Santa Paula Times

Sucker shopper: Scam solicits mystery
shoppers, sends $1,700 check

December 17, 2015
Santa Paula News

With the holidays approaching people are looking for quick cash and what could be quicker - and more fun - than being a secret shopper?

But there’s the chance you could be a sucker shopper and lose a lot of money at best, or at worst have your identity hijacked and your checking account wiped out.

That is what could have happened to a Santa Paula woman who received a mystery shopper solicitation and official looking check in the mail.

But Jane Lax was too smart for them: “I knew immediately it was a complete fraud,” she said of the $1,700 check and an elaborately detailed letter of instructions she received to mystery shop Walmart and MoneyPak cards. 

Although mystery shopping is a legitimate line of work they never send offers to hire people through the mail or, for that matter, charge for registration to become a secret shopper.

When a person is hired to act like a customer they then evaluate services at a business. The individual is essentially paid to shop, dine or go to the movies, whatever the assignment, and then report on the experience including customer services and at times product evaluation.  

One big problem with the letter and check that Lax received in the mail last week is that Walmart does not utilize mystery shopper services.

But who would know Walmart’s policy regarding secret shoppers? And they also really need the $170 commission they are told will come out of that check they are instructed to deposit. 

The letter and check Lax received utilized actual companies, from a well known secret shopping enterprise to the Ohio credit union the check is made out from.

The bogus secret shopping letter instructs the mystery shopper to deposit the check, wait 24 hours and then go to Walmart and make a $15 “purchase, and KEEP any product you need for YOURSELF from the Wal-Mart (sic) closest to you.”

The secret shopper must email an evaluation of the shopping experience with details of the transaction. 

The next assignment is the one that really hurts those being scammed: they are directed to go to an outlet that carries MoneyPak cards (like Walmart spelled various ways in the letter) and purchase three in the amount of $500 each.

The purchase, the letter notes, would deplete the funds sent to the mystery shopper including the add-on charges for the purchase of the cards paid by the secret shopper company.

Once the MoneyPaks - and there is cautionary language in the letter to prevent accidentally loading reusable debit cards - are purchased, “you are to carefully scratch off the cards and send the pins along with your evaluation,” to the same email address.

If the sucker shopper follows directions, as soon as they hit the send button they’ll have given away $1,500 of their own money, which they’ll never see again. 

What should be obvious is that the authentic-looking check is as phony as the letter, so when it bounces - which occurs after the money is wired - the victim is accountable for the funds; if they don’t have money in the account to cover the loss they’ll also have to pay any applicable penalty fees as well as risk their credit rating. And, in some cases, they could also be charged with a crime. 

Lax’s letter did not ask for more personal information - such as a bank account number to directly deposit the check - which some do for use in identity theft or to even withdraw all the money out of the account.

Unlike Lax, many people fall for the scam that can come through the mail, via email or even over the telephone.

Said Lax, “I couldn’t be bothered... and if they were going to give me $170 go to a Walmart, are you kidding me?”