According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), mystery shopper scams are seeing an increase in frequency.
Continued high unemployment rates are likely the root of this upswing—the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to want to believe in a job opportunity, no matter how strongly all signs are pointing to “scam.”
Worse, it appears the scammers have become a little more patient: they’re not going in for the kill until they’ve earned your trust by sending you on what appears to be a legitimate secret shopper mission.
The victim in this case doesn’t get a cashier’s check right off the bat. First they are sent to a retail location (unspecified in the IC3 press release, but I’d bet you a dollar it’s usually Wal-Mart) with instructions to spend a certain amount of money and take notes on various aspects of their shopping experience. The victim does as told, and reports back to the “employer.”
For the second assignment, the victim is mailed a cashier’s check, which is to be (you guessed it) cashed and wired back to the scammers from the same retail location, with some kept by the victim as payment. The usual result follows: the victim cashes the check, wires most of it back, and finds out a few days later that it was counterfeit and they now owe their financial institution around $2,600.
No, the victim’s bank or credit union isn’t going to cover the fake check. Why should they? It’s not their fault the victim presented a phony check.
No, the bank or credit union from whom the fake check is drawn isn’t going to cover it, either. Why should they? They didn’t create the check. It was never drawn off a legitimate account in the first place. If someone made a fake box of checks with your name and account number on them, would you feel like you had to cover those checks? Of course not. Financial institutions feel the same way.
No, the person who ends up having to cover the check is the victim. If they’re lucky, they bank at a financial institution that puts a hold on cashier’s checks. If they’re even luckier, the teller asked them about the check and recognized it as a scam, and the check was never even deposited to begin with.
But if they’re unlucky, or if they manipulated the teller into releasing the funds right away, they’ll always end up wishing there had been a hold placed or an alert teller to dissuade them.
The problem with not having a source of income is that you generally can’t afford to lose $2,600. Most people can’t afford it when they are employed. Falling for one of these schemes will only make things worse. If you get letters or email offering jobs out of the blue, don’t trust those messages. Being almost broke is still better than being a couple thousand in the hole.