Like shopping and getting free stuff and getting paid to do it?
Well who doesn’t?
Scammers are counting on that desire with mystery, secret shopper schemes online, according to the FBI.
In an alert today, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said there has been an increase in fraudulent employment schemes for so-called mystery or secret shoppers. Fraudsters, the agency says, are capitalizing on retail and other businesses that hire evaluators to perform secret or random checks on themselves or competitors.
Here’s how it works:
- You get contacted by e-mail or land mail and are asked to send a resume and make yourself available for extensive background check.
- After your acceptance, you are sent a check and instructions to shop at a retailer for a set time and spend a set amount on merchandise. You are also supposed to note the store’s color, environment, and other items and report that to your employer.
- Your second evaluation is to learn the ease and accuracy of wiring money from that retailer. You are then sent a check to wire money from that location, the balance of which is your payment. So you buy the merchandise and the money is wired, and you find out from the bank that the check is counterfeit and that you are responsible for the money lost and bank fees.
- In other versions of the scheme, you are asked to provide bank account information to have money directly deposited into your account. That gives the person committing the fraud access to your accounts – and makes you a victim of identity theft.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself from these schemes:
• Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
• Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
• Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan all attachments, if possible.
• Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
• Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
• There are legitimate mystery/secret shopper programs available. Research the legitimacy on companies hiring mystery shoppers. Legitimate companies will not charge an application fee and will accept applications on-line.
• No legitimate mystery/secret shopper program will send payment in advance and ask the employee to send a portion of it back.
If you have information on these schemes or have been a victim, file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.