Anatomy of a Wire Transfer Secret Shopper Scam

by Miranda Marquit · 16 comments

My husband received, in the mail recently, an offer to become a mystery shopper. Now, there are plenty of legitimate opportunities to become a secret shopper, as my mom and I were both a mystery shopper one time or another. Unfortunately, this offer was a fake. We assumed that the scammers got his name and address from the PlayStation Network breach, but however they got our name, the offer arrived in the mail.

When Josh opened the envelope, a check for $3,990 was enclosed along with a letter explaining that he was being invited to evaluate the service at a retail store and at Western Union. The scammers claim that all he has to do is deposit the check at the bank. Then, from his checking account, he needs to wire $3,560 via Western Union. This will supposedly allow an evaluation of the company’s efficiency and security. The rest of the money in the check would be used to 1. pay the service fee for wiring the money, 2. pay him for participating in the first week, and 3. provide him with $50 to spend at the designated retail store for evaluative purposes.

To further the idea that this is a legit job, the letter, which claims to be from Global Test Market, says that after a few $200 assignments, you can earn $400 a week as a mystery shopper, and after six months, you are eligible for $600 a week. The thing that strikes me about this letter is how reasonable the whole process seemed. There aren’t promises of fabulous riches and easy work. You aren’t asked to pay anything up front. Just deposit a check and wire most of the money.

Now, if you are worried about the legitimacy, you might decide to do a little recon. An online search will yield the following bits of information:

  1. Global Test Market is a real company. It offers the chance to take online surveys. However, the phone number on the letter does not match the phone number the BBB has on file for the company. Indeed, the number on the letter has a Toronto area code, and the company address on the letter is in Connecticut. The BBB has a Washington state address for Global Test Market. In any case, most people won’t delve too deep. They’ll check the Internet address and discover that the company is real.
  2. The credit union listed on the check is real. In fact, since you can look up bank routing numbers, you can see that the routing number of the check is legit. The check looks real and convincing. It has watermarks and everything. And, you might be tempted to think it’s a legit operation, since the credit union actually exists.

Next, you go and deposit the check. Because the routing number is real, everything is set in motion, without red flags. You get the money in your account. And, since it’s not your money anyway, you go ahead and make the wire transfer. That $3,560 is gone as soon as you wire it. Meanwhile, you have the remaining money in your account. I talked to my bank manager, and he said that with this sort of deception, it can take up to two weeks before the check is discovered as a fraud once it’s in the system. Of course, once the check is discovered as a fraud, the money is taken back out of your account — only you’ve already sent your $3,560 wire transfer. You’re out that money, and there is almost nothing that law enforcement can do about getting your money back from such a scam.

My bank manager, however, called the credit union directly, using the customer service number he found online. He explained that a customer in Utah had presented a check drawn on the account. He offered the supposed check number, and the credit union manager was able to verify that it was a fraud.

The biggest red flag, of course, was that you were supposed to wire the money. Anytime you are asked to wire money, be very, very suspicious.

Have you ever gotten a scam offer before? How did you handle the situation?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Perry says:

    There are many ways for kids to make money online. If you get creative and do some research there are many safe ways for kids to make money.

    1. One of the best ways for kids to make money on the internet is to utilize eBay. They can sell anything they would like including clothing or old toys. It is important that they decide for themselves what they want to sell and how to manage this online business. This is a great way for a child to learn responsibility and to have a financial income. 2. Blogging is another one of the great ways for kids to make cash. They can blog about anything they are interested in. Carol Ocab is an example of a 13 year old kid who started blogging and making money. Now he makes more money than most adults because he mastered affiliate marketing and traffic generation methods to his blog. This is an extreme example, but it just shows how a smart kid with a little ambition uses the internet to make money. This is a good way to make a business name and get it out there onto the internet. This is also a great opportunity to learn about things you may have always been interested in. 3. Taking surveys can be a very quick way to make money. This is one of the easiest ways for a kid to make money online. You simply sign up with a company to take surveys online and you make a small profit. Many companies are very interested in kid and teen opinion. This usually does not pay very much, but a kid can take as many or as little surveys as they like. 4. Write articles and get paid for them. Kids today have grown up on the internet and are very used to using it for school. They can write blog and website content for the millions of people who need help and make way more money than working a part time job.

  • PD MacGuire says:

    I got a similar offer but the check, from a local college, was sent overnight, via FedEx. They actually wanted me to wire the money to Nigeria. It just really smelled; anything involving Nigeria and Western Union just does, these days. I called the college to give them a headsup and tried to explain the situation and they were unbelieveably rude. Wouldn’t it just be easier if we blocked Nigeria from any internet access until they round up these criminals?

