Wednesday, February 10, 2010

'Mystery shopper' letter is $1,000 scam

Victims are tricked by real-looking check By Kate Howard • THE TENNESSEAN • February 10, 2010 An elaborate scam to trick people into believing they've been hired as mystery shoppers is going strong despite plenty of attention meant to combat it in recent months. The Better Business Bureau of Nashville says it's a new twist on an old scam: the victims get a phony check to go on a secret shopping trip, take a percentage for their time and return the rest to the sender. Often they wire back the unspent cash before learning that the check they just deposited was worthless, and they're on the hook for the bounced check. In this scam, the person is sent a check of more than $1,000 that is supposed to cover a payment of several hundred dollars, money for shopping, and the bulk of it to be wired back to the company. Though the checks look legitimate enough to often be successfully deposited, they're phony and cause the victim's bank account to be overdrawn. When Tracey Watkins got the letter in the mail this week with the check for more than $1,000, she thought at first it was an overpayment from her escrow ac- count. But she knew it was a scam when she read the en- closed letter, telling her she had been given what she need- ed to conduct an evaluation of Western Union after cashing her check, and wiring money back to the company. It's a typical scam, but the letter even included forms to evaluate shopping centers and money wire locations and a copy of the company's strict ethics policy. "It's just a regular check, and it looks like a refund check almost," Watkins said. "I live in North Nashville and there are so many older people out here, I'm afraid they might think because of the way it reads they were getting a part-time job." Kathleen Calligan, the CEO of the Nashville BBB, said the BBB collected more than $790,000 in counterfeit checks from consumers in Middle Tennessee when the organization publicized the scam late last fall. "It is a very elaborate scheme that has been extremely successful since unemployment hit 10 percent," Calligan said. People often believe they've landed a small job, Calligan said, and since the scheme asks people to do work it's convincing for many. Lt. Mickey Garner of the Metro police department's fraud unit said they've encountered the same elderly man twice, working as a middleman for the scam and collecting payments. He took a cut and sent the payment on, Garner said, and didn't even realize he was doing anything wrong. "He thought he'd found this job," he said. "Next time, he's going to jail."

No comments: