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?
I won’t say that there are absolutely no legitimate jobs that call for secret shoppers to buy and ship items. In fact, I have done a few. However, they are rare enough that I would say if you see a job that involves shipping expensive items that you paid for, you should assume it is a scam. Especially if you are being asked to ship things out of the country.
Ask yourself why they would pay $2700 for a job that takes, at most, a day or two to complete. Just like Mom always said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Offers of big bucks for little work cause people to stop listening to that little voice that warns them something may be wrong. Their greed kicks in and they forge ahead, afraid that if they delay or ask too many questions they will miss out on this “opportunity.” Don’t let greed cloud your judgement.
Don’t go by the company name. There are some legitimate companies with names similar to United Services and Consultants, and many scammers use the names of familiar, legitimate companies. Just because there are legitimate companies with the name the scammer gave you doesn’t mean you have received a valid offer. Scammers lie. It’s true. You can look it up.
Be cautious whenever you are asked to put out your own money. Most mystery shopping assignments require you to pay your expenses up front, then get reimbursed. There is a little risk in this, but the risk is tempered by the fact that: (1) most required purchases are rather small amounts and (2) in most cases, you get to keep what you bought. If I do a restaurant shop that requires me to spend $50 for dinner and for some reason I don’t get paid, then I am out the $50 but at least I got dinner. (By the way, I have NEVER had a problem getting paid for any mystery shopping assignment. It can happen, but it is not all that common…at least, if you follow directions.) Never have more money at risk than you could afford to lose if the worst happened.
You can be even safer when you know that you are dealing with legitimate mystery shopping companies, such as members of the MSPA. Of course, you need to KNOW that you are dealing with the legitimate company and not someone claiming to be them. Do a search for the company name and find their actual contact information, not what the scammer may have told you.
Be extra cautious when you are asked to ship something out of the country. In fact, just say no. I can’t think of any circumstance where I would be willing to do this.
Check with your state’s attorney general or consumer affairs office. Describe the offer you received and see what they say. They see scams every day, so they are more familiar with the signs that something is a scam. They may not be able to tell you with certainty that something is legitimate or a scam, but they can tell you if something smells fishy to them.
Use your best judgement when considering any offer presented to you. If you have any doubt or something just doesn’t feel right, run away. It would be better to miss out on something that might have been legitimate than to fall prey to scammers and be out thousands of dollars.