Secret Shopper Scam Arrests in Canada

Two operators of an alleged counterfeit cashier’s check scam have been arrested in Canada. This secret shopper scam has cheated potential mystery shoppers out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars each. Variations of the scam have involved lotteries, eBay and CraigsList purchases and other scenarios, but the mystery shopper angle has gotten a lot of attention lately.

These scams involve sending checks to potential mystery shoppers, often people who have posted their resumes on online job sites. The scammers try to look legitimate by using the logos of respected companies, such as Western Union, WalMart, Starbucks, and many others in the letter that accompanies the bogus check. Many times, the scammers use the name of a real mystery shopping company although, obviously, they are not connected to a legitimate company at all.

Christopher Nduka and Alicia Obermuller of Brampton, Ontario, operated an alleged counterfeit check scam out of their home by mailing letters to U.S. residents stating they had won a lottery or were selected to be a secret shopper. The recipients were instructed to deposit enclosed checks and wire a portion of the funds back to the operators of the alleged scam. However, after the victims deposited the counterfeit checks and sent the funds, the checks bounced and victims lost their money. It is estimated that hundreds of U.S. residents have fallen victim to this alleged scam, and have been bilked at least $150,000 in total to date.

Nduka and Obermuller were arrested this week after officers found shredded copies of the “Secret Shopper” solicitation letters in their home. A check printer and blank check stock were also found. The two accused have been allegedly operating fraudulent schemes such as “The Advance Fee Lottery” and “The Secret Shoppers” since January 2005.

Variations of the scam involve overpaying for an item purchased on eBay or CraigsList, then asking the victim to wire the amount of the overpayment as a refund, or claiming that the person has won a lottery and has to pay taxes or other fees before their winnings can be released.

Although these arrests are good news, this scam is not likely to go away any time soon. Be alert. If you have any doubts about what you are asked to do, do not call the phone numbers on the letter or the check. Those numbers will generally connect you to the scammer. Do an internet search for the bank on which the check is drawn and call them. Better yet, if you receive an offer involving cashing a check and wiring money, do not do it. Destroy the check or notify local law enforcement.

Comments

  1. JUDIE STEINMACHER says:

    I got a 950.00 money order from so called, Shadow Shoppers.
    They should be legit, they were on Good Morning America. I thought it was a scam, because I was to Cash it and then send
    175.00 to someone through Western Union and Keep 150.00 for myself. Red Flags went up. E-Mail was from David. I tore up the money order, and gave the letters and instructions to the police. Great big scam.

  2. Yesterday I received a postal Money Order for 950.00 From Shadow Shoppers, it said. Also, insturctions to cash it in the
    bank, Take 150.00 for my fee, and send 175.00 By Western Union to another person. Then an E-Mail from David. Please,
    this has scam all over it. Why would someone send you money, before you did any work for them. Money order and letter in the trash.

    • Yep, it is a scam. Glad you spotted it and didn’t get caught in the scam.

    • I received a check in the mail for $1000.00 I was told to keep 250.00 use 100.00 at wal mart to do a mystery shop at Western Union, It was a scam I went to my local bank and then took the money order to the STATE POLICE OFFICE.

  3. Sherry Harris says:

    I recieved a check from Select Foods Inc for 3750.53, I would keep 500 training pay 100 for purchases, trf 2900. pay western union 250.53 for the trf send funds of 2900 to Gail Rakler in Spain Madrid
    Glad I checked this out

  4. Elizabeth Connor says:

    I saw a job ad in the Washington Post for a possible secret shopper job (I had to apply, they did not contact me first through an email). The ad in the paper asked to send my resume to admin@secretshopperinc.us, which I did. I got back a questionaire to fill out & send back, which I did. Then they say they will send me a check (use $300 would be for my services, the rest should be used for the job) and details about the assignment. It sounds like a scam–I have not received the check yet–but it is not coming from a general email address. I’m trying to research it before I go any further. Thoughts?

    • Elizabeth, it is a scam. No question about it.

      There does not appear to be a website at secretshopperinc.us, so if the email address you provided is correct they are using this domain for email only. That is not something a legitimate company would do.

      The giveaway, though, is that they are sending you a check BEFORE you do any work. SCAM. Always. Do not deal with these people. Do not cash the check. Turn it over to law enforcement or shred it.

  5. Elizabeth Connor says:

    Thanks. I got another email advising to wire money. The minute I saw that, it was just confirmation in my mind it was a scam. I am trying to report it to the FTC now. I have no actual papers to shred yet since I haven’t received the check. I also did my homework and went to the Shadow Shopper website. I was just waiting for proof before I filed a complaint.

