are not people you want to go messing around with.

Okay, there’s not a huge chance they’ll find out about your little attempted counter-scheme, but why risk it? You’re already not going to get to keep the money, and you might end up in a federal prison. Do you really need goons coming after you, on top of everything else?

Mystery Shopper Scam Variations

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails with offers for…you guessed it: mystery shopper jobs.

Naturally, I know these are a scam, but I did open one of them (afterrunning a quick virus scan on it, just to be sure!). They are from a company called WA Surveys, allegedly based in Seattle. Run a Google search on that phrase and you’ll get all kinds of results confirming that it is indeed a scam. Better yet, Google “WA Surveys” and the word “scam.” This company has quite a colorful history.

I couldn’t help but notice the “from” line in these email messages, though; they were all apparently coming from…me. My email address was in both the “from” and “to” fields.

Odd, you might think, and you’d be correct. It’s also an excellent clue that you shouldn’t trust anything about that message. If they’re already trying to spoof the sending address, you know they’re up to something.

Of course, sometimes you’ll get messages  that appear to be from people who are in your address book. I’ve had a couple of these same messages appear to be coming from other people right here at REGIONAL. I don’t know how the senders are able to do this (is it a hack, or are they just skimming email addresses from the Internet?), but it should still raise red flags—why would your supervisor be sending you a message about mystery shopper jobs?

If you’re truly unsure, contact the person directly and ask them. However, the text of the message should give you all the clues you need. In this case, it said “mystery shopper,” promised a lot of money, asked for personal information outright, and came from WA Surveys, signed by a Michael McDowell or Michael Friedman (both are aliases used by the same person).

Then again, if it turns out your supervisor actually is suggesting a new line of work for you, it might be time to start looking for a new job on your own. Just don’t fall for one of these bogus offers.