I have written more times than I can count about the mystery shopper scam where scammers send fake checks to people who believe they have been selected as mystery shoppers. The victims are told to cash the checks, evaluate local businesses, then wire money to other “shoppers” or back to the scammer. Some time later, the victim discovers that the check they deposited was fraudulent and the bank expects them to return any money they received from the bad check. Individual victims have lost thousands of dollars to these scams, and the total stolen is in the millions.
Now there is a new twist on this scam. A Georgia woman received a package that included several credit cards. She was instructed to use the cards to make purchases at WalMart, Target, Home Depot and the Apple store, then ship her purchases to an address on the west coast.
At the Apple store, she was to buy five gift cards for $2000 each, and five of the latest and greatest iPhones. The store discovered the credit cards were not valid, and they called the police. The woman was arrested and taken to jail, and she now faces felony charges. Unlike most check scams, where the victim is left to repay money to the bank, this victim faces the possibility of jail time. Even if she doesn’t go to jail, she has the expense of hiring a lawyer and the stress of being arrested and dealing with the chance she could go to jail or face other consequences.
Although this is not exactly the same story we have seen so many times, the only real difference is the use of fake credit cards instead of fake checks. The thing that is surprising to me is that both the victim and the television reporters appear to think that she was working for a mystery shopping company and this was a job gone wrong, not a scam.
The victim is quoted as saying, “They trusted me to make these purchases. I would’ve trusted them to not put me in a place that would change my whole life.” They did not “trust (her) to make these purchases.” They scammed her into making the fraudulent purchases. This was a scam, not a job. The article on the TV station’s website (supposedly written by someone who should know that this was a scam) says, “Her bosses no longer answer calls.” She did not have “bosses,” she had scammers! Hello? Does no one understand the difference?
What happened to the victim in this story is sad, but the bottom line here is that everyone has an obligation to protect themselves from scammers. Ask questions. Why would someone send me credit cards, in my name, with credit lines of $15,000 to $20,000? How did they get those cards issued in my name, anyway? Why is it necessary to buy thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in order to check service at a store–couldn’t we get the same result spending a lot less? Why are they paying me hundreds of dollars for something that takes a couple of hours to do?
When you ask those questions, you introduce doubt about the validity of the “opportunity” that has been presented. Many of the people who get scammed have a little voice in their heads warning them that something isn’t right. They tell the little voice to shut up because they want the easy money promised by the scammers. Listen to that voice, hold on to your cash and stay out of jail.