    • paul m says:

      They sent me the “mystery shopper” thing with Wester Union as well. The big giveaway was their hopeless command of the English language. I played along with them waiting for the classic Nigerian question , “what is your three digit security number and your mothers maiden name” cheques and legal paperwork were promised but never came. I just cant beleive that with all the publicity over the years that peoipke still fall for these mugs

  • Jewelsmom says:

    While in college my naive freshmen daughter agreed to cash a $400 check for someone wh0 knew someone. Needless to say, the check was a fake and she was out the $400 and the “friend” acted as if he was taken also by the scam. I am so glad it was only $400. In the bigger realm of things, that amount she could recover from but it was a good lesson.

  • Denise says:

    Thanks you all so much for your comments. I just recieved one of those today and had never heard of such a scam. Thanks to you guys I avoided a huge mistake. I figured I could let the check clear first to see if it was legit, I had no idea it could take weeks for the check to clear. Thanks for the heads up;)

  • Bob says:

    The reason they can’t convict is because the letters are being sent from Canada, and the money is wired to someone in another country (France for the one I got). It all looked pretty convincing. The one I got had the check as a Cashiers Check from a major US Bank. I thought the purpose of Cashier’s Checks were that they were treated like cash. I guess not in this case. Anyways, I would never wire any money to someone I don’t know. Especially not such a large sum. Not till the check had cleared and it had a few weeks to “perculate”.

  • Miranda says:

    Only problem with catching the person that comes to claim the money is that usually the money is wired to another country, so U.S. police can’t exactly get set up.

  • Bobby5000 says:

    Complete agree with Kirk. Why don’t policy prosecute or attempt to prosecute these things.

    What I don’t get is why law enforcement can’t run a sting on these operations. Wire some money to wherever it’s requested to go, arrest whoever comes to pick it up, and throw their a$$es in jail. Find out where their bank accounts are and seize them. Prosecute also for tax evasion, since the proceeds weren’t reported as income. If it worked to put Capone behind bars, it should work for these two-bit crooks.

    Maybe the Feds think prosecuting Barry Bonds is more important than protecting citizens from fraud.

  • Mike says:

    Any time someone sends you a check or overpays for something and asks you to send something back to them it’s a scam. I thought that was just common sense??

  • indio says:

    A few years ago, I was selling my car on craigslist and received tons of email with a similar wire transfer scams. They wanted to overpay for the car and have me refund the difference, they were buying it for a foreign national and the currency conversion difference I should wire back, etc. I reported all of these craigslist but they could only offer legitimate users of the site, a “beware” warning. A scam like that could easily fool a less jaded technology user.

  • K i r k says:

    What I don’t get is why law enforcement can’t run a sting on these operations. Wire some money to wherever it’s requested to go, arrest whoever comes to pick it up, and throw their a$$es in jail. Find out where their bank accounts are and seize them. Prosecute also for tax evasion, since the proceeds weren’t reported as income. If it worked to put Capone behind bars, it should work for these two-bit crooks.

    Maybe the Feds think prosecuting Barry Bonds is more important than protecting citizens from fraud.

  • KM says:

    I just throw all of those things away. I don’t believe that there is anything legit sent by mail or email. If there are legit opportunities, they use a different medium.

  • Paula @ says:

    I know someone who lost $3,000 in a scam when he was trying to buy a car. Avoid ANY wiring of funds to anyone you don’t know — period..

    • Ruth Cooke says:

      Be very careful when wiring funds to people you DO know. I’ve heard of folks getting requests for funds, supposedly from relatives, who are stuck someplace weird. They wire the funds without checking that the request actually is from the person they know. I’ve had at least one request like that through my email–it was a scam.

      How to avoid such fraud: Simply assume NO legitimate company will give you money that you haven’t somehow earned. Assume NO legitimate company will send you a cheque out of the blue, asking for part of it back. I mean, why not just send you a cheque for the amount you’re supposed to keep, rather than sending you a much larger amount and trusting that you’ll wire it back. Come on, folks! How could anyone really believe that such a transaction is a legitimate one?

      As for why law enforcement doesn’t follow up: Again, use your heads folks! Much of this sort of garbage comes from countries where law enforcement is minimal at best. These days, anyone can get a phone number from anywhere with a little effort, and if they’re not based in a country that has a mutual law enforcement relationship with the victim’s country, the victim is SOL.

      So the best defense against this sort of nonsense is education. No victims = scammers out of business.

      And it’s not a “two bit” business, as someone below seemed to imply. With email, scammers can send out literally billions of emails, and even if only one in ten thousand reply, the results could be millions of dollars. Al Capone was the two-bit criminal compared to these guys!

  • Amy Saves says:

    Yep, I’ve heard of the same scam before. After replying to a job posting online, they sent me a check for a large amount, around $1,500. Asked me to deposit it and then to wire them a smaller amount and keep the rest for my “fees”. I’m so glad the bank was suspicious and I didn’t go through with it.

    Western Unions frauds are everywhere. Be careful. So many scam artists out there these days.

  • Justin says:

    I’ve heard of variations on Western Union/bad check scams but I had never actually heard it framed as a secret shopper opportunity. The odd denominations they are working with, $3990 would also be another huge red flag. Unfortunately variations on these types of scams would have ended a long time ago if they didn’t work on naive people.

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