Mystery Shopping Company Wants Me To Test A Wire Service By Sending Them Money

Here’s a crafty scam. Scammers, posing as a legitimate Mystery Shopping company, send out checks asking the “shopper” to wire back a portion of the money in order to test the wire service. Of course, it turns out that the checks are fake — but it’s too late for the hapless victim. He’s already wired the money! It’s an old scam, with a new twist.

Reader Chris’ smelled something fishy when his friend told him about the great mystery shopping job he’d gotten, and now he’s wondering what to do to report the scammers.

Chris says:

Here’s the story, my pal “Clint” had just moved to NYC and was looking for employment. Luckily, today he scored not one, but two jobs! One as a sausage vendor (with all of its accompanying euphemisms) and one – and this is the one he was really exited about – as a mystery shopper. All he had to do was email some folks and they sent him a great big check! Sure, he’d have to send most of it back through Western Union, but he still got to keep…hey wait a minute…

Alarm bells went off. I had seen this story on Consumerist before! Thankfully, he was so excited that he told me all about it before depositing the probably-fake check, and I was able to reference him quickly to one of several stories posted on Consumerist regarding this common scam.

I wouldn’t have recognized this at all without becoming so addicted to Consumerist, of course, but now we need some more help. He has the maybe-fake check and some contact info for the maybe-scammers, what does he do with it? Who can he report this to? Is there any way to confirm that the check is fake without depositing it? What’s the next step here?

We look at the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s website to see if they had any information about this scam — and they did!

Here’s how they describe the scam:

Consumers receive a large-sum check, typically between $1,000 and $5,000. They are asked to evaluate the service at a variety of stores and wire a portion of the money back to the sender while also evaluating the wiring service. Consumers are told to keep a portion of the money as payment.

The name of a real company usually appears on the check as well as real account information. The forgery of the check is discovered a few days after it is deposited, and the consumer is held responsible for the entire amount of the check.

“Scammers are taking advantage of the allure of Mystery Shopping to take money from consumers’ hands,” said MSPA Executive Director John Swinburn. “MSPA has long recognized the problem and is constantly working to make consumers aware of new scams related to Mystery Shopping.”

Here are the appropriate agencies to contact, according to the MSPA:

National Consumers League/Alliance for Consumer Fraud Awareness: http://www.fakechecks.org

Internet Crime Complaint Center:

http://www.ic3.gov/ (if the offer is received by email or you are directed to a website)

Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service:

http://www.uspsoig.gov/ (if the offer is received by mail)

Local Police

Federal Trade Commission:

http://www.ftc.gov

Federal Bureau of Investigation:

http://www.fbi.gov

To see a list of legitimate companies go to http://www.mysteryshop.org.

The most important thing, however, is that you didn’t fall for this scam! Good work!

Mystery Shopping Providers Association warns consumers of new twist on old scam [MSPA]
(Photo: Joy of the Mundane )

Comments

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  1. Southern says:

    As common as these scams are becoming, you would THINK that someone (the banks, the Feds, FDIC, TeleCheck, etc.) would come up with a way to check on the validity of a check before it’s “cashed”.

    • homerjay- Smiling politely says:

      @Southern:Wells Fargo has a number that you can call to verify a check. It works pretty well when I use it though its only for cashiers checks. I wouldn’t accept any other kind of check from someone like this though.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @Southern: The problem is people flip if their funds aren’t credited immediately. People wouldn’t put up with the several days’ delay needed for the bank on the check to realize the fraud.

      • idip says:

        @Coles_Law: Lord knows this is the truth.

        I’ve seen a lady get a branch manager to override a standard check hold only for her to find out a week later that the check was returned Non Sufficient Funds and she had hundreds of dollars worth the overdraft fees.

        We did not waive any of those fees because she guaranteed the branch manager that the check would clear because apparently people don’t write checks if they don’t have money.

      • FLEB says:

        @Coles_Law: Still, there should be a method to say “Please determine whether this is completely legitimate before crediting my account. I am willing to wait.”

        • Coles_Law says:

          @FLEB: Agreed. However, I think the option would be rarely, if ever, used. For every person who used it intelligently the bank would likely get a dozen people complaining that their check was taking forever to clear.

        • LJKelley says:

          @FLEB: If I owned a bank and someone asked me to please check if this ‘cash/check/stock’ is legit and not fraud I would then refuse to deal with that transaction expect for possibly handing over to the FBI.

          I think the whole point is, if the money source is unknown it shouldn’t be dealt with anyways as it could be laundry. If you get checks from work, family, friends then you will obviously trust those. The only other possibility really is eBay and still you shouldn’t send a shipment until a check clears which the bank can tell you if a check has cleared. eBay is really the only legit transaction I can think of that can possibly have a check from an unknown person. I would advise against eBay anyways due to this unknown.

