"Mystery shopper" scam targeted individuals looking for income in tough economic times
A.G. offers tips for consumers on protecting themselves from becoming victims
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced late last week that he shut down two websites as part of a "work at home" scam involving a mystery shopper program, which is used by legitimate retailers who hire marketing research companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores.
The websites, www.idealcorp.net and www.survsonl.com, operating as T. Crefideal Corp, lured consumers into becoming mystery shoppers to gather information anonymously about the customer service of a particular store, but instead of getting paid, they were duped into paying the scammers thousands of dollars.
Schneiderman also offered tips to protect consumers from work at home frauds.
"These scams are particularly insidious because they target individuals looking for ways to bolster their income in today's challenging job climate," Schneiderman said. "While legitimate 'work from home' opportunities do exist, scammers who are simply stealing money under the guise of offering employment are on notice. Our office will continue to protect consumers and shut these bad actors down."
In this version of the scam, consumers were asked to log onto www.idealcorp.net or www.survsonl.com with a "job number." Upon entering the job number, the victim was given a work assignment as a "secret shopper" for Western Union. The victim was sent a counterfeit check for $2,000 and told to keep $300 as payment. The victim was then instructed to wire the remaining $1,700 to someone overseas and evaluate Western Union employees during the process. After doing so, the victim's bank identifies the now deposited check as counterfeit and takes $2,000 back out of the victim's account. Instead of making $300, the victim loses $1,700.
Federal regulations require banks to make deposited funds available to a customer within a specific amount of time - usually significantly shorter than the amount of time it takes for the bank to determine that a check is forged. This scheme exploits that delay. Wired funds typically cannot be recovered or traced. The only record kept by the money transfer company is of funds being transferred from one of their accounts to another. While each transfer request is logged electronically, once the funds are in a central account, the actual money can be picked up at any office covered by that account, by any individual presenting the specified identification, which itself may be forged, leaving the victim with little or no recourse for recovering the wired funds.
Previous mystery shopping scams have typically involved using newspaper ads and emails to promote websites where consumers can "register" to become a mystery shopper. Once lured to the website, a victim is shown a list of reputable companies, asked to pay a fee for information about a certification program and then guaranteed a job.
The attorney general urges readers to protect themselves from this scam by learning to recognize the warning signs:
•Be suspicious of any checks or work-at-home opportunities that come to you unsolicited via mail or email. Promises of easy money are almost certainly scams.
•There is virtually no legitimate reason for anyone to give you a check or money order and in turn ask you to transfer funds via Western Union, MoneyGram or any other wire service. No legitimate company conducts business in this manner.
•Mystery shoppers set up through legitimate companies are generally paid after completing their assignments and returning their evaluations to the companies that hired them. They do not receive checks up front.
•Individuals hired as mystery shoppers are often provided gift cards to the specific retail locations they are being asked to review. Any out-of-pocket expenses are nominal, and reimbursed by the employer.
•A familiar name does not guarantee legitimacy. Scammers often pose as representatives from well-known, reputable companies - or the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) itself - to lull their victims into a false sense of security. Research the company independently and contact them directly if you wish to verify job listing information.
For more information about fake check scams, visit www.FakeChecks.org, the website created by the National Consumers League (NCL) in collaboration with the Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness. If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, or other similar fake check scam, contact the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint.