Scott Foster is an advocate for consumer rights. Recently, he responded to an unsolicited email asking him to be a "mystery shopper." When he had completed his assignment, Foster received a money order check in the mail for his $875 due. It was a fake.
Legitimate research companies use these undercover shoppers to document customer service at various businesses. But scam artists are cashing in on the system, creating sophisticated schemes that promise potential mystery shoppers big money.
"The internet, of course, has set up all sorts of unscrupulous stuff and is preying on – especially when the economy is bad – desperate people sometimes," says Foster.
The same thing happened to Angela Callahan. Like Foster, she received a check in the mail for more than $3,000 and a letter instructing her to deposit it at her own bank. She was then told to go to Western Union and observe its customer service while transferring money from her bank account.
Callahan was duped. The check she got in the mail was forged.
"A mystery shopping company is not going to just hand you a check and say, ‘Hey, here's your money. Go do with it what you want,'" says Sarah Leeke of Remington Evaluations. Her company is a legitimate mystery shopping resource.
Leeke says that her company does not send unsolicited emails looking for hires, and that any potential employees have to go through an interview process and sign a contract as they would with any other job.
Foster has been following consumer scams for years and says that they are getting more and more elaborate. "This one is the most clever one I've seen," he says. "No telling how many thousands of people in the nation [. . .] go for this."
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