  6. I am so amazed at how many stories there are about these “check scams” on this site alone, I had a huge letter I just erased because I came to realize it was probably going to make a lot of people mad. I couldn’t bring myself to post it so I’ll just say this: IF ITS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS!!! and if your not sure just deposit the check and wait till it clears before you touch any funds. If the check doesn’t clear or comes up as a fraud, you have done nothing wrong and cannot be held accountable. If you cash it than you are financially and quite possibly legally responsible for the bad or fraudulent check.

    • James, just cashing the check can land you in jail. It is illegal to pass a bad check. Although you might not be convicted, you can certainly be arrested. Many people have. The checks are never good.

    • James, I received a money order in mail from a so call secret shopper. I was asked to deposit or cash the money order. I presented the MO to the bank and deposited it. I was told that the MO would take anywhere from 7 to 10 days to clears. The next day I was contacted by the fraud department. They asked all sorts of question and I told them everything I knew. They said the MO was no good. Days later I received a letter from the bank saying I owe them money because the MO didn’t clear. I am still fighting to get those fees done away with. I don’t understand how I owe them money for what.

  7. So got an automated text msg from a company called Vision One:
    “While you continue your job search, start working today as a Mystery Shopper! We pay $100/assignment. Check your email now for preapproval”
    There was a second one right after:
    “This msg was sent by VisionOne. Msg/Data rates may apply. Reply STOP to block this number.”
    Then I checked my email. It was addressed to me with my first and last name.(posting here using my cell so sorry if it appears hard to read)

    Gmail
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    InboxArchive
    Re: Customer Service Evaluator Position
    12/23/12
    Show details
    Vision One Research Group
    to me

    Always show images from…
    Vision One Research Group

    Dear “my name was here”

    We have have decided to offer you the opportunity to work with our firm as an independent customer service evaluator since you originally indicated interest in a customer service related position last week with us. This opening which can also be referred to as an “independent mystery shopper” is on a temporarily hire contract basis.
    The opportunity will enable you generate an income stream while you continue your job search in your actual field of expertise.
    I thought it would be ideal to feed you in about the opportunity of working with VisionOne as a discreet customer service evaluator.
    Our acceptance process is broken down into two major stages particularly for this position.
    Firstly, you will have to officially register your interest to pursue the proposed opportunity by visiting our application website at http://visiononeresearch.wix.com/apply
    Click on the “COMPLETE YOUR APPLICATION FORM” button and fill out the necessary fields. Once submitted, you can expect a quick follow up telephone call from us acknowledging the receipt of your submission and confirming acceptance of your full intent to pursue the position and entire opportunity.
    Regardless though, you will still be required to conduct some probationary assignment prior to commencing full operations with us. This stands as the second stage of our acceptance process prior to becoming a full independent representative.
    Just before I proceed further, I’d like to give you a brief but detailed insight about us and your new position.
    VisionOne is a customer service evaluation firm representing some of the world’s finest corporations. Since 2001, we have worked side by side with corporations to help them improve their level of customer service.
    Our clientele base includes restaurants, retail stores, casinos, financial institutions, hotels, resorts and more. In order to continually provide a fresh perspective for our clients, we hire prospective independent contract secret shoppers on an ongoing basis.
    As you already know, performing secret shops is a great way for you to make additional income while helping companies to improve their level of customer service. VisionOne offers 600+ secret shop assignments each month across more than 12 industries.
    We endeavour to only work with individuals with a keen eye for details, who are extremely conscientious and responsible in honouring commitments. Currently at this stage, we will expect you to be able to meet deadlines, follow detailed instructions and communicate fact-based reports to provide our clients with helpful data at all times.
    We have handpicked you to participate in few probationary assignments to test your communication, punctuality, attention to details, confidentiality, ability to follow directions and ability to work independently. This enables us to build an internal work ethic profile for you prior to offering you a full contract.
    Compensation per assignment will remain at the standard rate of $100.00 each during the entire two weeks probationary period.
    We will provide ten (10) assignments in total within the next two weeks. The assignments will be sent in the following order; (3,3,3,1) with the deadlines set by your campaign coordinator individually.
    We have proposed the first batch of three assignments to commence the probationary period. Seven (7) subsequent assignments will follow in the order earlier mentioned above.
    • WALMART: We will create a few scenarios to enable you evaluate customer service levels and agent’s product knowledge at a local store while posing as a customer. Instructions and guidelines will be provided by your coordinator. This is a two phase assignment including a detailed role playing scenario.
    • METRO: You will pose as a regular customer making purchases at a local store to enable you determine service levels and employee product knowledge. You will get to keep items purchased during this visit as an incentive. This is also a two phase assignment including a detailed role playing scenario. Further instructions will be provided by your coordinator.
    • CANADIAN TIRE: You will pose as a regular customer while making purchase at a local store to determine service levels. You will get to keep item(s) purchased during this visit as an incentive. Further instructions on budget and roles will be provided by your coordinator.
    During these assignments, we require you to also rate store cleanliness, ease of purchase, and general performance of the particular employee/employees that attended to you. You will complete an evaluation form or report your findings directly to me.
    We will also require you to fax your receipts to the office for verification purposes. Remember that confidentiality is the key and you cannot identify yourself as a secret shopper at any point during this task.
    We will provide funds needed to enable you pose as a regular customer and pay for all in-store purchases while out on your scheduled tasks, and also include a pre-calculation of your estimated net income for all ten assignments in the probationary period as one lump sum cheque.
    Due to the discreet nature of the position and our services, your initial cheque will be issued by RO&B Group. This is only to disguise and protect your identity as a mystery shopper with our firm.
    These proposed assignments are ready for immediate commencement so upon receiving this email, visit the application and acceptance website mentioned above and type in your temporary representative identification number which is 7364098 and then fill out the online form.
    Once the form is received, we will contact you to discuss the earliest commencement date. For now, we would like you to commence on the initial assignments tomorrow, so it is imperative that you follow the instructions in this email immediately.
    Congratulations on this pre-acceptance and we look forward to having you fully on board.

