Watch out for the secret shopper scam. In this scam, shoppers are asked to go to various stores to spy on their competition. In order to qualify, the person must provide back ground information upon themselves. After all, the company needs to know who is doing the spying on whom.
The reality is, the company is spying of the unsuspecting person by getting all of his personal information. Now they have most of what they need to invade bank accounts or sell identities.
In one scheme, the shopper is offered a check to buy certain items. It is a large enough check to buy the items and have plenty left afterwards. So the person wins in two ways, one he gets to keep the items he buys, presumably, and he gets to keep the change.
After buying the items the shopper finds out he bought items using a counterfeited check. Now he will be stuck explaining to the local constabulary why he used a counterfeited check and when is he going to make good on his purchases?
In another version of the scheme, the "employee:" gets money wired directly to his account. Now he has no fears the money is there to spend, it got wired! Not so fast. Instead of wiring money into the account, the internet charlatan takes money out of the account. Since most people who fall into these kinds of schemes are having financial troubles anyway, the theft puts an undue hardship on them. Landlords don't like excuses.
Still another version charges you to find the true secret shopping sites:
"Sounds like a fun, legitimate job, right? ...if you want to participate, you are likely to find hundreds of fraudulent web sites...But in most cases, these web sites have one intent - making you pay to become a member of their web site...But all they actually do is provide you with a list of useless links to companies that no longer exist, or more companies that want you to pay more money to join their web site as well!" secret shopping advice
The FTC has a few words about secret shopping:
"The truth is that it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The shopping certification offered in advertising or unsolicited email is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free; and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are on the Internet for free. Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs usually are out of luck. Either the business doesn’t return the phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch" The truth about secret shopping by Federal Trade Commission
The FBI internet crime complaint center (IC3) has been getting a lot of calls over this kind of fraud on the net. They have some advice for you to keep your money in the bank and not fall prey to crooks.
Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan all atachments, if possible.
Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
There are legitimate mystery/secret shopper programs available. Research the legitimacy on companies hiring mystery shoppers. Legitimate companies will not charge an application fee and will accept applications online.
No legitimate mystery/secret shopper program will send payment in advance and ask he employee to send a portion of it back.
It is important to remember that schemes of this nature can only take place with the public’s participation. The FBI New York is reminding everyone to remain vigilant when solicited by potential scam artists and to use the above suggestions as a guideline in protecting your identity.
All of that means, buyer beware, protect yourself; the internet is full of big bad wolves.
Special Agent Richard Kolko, spokesman for the FBI in New York said,
“We remind the public to be on constant alert for crooks that are looking to exploit services and financial information for their own personal agenda. It is ultimately everyone’s responsibility to remain the front line of defense in protecting their identity.
The FBI encourages everyone to report information regarding scams of this type to the proper authorities. Be smart—protect yourself. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.”
The FBI is active in pursuing trash on the net. They, like us, would love to put this riff raff where they can't hurt innocent persons. It is important to report fraud on the net.
If you have information regarding mystery/secret shopper schemes, or believe you have been a victim, we encourage you to file a complaint at www.ic3.gov.