Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Secret Shopper Scam

Secret Shopper Counterfeit Check Scam

04/08 - (Nebraska) - Two Omaha women looking to earn a little extra money for part-time work got drawn into a scam, costing one of them thousands of dollars.

Marilyn Moore and Kari Kaplan received unexpected checks in the mail and both deposited them in their bank accounts. One sent the sender money.

"I feel so stupid," says Marilyn. Kari didn't send the money. " Luckily, I didn't because I thought that there's proably strings attached."

Marilyn thought she was hired to be a secret shopper to test the MoneyGram system.

A $4,800 check gave her cash to wire her new employer while she kept a few hundred dollars salary. "I thought it would be a good deal to make a little extra money."

Though waiting four days before wiring the money, Marilyn had to repay her bank more than $4,000 because the check was bogus. "I wish I would've just called the Better Business Bureau or checked it out better."

Kari waited longer to see if the check cleared and discovered the scam before sending money. "I knew there was a trick to this, but I was hoping I'd still receive my $45,000."

Of course this "offer" was so exclusive the instructions were marked confidential. That's because the scam artists don't want victims showing this to anyone who might warn them.

When Kari called the grant office that sent her the check, she got the brush off. "Is this a scam? Sir?" He hung up.

Marilyn reached voice mail, leaving a message that cost her more than $4,000. "I'm really upset about how I've been taken advantage of, so please give me a call back."

Here's a warning from the Better Business Bureau. If you deposit one of these checks do not wire the sender any money until you're sure it's cleared.

You should wait for weeks, not days. Chances are the check will be returned as bogus.


Secret Shopper Job Offer Scam Uses Western Union and MoneyGram

11/08 - (Wisconsin) -- The ads for secret shopper programs are all over newspaper classifieds and the Internet.

They offer what seems to be a great deal: free products and a payment just for buying them at your local store.

The only catch is you need to fill out surveys about your experience.

Sue Holzer of Monroe thought she'd found the sweetest secret shopper deal yet.  A $400 payment if she wires money through Western Union and MoneyGram.

"I said, wow. This is a great opportunity," said Holzer.  "This is the best job I've had yet for secret shoppers. So I went ahead and did it."

Holzer received and deposited a $5,000 check into her account.  She followed the instructions and wired most of that money back to the sender, two individuals in Canada known as Evan Grant and Peter Barnes.

Four days later, the bank called.

The $5,000 check was a fraud.  Holzer needed to repay the bank the entire amount.

"I freaked. I don't have $5,000," she said. I won't have Christmas this year."

Holzer has been unsuccessful tracking down the scammers because they apparently received the money in Canada.

This turns out to be a very common fake-check scam that sometimes takes other forms, like winning a lottery.

The Wisconsin Bankers Association says it's up to consumers to trust the person or business they're receiving checks from.

"Some of these [scammers] are very good at what they do," said association executive Rose Oswald Poels. "Looking at a check by itself, will rarely get you to the point [to say] it's illegal."

Checks usually need to pass through several points in the banking system and get transferred to the original bank in order to be determined if they're real. 

Money is available to customers depositing the checks immediately as a result of federal law.  It does not mean the check is valid and it does not mean the bank will honor it, said Poels.

The Federal Trade Commission outlines more information for consumers about fake check schemes at its website:


Mystery Shopping Service Bounced Check Job Scam

04/08 - (Texas) - A customer of Citizens National Bank was caught in a scam that resulted in checks amounting to nearly $5,000 bouncing at the bank, said Brad Tidwell, bank executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Two fraudulent checks bounced at the bank this past week, alerting both the bank and its customer to the scam, said Lark Korando, the bank's fraud supervisor.

"This was a sophisticated, well-thought-out scam," Tidwell said. "If it's too good to be true, and it means you've got to do something in return, it's probably a scam."

In this case, the customer responded to an ad that appeared in the Longview News-Journal, Korando said.

A call placed to the number in the ad was answered but subsequently disconnected when the Longview News-Journal called for comment.

"We make every effort to check ads that are placed with us and often turn down ads that we think might be fraudulent," said Publisher Gary Borders. "This particular ad got by us, and we have removed it from the paper. We'll continue to do our best to ensure that fraudulent ads don't get published."

After calling the phone number, the customer was mailed a letter and was asked to cash a check from a false company and return a portion of the money in the form of a money order to an individual in Canada, Korando said.

A letter from the company claiming its name was "Secret Shoppers" was mailed to the East Texas resident around March 26, stating that she had been chosen to be a "Secret Shopper" representative in the region.

According to the letter, her assignment was to "evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of a payment system called 'Money Gram' offered at any Wal-Mart location." MoneyGram, which has no space between words, is a money order system at Wal-Mart.

"Secret Shoppers" mailed her a check for $2,850. Her job was to cash the check and purchase a MoneyGram for $2,495 (plus a $55 MoneyGram service charge), with a $300 remainder as her payment, according to the letter.

The MoneyGram for $2,495 was to be sent to a person posing as her relative in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, according to the letter.

