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.