One of the common signs of a scam email is that the scammer uses a free email service, such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail. But maybe the scammers are getting smarter.
A shopper recently emailed about an “offer” she received via email. Based on her description, it sounded like a scam to me, but she said that the company name matched the email. They even had a website. But something had her worried. Turns out, she was right to worry.
Here is the email she forwarded to me:
We received your application for the independent customer service evaluator “mystery shopper” position. This opportunity will allow you to utilize your spare/available hours and actually turn it into cash by selling us genuine feedback opinion reports about experiences you encounter at various retail stores and business in your area that are our clients.
We are pleased to inform you that your application has successfully passed the first stage of the acceptance process which was an identity check therefore, we would like to propose a few trial assignments to enable you test the waters with us.
This stands as the second stage of our acceptance process but just before I proceed further, I’d like to give you a brief but detailed insight about us and your new position.
O******s C****a E*********s S******s 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 mystery shoppers on an ongoing basis.
As you already know, performing mystery shops is a great way for you to make additional income while helping companies to improve their level of customer service. O******s C****a offers 600+ secret shop assignments each month across more than 12 industries.
We endeavor to only work with individuals with a keen eye for details, who are extremely conscientious and responsible in honoring 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 these paid test assignments to enable us quantify how valuable you will be to us if you intend to pursue this opportunity on a full time basis after the probationary period of two weeks.
These assignments will all be conducted at a local WalMart store as it is our most current active campaign. The scenarios and role play which we intend to propose will be specifically tailored to test your communication, punctuality, attention to details, confidentiality, ability to follow directions and ability to work independently. Your performances will enable us build an internal work ethic profile for you on our system.
Compensation per assignment will remain at the standard rate of $100.00 each during the entire two weeks probationary period. You will conduct three assignments per day for four days of your choice within two weeks. This means that your estimated gross compensation within the probationary test period will be $1200.00.
Be aware, this is an independent contractor position and you will be responsible to keep your own records of income for tax purposes.
We will provide ten (12) assignments in total all under the WalMart campaign within the next two weeks. The assignments will be sent in the following order. (3,3,3,3) with the deadlines set by your campaign coordinator individually.
Below is the first batch of three assignments to commence the probationary period. Seven (9) subsequent assignments will follow in the order earlier mentioned above on dates provided by you as long as it does not interfere with any other schedule.
• ELECTRONICS DEPARTMENT: You will pose as a regular customer while making purchases of electronics at a local store to determine service levels. You will get to keep item(s) purchased during this visit as an incentive.You will be required to appraise greeting, customer service levels and product knowledge.
• CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT: We will create a scenario to enable you evaluate recent fluctuations in service fee charges on a third party bill payment service available in this department. This will be a full role playing scenario. Strict instructions and guidelines will be provided by your coordinator.
• CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT: You will pose again as a regular customer making to enable you determine service levels and employee product knowledge on the same service at the customer service desk area. You will appraise organization, signage and overall customer service of the store clerk.
This is a mirror scenario to the initial appraisal. You will be required to rate the experience on a scale of 1-10. During each assignment, 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 submit 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 intend to 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 twelve (12) assignments in the probationary period as one lump sum cheque.
Due to the discreet nature of the position and our services, your funding cheque will be issued under our group name “BROOKS CPN 8110899” This is only to disguise and protect your identity as a mystery shopper with our firm.
These proposed assignments are ready for immediate commencement. Contact me directly by telephone immediately upon receiving this email on (289) XXX-1407 quoting your temporary representative identification number is XXXXXXXX.
Congratulations on your acceptance.
Dedicated Coordinator/ Head of Operations
There are several red flags here to anyone who has been mystery shopping for a while. Very few assignments, particularly simple assignments, pay $100 each. Most companies do not hire full-time shoppers. And mystery shopping companies do not send checks BEFORE you do any work.