    • zentex says:

      MSPA has long recognized the problem and is constantly working to make consumers aware of new scams related to Mystery Shopping.

      Well, they get an “F” for their efforts in educating consumers. Try harder MSPA! If you can bring that “F” up to a “B”, I’ll take you out for Ice Cream!

      This is the first I’ve heard of this problem and I can thank The Consumerist.

      @Southern: You’d think so. I’ve had banks refuse to cash LEGITIMATE checks because the signature wasn’t a 100% facsimile of the signature on file. My reply is always “srsly?!?”.

  2. MercuryPDX says:

    Since we’re on this topic:

    Reputable mystery shopping companies will NEVER ask you for a “fee” to shop for them.

    If a Mystery Shopping offer is sounds too good to be true, it is.

    The best place to vet the information (and learn more about mystery shopping) are the Volition forums:
    [forum.volition.com]

    • SiddhimaAmythaon says:

      Lets clarify that some of them do ask you to spend money. I used to do the mystery shop thing. They magically dried up after a refused a job that would have required me to act as a racist and record their reaction (I didn’t think i could do it with a straight face) . Well back to my point most of them required me to buy something (Lunch, Dinner or some small item (I think i had to buy popcorn at a video store chain once). Then put my receipt number on my report and I got my item cost + my payment back via pay-pal. in a day or two.

      • MercuryPDX says:

        @SiddhimaAmythaon: That’s exactly how it works, but I was referring more to advertisements like: “Get our Exclusive List of Mystery Shopping Companies for only $50!”

        or Mystery Shopping Companies that say: “Pay me $100 and I will let you evaluate a car!”

  3. AbbottScrofa says:

    Don’t get screwed over by mystery shopper job offers they often expect you to pay out of pocket or using credit cards for items, send in receipts and other documentation and then they reimburse you, taking up to 60 days to do so. All the while you are paying credit card interest and loosing what little you were paid for mystery shopping.

  4. matukonyc says:

    The problem is that people are rock stupid, apparently. Also, the problem is that people who have no job skills don’t seem to realize that most people who hire employees who have or need absolutely no skills are not legitimate.

  5. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Has anyone ever been a mystery shopper? Care to educate us on how they fill your coffers for the spending spree?

    • MercuryPDX says:

      @Applekid: You are often required to lay out the money up front, and get reimbursed with your pay anywhere from 30 to 90 days later (depends on the company).

      If you go into it with the attitude of “Hey it’s a free meal!” or “Hey, it’s $10 off of something”, then you’ll do OK. The majority of shoppers don’t make enough from it to make it a full time job.

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        @MercuryPDX: @swvaboy: @MercuryPDX: @johnnya2:
        Thanks for the info. Personally I’d be so distrustful I’d assume they’d never pay me back. :P

        • MercuryPDX says:

          @Applekid: I had the same hesitation when I started, so I started small. I made it a point to keep my investment small, and none of the companies I’ve shopped for have screwed me.

          Also, the other shoppers on Volition are VERY vocal about it when there’s any issue with a company. Most of them companies have their own threads (Subject starts as “Feedback Requested: company name“.

          Jobs are extremely varied, and as others have pointed out not all require you to put money out.

    • swvaboy says:

      @Applekid: As has been noted you have to pay upfront and submit a receipt with your report. When I first began I did a lot of fast food shops, I was eating there anyway. I took my commission and put it in savings. I did this for about 4 months; so I had a Mystery Shop Fund.

      Then I started doing higher cost/higher commission shops, oil changes, hotel stays, and such. As I really got into Mystery Shopping I found numerous jobs that i did not have to pay anything upfront, banks, insurance companies, travel agencies, etc.

      Most companies pay 30 – 45 days after shop, some pay as quick as 7 days via direct deposit or PayPal. I use the money for my vacation and Christmas. While you will not get rich Mystery Shopping, I can clear $4,000 -$5,000 a year easily with minimal effort on my part. I also have a full time “regular” job. If someone where unemployed or employed part time they could easily get an additional $1,000 or so.

      NEVER pay to get information about mystery shopping. If any company asks you to use Western Union to send them back part of a check even a cashier’s check RUN! As MercuryPDX said Volition forums are a great place to start.

    • John Gage says:

      @Applekid:

      I did mystery shopping for a little while. I hated it. Yes, I got to eat for free a couple times but they want REALLY specific documentation about the visits. It was not worth the effort.

    • johnnya2 says:

      @Applekid: It is a very simple process. I do shops for 4 companies, and I pick and choose what I want to do based on my schedule. Last year I made just under $7500. Does it make me rich? Absolutely not, but I spend very little time on it, and I usually get food, products, or hotel rooms with no cost to me. Most companies pay direct deposit, so this scam is not that hard to thwart. As long as you pay for something and finish the shop properly, you are reimbursed and in most case get paid as well.