The check was cashed at Citizens National Bank in Lakeport, and the money sent to an individual in Canada, Tidwell said.

On April 3, the East Texas resident received another letter from "Secret Shoppers" and a check for $2,775.

According to the letter, she was to cash the check and pose again as a MoneyGram customer, then mail the money order to "Ruth Mccollum" in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Again, she would keep $300.

Both checks bounced this week at Citizens National Bank, Korando said.

"We catch a lot of these items that before they go through, but some do slip by," Korando said.

In situations like this, the bank holds the customer liable for repayment, Tidwell said. He added that Citizens National Bank is working with her on the matter.

Tidwell would not elaborate about the ways in which the bank is working with her.

Tidwell said Citizens National Bank receives about 30 fraudulent checks each month that are part of scams; however, most are caught before causing harm.

"We very seldom miss them," he said.

Scott Dickerson with Texas Bank and Trust said his bank has seen variations of the same scam.

"The bottom line is, if it's too good to be true, it is," he said. "No. 2, no one sends you money and wants you to cash the check and send it back. Also, they always want it sent through a service like Western Union where there is less security" than from one bank to another.

The scams can appear in e-mails, on the Internet, through the mail and in newspaper ads, Dickerson said.

Most are mailed from foreign countries such as Nigeria, Canada, England or the Netherlands.

"Any time they want money wired internationally, be very careful," he said.

Sgt. Rob Bowen with the Longview Police Department said the department is aware that crimes like this happen and most checks mailed are for a substantial amount of money, usually in the $5,000 range.

"If most people would stop and think 'why do I have to send you money to get money,' they wouldn't do it," he said.

Because the origins of the scam are not in the United States, it not easy to track down the creators, Bowen said.

"The banks do hold those people responsible for repaying that money," Bowen said. "As a general rule, if someone is legitimately fooled into that, normally there are not criminal charges filed against that person."

Bowen said people should be cautious of any solicitation they receive from a source they do not know.

Similar scams include a lottery scam in which a person is told he has won the lottery and a check is sent to cover taxes, and a missionary scam in which a person receives a letter saying that a missionary needs money.


Secret Shopper Getting Counterfeit Checks No Mystery Scam

02/08 - (VA) - Consumers are being warned of a check scam disguised as offers seeking "mystery shoppers" for major retail stores.

The warning comes from the state attorney general's office, which says the scam mailing typically includes an official-looking notice informing consumers that they have been selected to participate in "secret shopper" or "mystery shopper" programs where consumers are paid to make purchases at stores and then evaluate the service they received.

Consumers are told that they can earn several hundred dollars for each shopping assignment they complete, and the scam mailings imply that the secret shopper program is affiliated with retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Home Depot, J.C. Penney and other major chains.

"This scam draws consumers in with an offer of easy money -- getting paid to shop," Attorney General Tom Corbett said. "In reality, consumers are being paid with counterfeit checks, and are being asked to electronically transfer money to scam artists, often operating outside the country."

The mystery shopping scam typically asks consumers to evaluate a money transfer using a MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfer as part of their first "training assignment."

A check is normally included with the mystery shopper mailing, which consumers are instructed to deposit in their bank account to cover the cost of their first shopping assignment.

Consumers are often promised earnings of $500 to $800 per week for future shopping assignments, if they successfully complete their training.

Consumers are also told that they must keep the nature of their work completely confidential, in order to avoid alerting businesses that they are being evaluated and to preserve the integrity of the mystery shopper program.

The typical scam instructs consumers to wire-transfer $3,000 to $4,000, often to an address in Canada. Consumers are told that they are sending the money to a training supervisor or account manager, who will evaluate the consumer's potential as a full-time mystery shopper.

After completing the electronic transfer, consumers are asked to immediately send a copy of the MoneyGram or Western Union receipt to a fax number provided in the initial mailing.

The scam artists are attempting to take advantage of a time-delay between when you deposit their check, and when your bank discovers that the check is actually counterfeit.

In some cases, this could take several days, allowing unsuspecting consumers to transfer money long before they discover that the original check was counterfeit -- and that consumers are responsible for repaying missing money to the bank.

Modern computer and printer technology allows scam artists to generate extremely realistic checks, forms and letters, Corbett said.

He urged consumers to look beyond the authentic appearance of any documents, or the attraction of quick money, to identify the basic framework of all these scams.

"Alarm bells should go off in your head any time someone sends you a check, along with a request that you deposit the check in your bank and wire-transfer a certain amount of that money to another person," Corbett said. "Whether it's a mystery shopper offer, payment for an online auction, a classified ad, or some other transaction -- scam artists are hoping that you send them money quickly, without thinking about the offer, and fall for a deal that's too good to be true."

Corbett urged consumers with questions or concerns related to counterfeit check scams, or other consumer problems, to contact the attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection Hotline, toll-free, 1-800-441-2555, or to file an online complaint using the Attorney General's Web site:


Nigerian Bank Scam

Nigerian Check Scams

Mystery Shopper Scams

Job Offer Scams

Nigerian Counterfeit Check Scams

Nigerian Money Scam