Every week there are stories on television and radio and in newspapers about mystery shopper scams. The worst thing you can say about most of these stories are that they are repetitive. After all, how many times have we heard that someone got a big check, cashed it and wired the money to someone, then learned the check was a fraud and they must repay the money to the bank?
Even though I have seen literally thousands of these stories, people keep falling for the scam, proving that many have not heard about them. That means that these stories serve a purpose in warning people about the scam and showing them how to avoid being victims.
Well, a few days ago I saw a new kind of scam story. New because it was completely wrong about how to avoid getting scammed. This was a story on the website of a television station, and represented a story they had run on their newscast. I am not going to link to the story, because I don’t want them to get views and clicks on ads in their bogus story; however, here are the two things they said to do to protect yourself from the scam.
1) Google the name of the company that sent you the check. If it is a scam, there will be results saying that the company is a scam.
Well, maybe. But most of the time the scammers use the name of a legitimate company. The search results will bring up the legitimate company’s website and news about them.
If you go to the legitimate company’s website, they may have information there about scammers using their name, but they may not or it may not be easy to find. Bottom line: Googling the name of the “company” that sent the check is not a good way to determine if it is a scam.
The second thing they said to do is even worse.
2) Deposit the check, but wait 48 hours before doing anything else. In that time, you will know that the check has cleared or the bank will tell you that the check is no good.
Can you believe that this advice came from the Better Business Bureau, a supposedly reliable source? The reality is that the bank will probably release the funds to you after 48 hours because they are legally required to do so. However, that does not prove that the check is good and that it has cleared. It could take several days to two weeks (or occasionally even longer) to determine that the check is not valid. The BBB should know that.
People who follow the advice in this “news” story will end up falling for the scam. That makes me angry, because it is so stupid and unnecessary.
Here is how to tell if a mystery shopper job offer is a scam: Someone sends you a check or money order. They tell you to cash it and wire money (or send gift card PINs) somewhere. It is a scam. It doesn’t matter the name of the company or that the bank says the check “looks good,” or that they let you withdraw the funds after 48 hours. It is a scam. No one does this for any legitimate reason.
This does not apply only to mystery shopper job offers. It could be that they are buying something you listed on eBay or Craigslist. Or they claim they want to rent a house or a room from you. Or they want to hire you to be a tutor or a virtual assistant. Or even retain your law firm. Whatever they say, if they send you a large check and ask you to wire some of the money back to them, it is a scam. Period. Who would send you a valid check for thousands of dollars when they have no contractual relationship with you and no assurance that you won’t just cash the check and keep all of the money? No one would.
My first impulse when I read this bogus news story was to leave a comment telling the truth about how to spot a check scam. But, of course, this site does not allow comments. After hunting all over the site, I found a way to contact them via email, so I sent an email politely explaining that there were errors that could be harmful to their audience. I thought they might want to make a correction to the story. No, they did not. I got an email saying that they got their information from the Better Business Bureau, and I should contact the BBB if I thought there were errors in the story. And they wonder why people do not trust the news media.
The lesson to take away from this? Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right (such as someone sending you a check out of the blue and offering hundreds of dollars for a simple task that takes about an hour) don’t fall for it. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Oh, and don’t trust everything you see on television. Or hear from the Better Business Bureau.