When you also see that these high-paying assignments are at WalMart, a favorite choice of the scammers when describing their fantasy mystery shopping assignments, you have what looks like a slam dunk scam. That “third party bill payment service” the shopper is to evaluate”? My money says that it is Western Union or MoneyGram and the task involves wiring money to someone.
Because these folks went to the trouble to put up a website, I thought I would dig a little deeper. I want to share some information with you that could help you spot a scam website, whether they claim to be a mystery shopping company, survey company or some other type of business. Let’s keep asking questions and get to the bottom of this.
The website name sounds like it could be a mystery shopping company; however, when you go to the site (which I don’t recommend you do) all that is there is a landing page with a link to an “application.” There are lots of logos of major companies that are supposedly clients, but that is a common lie used by scammers to make themselves appear credible. And, although some legitimate mystery shopping companies list clients on their websites, they do not usually fill the home page with logos of their clients. They also claim to be “Mystery Shopping Research Team of the Year 2013,” whatever that means, but there is no indication of who named them Team of the Year.
The site looks fishy to me. First rule of scamming: Scammers lie. They use fake names and fake company names, or claim they are associated with real, legitimate companies. They promise lots of money for little work. They claim to have awards and affiliations (such as the Better Business Bureau and Mystery Shopping Providers Association) that they do not have. Do not trust what you are told by some random person sending you spam emails. Do not believe everything you read on the Internet.
There have been other scammers who put up websites, so these people would not be the first. Don’t be fooled by a website. Any idiot with $10 or a credit card can register a domain name and put up a website, especially one with almost no content. On this site there is no information about the company, the people who work there, the services they provide or anything else. There is no login for clients or shoppers. There is no contact information, such as address or phone number, and no contact form. Just a bunch of logos and an application to lure victims to the scam. It doesn’t look like you would expect a real mystery shopping company website to look.
I have some toolbars that I use with my browser while I am on the web, and they give me information about the sites I visit. The WebRank SEO Toolbar for the Firefox or Chrome browsers tells me things about sites such as the Google Page Rank, rankings on Alexa, Quantcast and Compete, the number of the site’s pages that have been indexed by Google and Bing and the number of links to the site found by Google and Bing.
Some of that may not make sense to you if you are not involved in doing business on the Internet, but the numbers in that toolbar tell me a lot about a site. Would it surprise you to learn that every one of those metrics for this site was a big, fat zero? They have no ranking, no pages indexed and no incoming links from other sites.
That led me to my next step. I looked up the registration of the domain to find out who owned it and when it was registered. You can do this at several sites, including http://www.whois.sc/. The listing is set to private so I can’t see the name of the person or company who registered the domain. That could be a bad sign, but not necessarily. Many legitimate companies use private registration (although most of the legitimate mystery shopping companies I checked did not).
What is a bad sign is that the domain was registered on January 29, 2014—just a few weeks ago. Gee, a company that didn’t exist a month ago was Mystery Shopping Research Team of the Year last year? They must be good. Also, the domain was only registered for one year and it expires next January. Domain name registrations are renewed annually, but they can be prepaid many years in advance. Although some of the legitimate mystery shopping companies I looked at appear to register only one year at a time, many have renewed two or more years into the future.
Next I did a Google search for the company name. Absolutely no mentions of a company by this name in all of the gazillions of pages in the Google index. Not even a mention of them being named Mystery Shopping Research Team of the Year 2013. I tried the search again with the company name followed by “mystery shopping.” Still nothing about them. That is because THEY DO NOT EXIST.
I am not suggesting that you do all of this research every time you get a spam email. It usually takes a lot less than this to determine that yes, it is a scam and you should just delete the email and move on. However, I wanted to show you some of the ways you can research a company (or a scammer claiming to be a mystery shopping company) to determine if they are real.
Fortunately, the shopper who forwarded this information to me trusted her gut. She checked them out and did not get scammed.
Most of the people who fall for scams know that there is something wrong, but they ignore the little voice in their heads telling them not to do it. Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong or seems too good to be true, just walk away. Better yet, run.