You’re recently unemployed, searching job boards and posting countless resumes. Suddenly you receive an e-mail that you can’t pass up: get paid to go shopping. You e-mail them back trying to withhold your enthusiasm. They tell you you’re a perfect fit and you can start right away. First, they’ll send you a check for a few hundred dollars. Second, cash the check, use a few hundred to go shopping at Walmart, take notes on your experience and keep anything you buy. Finally, make sure you test Western Union by wiring some money to an international address. So what’s wrong with that?
The Dirty Secret in Secret Shopping
The problem is that the check is fake. Sure, your bank will clear the check the next day, but in a week or so you’ll receive a call from them telling you the check was a fraud. Now the bank wants its money back—see they gave you the hundreds of dollars based on the fact that the check was real, now that it’s not, the bank comes up short. The only way the bank can get its money back is to take it from your account, even if the balance is zero. So unless you kept the receipt of all the things you purchased at Walmart and can return each one for cash, you’re suddenly going to have to come up with a lot of money to make the bank whole. And because you wired money internationally through Western Union, you can kiss that money goodbye. It is nearly impossible to ever recover funds wired through services like Western Union or Moneygram.
How to Be Sure There’s No Dark Secret
Make sure you only cash checks from reputable companies. It’s rare for a real company to ask you to cash a check before you do any work. Also, never, I mean never, wire money to someone you have not met in person. You should also do your due diligence and research the company that is supposedly hiring you, check Scambook.com to see if anyone has had a similar experience. If the company e-mail address is from Gmail, yahoo, Hotmail or other similar places, then it is probably a scam, like “[email protected]”. If they provide a link for a corporate website, make sure it is legit and not a phishing attempt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing Finally, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Real “Secret Shopping” companies exist, but they aren’t very lucrative. A typical secret shopper makes $10-20 an hour and does not get free shopping sprees. Meanwhile, the fake “Secret Shopping” companies offer $200 per outing and let you keep hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.
Many news organizations have looked at this scam in the past. ABC News says that people have “lost thousands of dollars after cashing counterfeit checks and wiring money back to scammers.” http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/wireStory?id=4407858 MSNBC tells its readers to “never accept a job that requires you to cash a check and wire money.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21119508/ns/business-consumer_news/t/secret-shopping-scam-two-price-one/ Finally, the Federal Trade Commission has written a great article about the dangers of the “Secret Shopper” scheme and others like it. They warn that because it can take banks weeks to discover a fraudulent check, you are responsible for any funds that you use from that original check. They also say that if someone insists that you wire money, “end the transaction immediately.” http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre40.shtm
How to Help
If you get an e-mail from someone saying they are hiring secret shoppers, the best thing to do is to mark the e-mail as spam. Don’t respond to it. Delete the e-mail, throw the letter away, and don’t respond. Visit Scambook.com and post what the e-mail said to alert others who might be wondering if the amazing job opportunity they are being offered is real. Then get the word out, tell people to visit Scambook.com by sharing your post on Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t be a Victim
The people running this scam are trying to take advantage of the millions of hard working Americans who have been put out of work during this recession. While it may seem like a relief that you might get a steady paycheck once more, a little ground work can prevent massive headaches later.