Don’t Try to Scam the Mystery Shopper Scammers

There are many posts on this blog about the mystery shopper check scam. A recent comment on one of those posts asked:

What would happen if I cashed the check in but never wired the money to anyone? Just kept it to myself. The thought came up but I wouldn’t ever do it.

Cashing the check would be a bad idea, and I am glad that this commenter understood that. My response was that there is no money to keep–the check would eventually be returned and the bank would take back any money they had given, as well as charging fees on the returned check. And it could be worse than that.

Here is a news story from New Mexico television station KOB4 about what happened when one woman decided that she would “scam the scammers.”
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Mystery Shopper Scam Lands California Man in Prison

A man from Santa Ynez California has been sentenced to serve six years in federal prison for operating a scam falsely promising bartending and mystery shopper jobs. Approximately 87,400 victims across the United States were defrauded by the scheme, which ran from 2001 through 2004 and caused nearly $6.2 million in losses.

Stevan P. Todorovic, 40, was sentenced by United States District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. In sentencing Todorovic, Judge Hatter noted that, in addition to taking money from victims, Todorovic caused a “loss of hope, a loss of opportunity.”

Last July, a federal jury convicted Todorovic of seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud for making false promises to people seeking work.

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How Secret Shopper Scams Gain Your Trust

Scammers succeed by getting their victims to trust them. This is true for secret shopper scams, lottery scams, pigeon drops, home repair scams or any other type of scam.

Getting potential victims to trust them is easier than you might think. For one thing, honest people may not understand how scams work, and may be less likely to spot the signs of a scam. And most people expect others to act as they do. Because most people are basically honest, they expect that others they encounter will also be honest. Scammers use that against their victims.

Let’s look at some typical scammer tricks and how they are used in secret shopper scams.
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Mystery Shopper Scam Uses Name of MSPA

In the last few days, I have been contacted by two mystery shoppers who let me know they received mystery shopper scam emails that claimed to be from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). Both were obvious scams, but the scam might not be as obvious to someone unfamiliar with mystery shopping.

The use of the MSPA name is clearly an attempt to make the scam look legitimate to people who are not acquainted with secret shopping, or have just a vague awareness of it. Doing a search for Mystery Shopping Providers Association or MSPA would show that MSPA is a legitimate organization. That might cause an unsuspecting person to believe the scam is a real offer.

Here are the things that should tip you off that this is a scam:
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What Wire Transfer Companies Can Do to Stop Mystery Shopper Scams

Dr. Linda Eagle of the Edcomm Group Banker’s Academy was recently interviewed by San Francisco’s KGO-TV Consumer Reporter Michael Finney for a 7 On Your Side story exploring the actions wire transfer companies are taking to stop financial scams. With the amount of money appropriated from scams in the US reaching $24 million in 2008, the story reported that many scams are still going unnoticed at money transfer companies across the country. Continue Reading

Mystery Shoppers Aren’t the Only Ones Getting Scammed

So by now everyone reading this has heard about the check scam that lures victims by telling them they can earn hundreds of dollars for an hour or so of work. All they have to do is cash a check for a couple thousand dollars (generously provided by the scammer), keep a few hundred for their time, and wire the rest to another person (often in Canada, but they could be anywhere).

The scam? Sometime after the money has been sent off by the victim and claimed by the scammer, the check is discovered to the a forgery. The victim’s bank demands that they pay back all of the money, plus fees for the returned check and any checks the victim has now bounced because their account was debited for the amount of the bogus check.

We refer to mystery shopper scams, but in fact this is a check/wire transfer scam. Continue Reading

Are Mystery Shopper Scams Getting Sneakier?

mystery-shopper-scam-checkI ran across a story about a secret shopper scam with a new twist. If true, it means that mystery shopper scammers are trying to get ahead of the curve to continue their schemes as more people get wise to them. However, I suspect that this story may not be exactly as it appears.

Here is the story about a secret shopper scam that appeared on a Wisconsin television station. According to the report, a woman signed up to be a mystery shopper and completed some price audits. She was paid $10 to $20 for each of them. Fairly common, right?

According to the news story, after doing several of these audits over the course of six to eight months, the company for which she had been working sent her a check for $1975, telling her to keep $100 or so for her fee, and to wire most of the money to someone. You know how this ends, right? Of course, the check she received was fraudulent, and she was out the money.

It is possible it happened exactly as stated in the report: A scammer actually made several small payments to a potential victim to convince her that she was working for them as a mystery shopper, so that she would not question it when they sent her a large check and told her to wire money somewhere. However, I doubt that.Continue Reading

Checking Out Mystery Shopping Scams

mystery-shopping-scamsI get emails every day asking about this or that email that someone received, or a company or some specific offer. What concerns me about some of these emails is that people are asking the wrong questions. They ask things such as, “Is XYZ Company a legitimate mystery shopping company?,” overlooking the fact that the email or check they got isn’t really from XYZ Company.

One shopper forwarded some correspondence between a friend of hers and a scammer. Fortunately, the shopper had stopped her friend before she fell for the secret shopper scam. However, I was somewhat shocked to see some of the assumptions her friend had made. It was clear that this woman was bright and educated, but it never occurred to her to question anything the scammer presented about himself. For example, at one point she informed the scammer that she had checked out his company with the Better Business Bureau, and was pleased to find that they had a satisfactory rating. That would not be a bad idea, except that the scammer had no affiliation with the company whose name he was using. You read that right: a criminal was willing to lie. Are you surprised?Continue Reading

MoneyGram to Repay $18 Million to Victims of Mystery Shopper Scam and Other Scams

ftc-moneygramA statement released by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says,

MoneyGram International, Inc., the second-largest money transfer service in the United States, will pay $18 million in consumer redress to settle FTC charges that the company allowed its money transfer system to be used by fraudulent telemarketers to bilk U.S. consumers out of tens of millions of dollars. MoneyGram also will be required to implement a comprehensive anti-fraud and agent-monitoring program.

While this is only a fraction of the money stolen by fraudsters using MoneyGram and Western Union transfers, it is a start. (You can read more about the mystery shopper scam here.)Continue Reading