A New Twist On an Old Scam Costs Man $30,000

By now regular readers of this blog are familiar with the mystery shopper check scam. Although people are still getting conned by that one every day, some scammers have moved on to a new version.

A Florida man responded to an online ad from United Services and Consultants to be a “Merchandise Manager” for them. The supposed job involved buying electronics and shipping them overseas. The promised pay was $2700 every two weeks, plus commission.

The scam victim went to local Apple and AT&T stores and bought a total of 17 MacBook Airs and 7 iPads. He paid for all of this with his personal credit cards. The “company” (aka scamming sleazeballs) sent prepaid shipping labels and he shipped all of the equipment to Russia. (Yes, Russia. Any red flags here for you yet?) The company provided banking information to pay him for the electronics but guess what? There was no money. Now he owes nearly $30,000 to his credit card companies as a result of this scam.

How can you avoid this type of scam? Continue Reading

Is This Mystery Shopping Company Legitimate?

Every day I am contacted by mystery shoppers, all with the same question: “Is this company legitimate?” The name of the company changes, but the question remains the same.

The problem is that they are asking the wrong question. If the only thing you look at is whether the person who contacted you is using the name of a legitimate company, you are setting yourself up to be scammed.

The truth is that people who will steal thousands of dollars from you will also lie to you. Many scammers use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies and even the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

Never assume that someone who approaches you unsolicited and offers money is for real. Always check them out. And check them out properly. Here are the questions you should be asking.
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Mystery Shopper Scams Try a New Angle

Scammers are taking advantage of technology to find new ways of scamming people. According to this story by consumer reporter Jeff Ehling at abc13/Houston, scammers are reaching out to potential victims with text messages.

Several people have reported getting text messages offering mystery shopper jobs paying $50 an hour. Tempting, but what do we know about things that sound too good to be true? That’s right: They usually are too good to be true.

People who respond to the text message by calling the phone number given are asked for personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers. (Note: real mystery shopping companies do ask for personal information, including Social Security Numbers, but they do not recruit by sending random text messages and they do not guarantee $50 an hour.)

If you receive a text message offering $50 an hour (or some other ridiculous amount of money) to mystery shop, do not respond. Just hit delete.

Scammers are always looking for new victims. Don’t let them find you.

Victim of a Scam?

Don’t get scammed again by someone offering compensation or scam victim help.

The mystery shopper scam and others like it have taken millions of dollars from people all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere around the world. Often, the victims of these scams are the people who can least afford to be taken for thousands of dollars. So, when someone comes along saying that they have been authorized to repay the money that was scammed from them, these victims may line up to get scammed again.

I get many emails a week that are similar to the one below. In each case, there are signs that this is yet another scam; however, someone who is desperate could overlook those signs, just as they did the first time they got caught up in one of these schemes.

Take a look at the scam email, then I will point out some of the signs that it is not a legitimate offer:
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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