How to spot the red flags in mystery shopping schemes

How to spot the red flags in mystery shopping schemes

The secret of secret shopping schemes is that you don’t actually make money, you pay in the end. How to spot this scam.

SAN ANTONIO — Trina Forcey of San Antonio received an email asking to complete a survey at Walmart, so she applied.


“It’s not a lot of work for me to do something I’d love to do because I love shopping,” says Forcey.

Shortly after, an official-looking envelope arrived.

“It looks important,” Forcey said, picking up the priority mail envelope.

Inside was a letter with instructions.

“Actually, the paper looked like a legal document,” Forcey said.

There was also a check for $4,700 dollars. The instructions said to cash the check and buy $4,000 in gift cards, the other $700 is payment. Then the shopper had to text pictures of the gift card numbers.

“They said the problem was that people were getting gift cards and there was nothing on them,” said Forcey. “That happened to me before.”

Still, there was little evidence that Forcey noticed something wasn’t quite right. The logo looked a bit off.

“It had a logo, but it was in black and white and it was cut off at the top,” said Forcey.

The instructions also stated that you had to text two numbers after purchasing the gift cards.

“So I started texting those phone numbers and they gave me more instructions,” Forcey said. “I said, is it possible we can talk on the phone instead of texting? Then I get the question ‘why?’ “I said because this just seems like something Walmart would do, have a phone number where you can contact someone to check if the information is correct or am I following the instructions correctly. I have crickets.”

In addition, the check that was written to her did not contain her last name.

“The check had my first name, but my last name, which was kind of strange,” she said.

She decided to do some digging by calling the bank that issued the check. She discovered that the branch number on the check did not exist. Then she knew the check wasn’t real. If she had gone ahead, she could have lost $4,000.

“That would have put me in a bond, a real bond,” Forcey said.

Federal rules require banks to make deposited money available quickly, but the counterfeit check is never cleared. Instead, shoppers spend their own money on the gift cards.

“It usually takes the banks a few weeks to decipher if it’s really fake and by then it’s already too late,” said Michael Skiba, a fraud expert known as Doctor Fraud.

Meanwhile, the schemers drain the money from the gift cards once they get the photos.

Walmart said in a statement: “Unfortunately, bad actors occasionally take advantage of Walmart’s reputation to run these types of scams. Walmart never solicits mystery or ‘secret’ shoppers via email, mail or other public means.” .”

In these schemes, both the job and the check are fake.

“I just want to make sure people are aware that these people have gotten really smart and high tech at sending things to get you to open them, to keep you going because it all looked legit, said Forcey.

Skiba said a red flag is secret, mysterious, or that survey shopping should never involve testing any form of financial transaction, such as transferring money or buying gift cards. If so, it’s a scheme.


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