    Sincerely,
    Diane Wells
    (HR Head of Operations)
    This email was sent by Vision One Research Group at 33 Riverside Drive E, Suite 1801 Windsor, ON N9A 2S4.

    Sceptical, I blew it off as a scam. Received a call from a Diane Wilson (519-997-2324) after a short conversation with me telling her I figured it was a scam, I figured I would play along. She said I would receive a package by Purolator Courier in the mail. I did several days later. In it was a cheque for $1470.00. by the company stated in the email. There was an “Evaluation ” form which she said was to be used as a guide and that my actual evaluations were to be done by calling her after the shop was completed. I was very sceptible at this point especially because of the cheque. (NEVER mystery shopped before) But continued to play along. (at this point I have not deposited the cheque ) First job was at Walmart near my house, permitted limit to spend was $40.00. Figured I needed a few things anyhow so not a waste. Did the shop, called her and gave her the shop results. She then said, phase 2 of the 1st campaign was to test out their Western Union. Role play scenario. (claim my sister is stranded in the states (I’m in Canada) and I need to send her money for a plane ticket home she said to pick a place like for example, Buffalo NY. $850USD. Then after sending it, the company would cancel it the next day so the funds could be reimbursed as the money is needed for future campaigns. At this point, I told her I had not yet deposited the cheque. She said to do that then call back. I’m now super suspicious but went to my bank to check it out. Asked the teller if there was a way to determine if the cheque was legit, she said it appeared so. I told her I was wary of it and to please hold the funds on it until it cleared. Called Diane and left a message, to tell her the bank held it and funds would not be available for 5 business days. Checked my account online and it showed the funds as “available “. Called the 24 hour bank line and asked about that, he said no hold appears and that the funds were available. I told him I just deposited it and requested a hold, he said it didn’t have one but if I was worried, not to spend the money and check back in a couple days. I called the bank again the next day thinking dude was wrong, person checked again, no hold funds available. I thought hmmnn maybe it is real. So called Diane and left a message saying I could proceed on Monday. I have plans to first go to my bank and speak to a teller as well as a manager about the cheque. I figure I can always say to Diane that I was mistaken and funds are still on hold. (STALL tactic) Funny I got a call from her from a different number tonight (Sunday ) 519-997-2354. She said she was catching up on voicemails, asked if I remembered what the role play is, I told her Yes, I wrote it down. Plans are for me to call her tomorrow before I’m ready. Okay. So as planned I’m going room the bank check things out, I will post an update.

    I Called 411 and checked for a Vision One in Windsor, Ontario, no listing.

    Address at the bottom of the email I received shows up as a Travel Lodge hotel when Google mapped.

    • This is a scam. It is always a scam. Even if the bank releases funds to you, it does not mean that the check has cleared or that it is good. The check is not good and that will be discovered after you send the money off.

      NEVER wire money to someone you do not know, for any reason. It is always a scam.

    • Just wondering how you made out with the check sent to you. I have just received one almost identical to you. Even our temporary passwords

      • Lori, it is a scam. Do not cash the check and NEVER wire money to anyone you do not know. Do not keep looking for someone to tell you it is okay, and you will paid hundreds of dollars for almost no work. It is a scam. It is always a scam. Do not waste your time on this.

  8. Cathy,
    I realize my post was lengthy to read. The woman did not request that I send money to anyone in particular, I am to make up a name. I also stated I have not “cashed” the cheque, I deposited it but told the teller to hold it and said I was unsure that it was valid. It was her that suggested to hold it. I plan to go to the bank in the morning to get an update.