    • CorrieCJ says:

      @Applekid: As swvaboy pointed out, there are also shops that require no layout of money. Once in a while if it is a shop that requires a big money layout, the company will advance you a fee, but generally as others have said, you have to wait for it. Personally, I wouldn’t accept an advance from a company unless I had worked with them in the past. Every shop and every company has different parameters, pay schedules, etc. I work FT and do mystery shopping on the side (lunch hours, some weekend jobs, etc). I am trying to throw my profits at my debt snowball these days. Some months I earn $50-$100, some months nothing but a few free meals or snacks, but I can do as much or as little as I please.

    • Areia says:

      @Applekid:

      I was a health care mystery shopper for a while. They would have me make an appointment for some hard-to-prove issue like headaches or insomnia and then write a report about the staff I encountered. I would charge the self-pay amount, but at the end of the visit I would hand over a letter explaining they’d been mystery shopped and they would simply reverse the charge. The company then paid me monthly for each shop.

  6. SkokieGuy says:

    I have done mystery shopping for Restaurant Evaluators: [www.restaurantevaluators.com]

    They ARE legit. Once you complete register, read about how to do the reviews, the post listings of restaurants (clients of theirs) that need reviews. You typically will have a dinner for two, perhaps order drink, then must complete an extraordinarily detailed report about everything from parking lot lighting, to how the water glasses were refilled. You turn in the report and they mail you a check to reimburse you for the dinner.

    You don’t actually earn and income, but you and a friend end up having dinner at (most often) a very upscale place, for free.

    • Corporate-Shill says:

      @SkokieGuy:

      Sounds like a good job for a guy that dates lots of women and can’t afford his life style

      • MercuryPDX says:

        @Corporate-Shill: Could be. The only issues I can forsee are when you’re asked to do a specific “Must bring member of opposite sex” dining shop, they expect your “date” to inform you about the bathroom (Clean? Well stocked? etc.).

        You also don’t want your “date” to blow your cover and invalidate the shop because your “Up to $100 for dinner at upscale restaurant” becomes “You’re paying for dinner.”

    • DH405 says:

      @SkokieGuy: Sounds like fun. Any way I can give you credit for the referral?

      • SkokieGuy says:

        @SMSDHubbard: That’s very kind, but I don’t think they offer that and I no longer participate, as frankly the reporting can take several hours to write up.

  7. cottiescot says:

    My Girlfriend, and her best friend turned us on to Mystery Shopping. We have eaten at some extremely upscale restaurants and paid very little. (there is a stipend however we always go over)

  8. corinthos says:

    I was a mystery shopper for cell phones places. I got paid 20 dollars for each one I went to and acted like I was interested. Ended up making 60ish, this was two years ago. I forgot who it was from but if I seen their name I’d probably remember.

  9. Gilbert Tang, Jr. says:

    One of your advertisements is blocking the text of this post. I’m using Firefox 3.03 on OS X 10.5.5.

  10. Jetfire says:

    Crazy idea here, why not wait until the funds clear before you wire money back to them?

    • madanthony says:

      @Jetfire:

      because chances are it’s a fake cashier’s check, and by law the bank has to make the funds available in 5 days, even if the bank hasn’t gotten them. So people see the money in their account after 5 days, think it’s cleared, spend it, and find out months later that they was robbed.

      from Snopes

      The scam works because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) requires banks to make money from cashier’s, certified, or teller’s checks available in one to five days. Consequently, funds from checks that might not be good are often released into payees’ accounts long before the checks have been honored by their issuing banks. High quality forgeries can be bounced back and forth between banks for weeks before anyone catches on to their being worthless, by which time victims have long since wired the “overpayments” to the con artists who have just taken them for a ride.

  11. swvaboy says:

    I forgot on my other post: If anyone wants a good starters list you can email me swvaboy at Gmail dot com. I will be glad to send you a list and make some referrals to some companies. (Yes I may get a referral fee but it will not affect what you get paid.)

  12. Triborough says:

    Good rule of thumb:
    If it involves wiring money, it is a scam.

  13. Difdi says:

    When I write a check in a lot of stores these days, money is removed from my checking account just about as fast as if I’d used a debit card. So why is it that the bank can’t do something similar when someone wants to cash a check, to verify that the check is good?

  14. DanKelley98 says:

    Anybody who falls for this really has whats coming to them. Wake up!

  15. discounteggroll says:

    so I guess it’s safe to say that the “Ads by Google” et al $4500/mo for “mystery shoppers” like this…click me! is completely unrelated?

    • MercuryPDX says:

      @discounteggroll: To the Wire transfer scam, Yes….

      Signing up to do Mystery shopping costs NOTHING. Anyone (at the above ads) looking for a “fee” to “get a list” or “get started” is out to rook you. Check the volition link I posted above, for free and legitimate ways in to mystery shopping.

