BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office issued an alert after two local residents recently discovered they had been scammed with offers to complete mystery shopping jobs. Between them, the victims were taken by a variation of the fake check scam for more than $2,000.
It seemed like a great job – to get paid to go around to various stores as an undercover or mystery shopper, making purchases and then reporting on the experience by secretly evaluating the businesses and their employees and services based on the transactions. Unfortunately, everything wasn’t what it seemed.
Both victims, a 36-year-old DeBary woman and a 52-year-old Ormond Beach man, said they responded to job ads through the Internet looking for people who wanted to make money by being a secret shopper.
The victims were then sent employment packets that included checks along with instructions on what to do next. Following the instructions, the victims deposited the checks in their banks. They were told to withdraw most of the money – one victim was told to keep $300 as payment and the other $100 – and then go to various stores making inexpensive purchases. They were then instructed to put the rest of the money on pre-paid, or Green Dot debit cards and send the PIN information from the cards to someone they thought was their employer.
One of the victims put $500 apiece on three pre-paid debit cards and the other one put $200 apiece on three cards. Later, when the victims tried to use the cards for more secret shopping, they learned that the money already had been spent and the checks they deposited into their banks were fakes. Both incidents were reported to the Sheriff’s Office in the past month.
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Emilio Suarez, an Embry Riddle Aeronautical University student, says he is all too familiar with the scam. The Daytona Beach resident says he received and responded to an email to his personal email account for quick cash.
“I responded one time, but I stopped before I lost any money. There was an ad that said they would pay you $300 a week to cover your car in logos. I thought sure, that’s awesome, and I replied back to them that I was interested. So they sent me another email but it was really weird. They said that we will send you a check and you cash it, but due to the way our company works, you have to send some money over here and send some over there and then you keep the remainder. Then we’ll have you cover your car in logos,’’ he explained.
Suarez said something seemed fishy about the messages so he decided to do a quick Internet search on the company.
“It sounded absolutely ridiculous. I looked it up online and the exact same wording was all over the net. They were scammers.”
Suarez says he doesn’t know where the scam originated from but that the scammers were persistent, sending him up to six more emails pleading for his help.
Fake check scam
The Sheriff’s Office warns that these incidents were a variation on the fake check scam. Sometimes the secret shopper ad is the ruse. Other times, scammers pose as buyers and respond to ads from people selling items online. They send the seller a check in an amount that exceeds the sales price and then instruct the seller to deposit the check and send the extra money back to them. After the excess money is sent back to the scammer, the seller learns that the deposited check was a fake.
In order to work, all of these scams take advantage of the delay between the time when the victim deposits the check and when the bank discovers that it’s a fake. To avoid becoming a victim, the Sheriff’s Office recommends the following:
• Don’t respond to unsolicited offers to become a mystery or secret shopper.
• Never deposit a check you receive in the mail from a mystery shopping company.
• If you do deposit a check from an unknown source, wait until the bank confirms that the check is legitimate and the funds clear before spending or withdrawing any of the money.
• Fully investigate any job ad or business offering before deciding whether to respond.
• Be sure to report any scam to your local law enforcement agency.