I guess it was only a matter of time. Scammers are still having lots of success with the fake check scam, but some of them have moved on to a new con: They are hiring people to steal for them.
Although there have not been reports of this scam in the U.S. (yet) it has happened in the U.K.
According to local police, a woman applied for a “personal shoplifter” position after seeing an advertisement on Facebook. She received instructions to go to one of their “client stores,” and attempt to take items without paying for them. When she was successful in stealing items, she was to put them in clear bags labeled with the names of the stores from which they were stolen, then send them to her “employer.”
And if she wasn’t successful? She was told that she was to keep playing her role of undercover shoplifter, even when caught, unless she was arrested. At that time, the police could call the company that hired her and they would confirm that she was working for them.
You can probably guess what happened when she was caught shoplifting and police were called. No one could contact her “employer” to verify that she was to steal for them. And the store has no such program. (Surprise!)
It appears that the police eventually believed her story. (Although some online commenters didn’t. They thought it was a clever cover ruse that she dreamed up to use when shoplifting.)
Apparently, these scammers used the company name Mystery Shopping UK and they had a website. The name Mystery Shopping UK is vague enough to sound like a real mystery shopping company. As for the website, I did not see it before it was taken down, but it may have consisted of content scraped from legitimate mystery shopping sites. I have seen that done many times.
How can people protect themselves from these scams? There was nothing in the reports I read about how much she was supposed to be paid for these jobs, but if you are offered hundreds of dollars for a mystery shopping assignment, it is probably not real. (There are assignments that pay very well, but they are not going to be offered to someone with no experience.)
If you are told to steal things, that is a giant red flag. There are services that test retail security by attempting to steal. However, they are not going to hire someone via Facebook. Most of these services will be run by licensed private investigators, and people working for them will be trained employees (generally not contractors).
Trust your intuition. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t do it.