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“Mystery Shopper” Scam Targeting Seniors & Unemployed

BY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY ANDY RINER –

Local law enforcement agencies have seen a recent up tick in citizen complaints regarding several variations of a “Mystery Shopper” program.  Having reviewed several complaints, the documents associated with them, and subsequent investigations most of the “Mystery Shopper” programs appear to me to be scams. To make matters even worse these scams also appear to be targeting the unemployed and seniors, many of whom are desperate to make ends meet on fixed incomes.

Generally, the “Mystery Shopper” programs are disguised as “work from home” employment offers obtained via the internet or more rarely through direct mail solicitation. Once a person contacts these “Mystery Shopper” groups, the person generally receives an email informing him or her that he or she has been selected to work as a representative. The would be representatives are then told that they should expect to take a survey of the customer service they receive at prominent companies in the area.  Once the representative agrees, he or she receives the first assignment.  The first task for the representative is to cash a cashier’s check and use the proceeds to buy a nominally priced item at Wal-Mart.  The remaining balance of the check is to be used to wire money to persons using either Money Gram or Western Union.

To some people, this sounds like a legitimate opportunity, but it is not.  Once the representative cashes the check, he or she unwittingly becomes legally responsible when it bounces or is discovered to be a forgery. In rare cases throughout the State, would be representatives have been arrested for forgery since Arkansas law provides that under certain circumstances possession of a forged instrument is a crime. Especially problematic for investigators is that if the scam was successfully executed, the proceeds from the cashier’s check have will been transmitted to an unknown third party via wire transfer.  Such wire transfers are virtually untraceable, and are often collected in foreign countries where law enforcement has limited capabilities.

I find this type of scam to be particularly repugnant because it targets people who are living on fixed incomes or who are desperate to find employment. Despite its repugnance, I can think of no instance where the persons behind a “Mystery Shopper” scam have been successfully identified or prosecuted. All that is required to conduct this scam is internet access, a computer and a printer.  The portability of this scam allows scammers to operate from anywhere in the world. Since the wire transfers are virtually untraceable, the victims are left holding the bag for an unidentifiable scammer who committed the perfect crime at the victim’s expense.

Do not become a victim by following these simple rules:

1. Never send anyone money via a wire transfer unless you are absolutely certain of their identity.

2.  If you decide to wire money, verify the legitimacy of the need for a wire transfer (i.e. do not wire money to friends claiming to be stranded in Europe unless you know that the friends are actually stranded in Europe.)

3.  Do not cash cashier’s checks unless you are certain that they are from a legitimate source.

4.  Think it though.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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