MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Getting paid to shop might sound like a great idea, but it can be risky. The “mystery shopper scam” has been robbing people of cash for years. A local woman says she almost became a victim, and is sharing her story as a warning to others.
Amy White says the scam stated as an email to be a secret shopper for grocery store, Kroger. “Having worked in two separate locations where secret shoppers came in, I knew they were legitimate, so I thought, ‘This sounds fun,” she explained. So, she went to the company’s website and provided her name and address. A few days later she received an envelope in the mail.
“They had sent a letter and a check for $2,480.60,” White said. “I don’t know what kind of secret shopper I was going to be, spending this kind of money, but I thought, ‘Okay! Let’s go buy something.'”
However, when White read the letter, she said she noticed some red flags. “They were going to pay me $200. $30 of it was to go to Walmart to buy items. Then there was a Walmart to Walmart evaluation of $1,240,” she said. “Then, there was a $960 MoneyGram evaluation. Then, there was a $50 charge for each evaluation,” White added. “I thought, ‘Well, this is just as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. There’s no reason to send somebody this kind of money.'”
White took the check to her bank, where she was told it was a scam. “It looks like a legitimate check. It has ‘original check,’ it has watermarks. It says it’s payable through Park Community Bank out of Louisville, Kentucky.” she explained.
Dr. John D’Ambrosio, President of the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina, said that’s not surprising. “The checks that I have seen from scam artists actually look like real documents,” he said.
D’Ambrosio says White isn’t alone, and one in five people will fall victim to a scam, and this type is common. “If you are sent money, and told to deposit it, keep a piece of it and send the rest of it by MoneyGram to somebody else, law enforcement should be your next phone call.”
D’Ambrosio added that White did the right thing by talking to her bank right away. He says, in these types of situations, quick action and good communication is key. “You should go see your bank. You shouldn’t be an ostrich and hide your head in the sand. This is the point where you have to say, ‘Okay, folks, I got nailed. I don’t want anyone else to get nailed,'” D’Ambrosio said. “Go to your bank and tell them, because most banks have a fraud department. You file a report. You file a police report. You file a scam with the BBB. At least you’re making an effort to assist yourself,” he explained.
There are some legitimate mystery, or secret, shopping groups. According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are some ways you can protect yourself and tell if they’re legit:
- Never pay to be a mystery shopper. Some sites might have you register and pay a fee, but legitimate mystery shopper jobs pay you to work for them.
- Don’t wire money. Experts say it’s never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire the funds back.
- Do your research. Check into libraries, bookstores or websites for tips on how to find legit companies. If you do happen to search online, remember that people can get paid to post positive reviews.
- It’s best to report the scam to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission or the state Attorney General.