Every year, scammers take millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims who believe they are doing mystery shopper jobs. The scam is always the same. The bad guys send a forged check to the victim, get the victim to cash the check and wire most of the money away, then the victim is left holding the bag when the check is found to be worthless and the bank demands repayment of the money they received.
The victim usually wires the money to the bad guys, using Western Union or MoneyGram, so the obvious question is, why doesn’t law enforcement set up a sting and arrest the crooks when they go to pick up the cash? The scammers call the victims and give them a number to call, so why can’t the phone number be traced?
Unfortunately those methods won’t work. The phone numbers are typically to burner cell phones that are soon deactivated. And there is no way of knowing when or where the scammers will go to pick up the money.
In order to better serve their legitimate customers, the money wiring services allow them to pick up cash at almost any of their locations. Law enforcement can’t send people to stake out every possible location in the hope they can catch the bad guys. Bad guys who are very well organized.
The Federal Trade Commission recently reported on a company that provided money runners for a number of telemarketing scams. These scams involved telemarketers impersonating IRS agents and demanding payment of back taxes, or promising a grant after the victim paid a fee. Although the scams were not exactly like the mystery shopper check scam, the result was the same: victims wired money, the scammers picked it up and the victims were out the cash. By the time they realized they were victims of a scam, the money was long gone and they had no chance of recovering it.
This company, PHLG Enterprises, picked up payments at Western Union and MoneyGram locations all over Florida. They used fake names, went to multiple stores in various cities every day and lied to store employees about being friends or relatives of the people who wired the money. (Apparently, this is one of the fraud protection systems used by the money wiring services. They ask if you are related to the person sending the money because a scammer wouldn’t lie about that, right? Sheesh.) The FTC says that the PHLG runners were able to pick up more than $1.5 million from about 3000 people in an eight month period.
The bottom line is that the scammers are not easy to catch and there isn’t a lot of motivation to catch them. The money involved in each transaction is not enough for law enforcement to get very worked up about it. And the money wiring services don’t seem to care because they do not lose money on these scams. In fact, they make money because they collect a fee every time a victim wires money to a scammer.
That means that it is up to us to put a stop to these scams. Don’t fall for the scam and talk to the people you know about avoiding scams. The scams are not just about mystery shopping. They take a lot of different forms, but the bottom line is that thieves are stealing money from people who cannot afford to lose it. They do it by appealing to the victims’ greed or creating fear. They promise lots of money or threaten jail. Whatever their tactics, don’t fall for them and help others avoid these sleazeballs.