      • swvaboy says:

        @MercuryPDX: You are right, volition is an excellent site for someone that is interested in mystery shopping. It would take a couple of days to sign up with all the companies listed.

        The only good that would come from the Mystery Shopping links above is that Consumerist would earn some click thru revenue, nothing else.

  16. ninjatoddler says:

    The scammers should be put in solitary confinement and be forced to watch those SAVED BY ZERO Toyota ads for 24 straight hours and 3 years.

    Should be enough to make them a better person by the time they step of prison.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Having “cleared funds” means little. A company name and account number is relatively public information…if I happen to be a vendor of General Motors and make note of the account number I can produce a check with that same MICR on the bottom using a laser printer with a MICR toner cartridge. I can deposit these checks into my account. Only when GM goes to reconcile against their system will these “unauthorized payment” be picked up…could be up to a full month later. Oh wait, in the case of a GM check it might not clear, but you get the idea.

  18. Roclawzi says:

    There was a report about a woman who had this happen to her recently on the local (NY) news, and while it’s unfortunate that this lady who’s out of work and desperate for an opportunity got scammed, she received this offer out of the blue, with a 3550 dollar check. Even the most desperate of folks would have slowed down a little at that point, because it was quite clearly “too good to be true”. I suppose I was mostly shocked that the news even bothered to cover this. What’s next at 11, Nigerian Prince scams local tow truck driver?

  19. Bog says:

    Call me naive but I have never heard of having to pay to get a job, or having to pay for a background check. I have worked for an “agency” who paid me after taking a cut (permatemp). The last job I got I thought was a temp/contract but it was direct hire as my to surprise they change at the last minute – but I am sure the there were percentages paid somewhere. The headhunter paid for the security and background check whether or not I was hired.

  20. SuperRad says:

    A friend of mine once thought it would be funny trying to cash one of these money orders from King Tutu in Nigeria, The check cashing place said it will take a few minutes, as he was waiting there, two cops walked in and put him in the back of the cop car. This was in Phoenix AZ, i wonder if other places do this too?

  21. RodAox says:

    The crappy part of this whole deal is that they are taking advantage of people who cannot afford these financial losses and in their desperation they buy into the whole idea of it even if it is too good to be true…

  22. gatewaytoheaven says:

    One would think that the banks would have caught on to the scam.

    But alas, they have not.

    Reason? Simple. They’re in fact the actual scammers! Yes! Believe it! By giving these fake checks to consumers, having them deposit it, wire it, and then be responsible for the full amount, is genius! The banks get free money!

    And we all believed that those Nigerian 419 scammers were actually Nigerian…

    • vastrightwing says:

      @gatewaytoheaven: I agree! Totally!

      Not that you need any warning about banks, but they want more of your hard earned money. They are raising fees (ATM $3+, bounced check fees, overdraft fees, overdraft protection fess). So please manage your bank accounts carefully. Even if you don’t have much money in your account, please log on every day and avoid getting too close to a zero balance. It will cost you.

      I recently sold a car and I was obsessive about the money, checking out the person I was selling it to, where the money came from, etc. I asked several bank employees about legitimate wire transfers and checks and got scary misinformation by multiple people at multiple banks. They just don’t know the rules! Only 1 bank employee told me the sad truth: Banks have all the power to take money away from you! If you screw up, the bank wins. Even when the bank gives you bad information, it’s still your fault.

  23. TemporaryError says:

    I sell business forms. One of the products we sell is business checks. All we have to do is get the MICR (the account/routing numbers) info off of a starter check, get the bank info from wherever (existing checks with the same bank) enter the info into a spec sheet and fax it to our check printer/wholesaler. There really aren’t any safeguards in place other than we know who our customers are. If I was less scrupulous, it would be extremely easy for me to get account info from wherever, change the sig line to my name, change the company name if I so choose, and get 10,000 checks printed up with some other hapless companies account info on it. All perfectly legitimate documents with unauthorized account info. I could then proceed to do any number of evil things with the thousands of checks that I now have. My point is, no matter how legit a check looks, be cautious unless you trust the issuer. It’s not that hard to make legit checks w/fraudulent info. (please note, I’ve never done anything like this, and we know all of our clients.)

  24. ophmarketing says:

    So just out of curisosity…

    What would happen if you took the check to one of those corner “currency exchanges” (which do not, in fact, exchange currency) and cashed it there? Sure you’d probably pay a fee of some sort, but you’d walk out with cash, and the scammers wouldn’t have access to any of your banking info.

  25. kwsventures says:

    This can be broken down very easily. YOU get paid for doing a job. You DON’T PAY for doing a job. Boom. Done.

  26. Anonymous says:

    What’s so interesting about this is that they’re taking away legitimate job candidates from the businesses who really need it. There are many mystery shopping companies that operate instead of surveillance.