The Secret (Mystery) Shopper scam is running full steam and victimizing people, daily. The last time, I addressed this problem was in a post, where I noticed I was getting a lot of hits from Google on this subject. Recently, a lot of people have been reading my previous posts about this scam.

Here is a basic description of the scam from my last post:

In the Secret Shopper scam, people are solicited to become “Secret Shoppers” — sometimes known as “Mystery Shoppers” — and go into (normally) Walmart to negotiate a bogus check (Walmart recently got into the business of cashing checks). They are then asked to wire the money using WalMart’s Money Gram services to Canada and report on the “customer service” aspects of their visits.

Once the money is wired and picked up (sometimes within minutes), there is very little that can be done.

The letters soliciting victims (mystery shoppers) often are set up with fake telephone numbers that have fraudsters answering them. The counterfeit (normally cashier’s or official) checks often have other fake telephone numbers that have other fraudsters answering them to make them item seem legitimate.

The cardinal rule in Internet dealings is to independently verify any numbers provided, no matter how real they seem.

Please note that 800 type numbers are used, also. Sometimes the numbers are set up in the United States, but the shopper is normally instructed to wire the money to somewhere in Canada. I wouldn’t be surprised if I see instructions to wire the money other places, but so far the common denominator seems to be wiring money to Canada.

I’ve been told by a Canadian friend that their citizens are instructed to wire money to the United States. Wiring the money across an International border makes it a lot harder to trace.

In several of the newer letters, which all contained high dollar counterfeit checks, the shopper is being instructed to cash the item, go and buy a nominal (low dollar) amount of merchandise, then (of course) wire most of the money back to the so-called service.

So far as what bank’s checks are being counterfeited, this seems to change daily.

Sometimes going to your own bank to verify an item isn’t a good idea, either. Banks often give a customer credit for these items, and then hold their customer responsible when the item returns. Also, it’s not unknown for people to get arrested when attempting to cash these items.

Numerous businesses are listed as places to shop on the recent letters I saw, but they all have one thing in common, which is they offer Money Gram, or Western Union wire transfer services.

The most recent versions of the letter state to keep the nominal amount of merchandise they instruct you to purchase.

If you get one of these letters and checks, never cash it, or wire the money before making 100 percent sure the item is good. Of course, I’ve never seen one that did turn out to be good. Who would send a legitimate check worth thousands of dollars to someone they don’t know? Scams never make sense and prey on people looking to make a quick buck.

A good place to search for counterfeit cashier’s or official checks is the FDIC alerts on them, here.

If there is no alert, independently find the banking institution’s number and ask to speak with someone in their security department. Counterfeit checks often use legitimate account numbers and customer service people sometimes verify fraudulent items as legitimate.

This type of scam can be reported the Federal Trade Commission (U.S.) and to Phonebusters in Canada, although it is rare that any action will be taken to investigate an individual case.

I’m not saying not to report them, but the truth is that there is so much of this going on, no one has the resources to go after individual cases. The value in reporting them lies in providing intelligence to law enforcement, which does sometimes build cases, and goes after the culprits.

The best protection for the individual is to recognize these offers for what they are, or too good to be true.

All my previous posts mentioning this scam can be seen, here.

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