Who doesn’t want to get paid to do something we typically have to do anyway? Being a secret shopper can seem like a dream come true. But beware—many of these offers are scams. If you receive a check out the blue, offering an opportunity to be a secret shopper for a major retailer, you might want to think twice before cashing it. The check is a fake.
Secret Shopper Swindlers
Business Consumer Alliance recently received an updated solicitation from a scammer that originally came on our radar in 2009. At the time, we received inquiries and complaints about checks for mystery shopping assignments from Dynamic Advantage in Burbank, California. The secret shopping letters were accompanied by checks for $2,900, that recipients were instructed to deposit into their own personal bank accounts. They were to conduct a mystery shopping assignment for Western Union or MoneyGram with the funds. Recipients would keep $400 as payment for the assignment and wire the remaining $2,500 to their agent to complete the assignment.
One addressee that received a check was unsure about the offer, so believing she was doing her due diligence, she contacted the bank the check was drawn on to verify its validity. Surprisingly, they told her the check was valid. Fortunately, her bank identified the check as fraudulent when they noticed the signature on the check did not match the signature the bank had on file. She alerted BCA by filing a complaint and we immediately contacted Dynamic Advantage.
Scammers Fake Identity
Typically, with scams of this sort, or scams in general, we don’t receive a response. Surprisingly, Dynamic Advantage did respond. However, we soon found out that the scammers were using the identity of Dynamic Advantage and their services in the secret shopper scam. The real Dynamic Advantage is a marketing research company that provides shopping services to businesses to evaluate customer service procedures. They provide secret shopping services; however, they do not send packets to random individuals with checks. Dynamic Advantage has gone so far as to put a warning on their website to alert others of the potential scam.
An Old Con Resurfaces
The fraudulent scammers have switched up their ruse a bit. In the most recent solicitation, the schemers offer secret shopping assignments for Wal-Mart. The instructions are for the recipient to text the number provided in the letter when they receive the package. Thereafter, all communication will be by text. The assignee is to then deposit the check into their account and check that the funds are available after 24 hours. They then have to text the provided number to find out the next step.
Fake Check Scam Will Cost You
So many red flags and warnings are apparent in the offer, but it is easy to see how it can be an attractive offer. The main thing to keep in mind with this and similar offers is that the check is counterfeit. The crooks use mail drops as addresses to make it appear they are legitimate. Or, as is the case here with Dynamic Advantage, they use the information of a real business to fool others into thinking they are making a valid offer.
Although the prospect of making some easy money may appear attractive, it will end up costing you. Banks are required to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but it may take weeks to discover the check is phony. If a check you deposit bounces, even after it seemed to clear, it’s your responsibility to repay the bank. You run the risk of having your bank account suspended and, even more seriously, you may become embroiled in a police investigation. Remember that you will be the easiest part of the chain to track down since con artists typically use false information so they can run their scam undetected. Also, by giving the scammers any of your personal information, you put yourself at risk of identity theft. If you see an opportunity to make some easy money and the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is!
Avoiding the Ruse
Be cautious about any unsolicited offers or opportunities offering money for little or no effort. Take steps to verify any company or individual that makes you an offer by contacting BCA for a reliability report and other helpful tips before you agree to the offer. Never give your personal or financial information to anyone you have not verified to be legitimate. And you should also never wire money to someone you do not know. Check out our helpful article “Is This a Scam?” for more information on identifying a scam.
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