    • Susan, it doesn’t matter what the bank tells you, it doesn’t matter what the scammer tells you. This is a SCAM. These are always scams. The check is not valid, even if the bank gives you money.

      If the bank tells you that the check is good, ask them to give you a signed, notarized document that says that if the check is later found to be fraudulent they will not seek repayment from you. They won’t.

      The bank has no skin in this game. It is all on you. When the check is found to be a fraud, they will make you repay the money you wired to the scammer. DO NOT withdraw any cash and wire it to anyone. It is a scam.

      I have seen this hundreds and hundreds of times. If you want to believe that this is genuine, then I guess I can’t convince you otherwise. But when you have lost the $850 plus fees you will lose in this round of the scam, please remember that you were warned and chose to ignore the warning.

  9. Sorry, I thought I was clear in my original post. I am “playing along” and have no intention on sending any money to anyone unless the cheque is cleared by my bank, even then, I have not been told to send it to anyone in particular by this woman, meaning they said to make up a name and place. I’m not one who has lost any money, and have no intention on touching the money at this point. I posted here to help others who may find this site looking for information. :)

  10. we came back from a trip to cuba on jan 28 2013 when we picked up the mail there was a cheque from a company in missauga ontario it was addressed to my wife to do secret shopping it was for over 8000.00 she was to keep 500.00 for her training fees the company name on the cheque was genrec in mississauga ontario but the letter said to call before the check could be released she was to send so much to one person and so much to another via western union and spend so much at so many stores i called and the lady with east indian accent said call back later she was busy we just threw it out but i wish i had sent it to the rcmp instead i also receive at least 5 emails per day from someone wanting me to be inherit on behalf of some dead millionaire or won some stupid lottery or even one from the fbi saying that my money is now being released but they always want my name and address along with my phone number i usually give false info and tell them that it is attached to my real name and i work with my personal credit protection company to nail all you fraud artist and when you run this name you will be arrested and charged

  11. So I recieved a check from a company today for a fair amount of money to do 2 mystery shops, one tp walmart, one to western union. I didn;t think much of it and deposited the cheque, but after reading all this it seems like what happened to me is a scam. What do I do now? I have not cashed or used any of the money.

    • Put it in a baggie or plastic immediately , and take it to your bank, have them investigate the fraud from there on…

  12. missannmcd says:

    It’s hard to understand how people fall for this scam. I have even heard of people cashing the check and it actually appears to clear at first. Then, when it bounces the recipient becomes responsible legally to repay every dime! Some innocent people have even been prosecuted. There was an online cash for gold scam out there too. People send the gold item/s in an envelope (supplied prepaid by scammer) and get checks for like $7.00. They used the good name and reputation of a well known cash for gold vendor in that case as well. I say, go sell your gold in person at one of the brick and mortar stores they have now. Never send money to anyone without checking their credentials.

  13. I disagree with destroying these checks.. they are evidence and they should be put in a baggie and given to the FBI / or the Postal Inspectors directly. I worked in the banking industry for over 40 years.. looking up copies of bank statements for Check Kiters … for whoever subpoenaed the bank for the info… never ever destroy evidence… these checks will have finger prints on them.. they will have a better lead.. Individuals should notify the postal inspectors and the fbi Immediately.. or go to a major bank and let them handle it…..Just an FYI
    If you destroy them, you are destroying evidence, and a judge could find you guilty of obstruction.~~~~~

    • Bonnie, I think you have watched too many episodes of Law and Order! ;o) The authorities do not spring into action to investigate each of these forged checks. Although cumulatively a lot of money is stolen, each case is only a couple of grand. That is not enough to get the FBI excited. The Postal Inspectors will not care at all unless the check was sent through the mail (and scammers often use FedEx or UPS). Your bank probably won’t know what to do with the checks, and the local police have no interest at all.

      If you want to report this scam to someone, you can file a compliant with the FTC and/or with your state Attorney General. Even then, it is unlikely that there will be any investigation. Mostly, they track these complaints to watch for trends. Those trends may allow them to find and charge a scammer from time to time, but most of these scams do not result in arrest or prosecution.

      You are not destroying evidence by shredding worthless checks.

  14. I received a check from a company called Omeaga market research for 1,998.oo..to mysteryshop. it was a scam…

  15. Margarita says:

    I cash a money order for 975.00 i take to my bank and they cashed for me whit out problem i don know what to do now the hapen 3 week ago and all dis is from David too he is the one send rhe emails please if someone know what i can do please let me know i don like to have any probles whit the police i have kids please let me know where i can go or if is a phone number i can call. thank-you

    • If you wired the money off somewhere, it is gone. Your best course of action now is to contact your bank and let them know you were scammed. You can make arrangements to pay back the money.

      It is best if you go to the bank before they contact you about the bad check.

      I’m sorry this happened to you.

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