Have you received a letter in the mail notifying you that you've been selected to be a mystery shopper? Despite the official look of the letter and the appeal of the sum of money on the check included, this is a very common scam that has been showing up in Illinois recently.
This scam is called a Mystery Shopper Scam. Letters are sent to your home, usually claiming to be from a well-known retailer such as Walmart, CVS, Target, or Best Buy. These letters will inform you that they are conducting research on some of their locations and are using mystery shoppers to do this work. Sometimes a detailed explanation of the inadequacies will be provided to give more believability to the fraud. The letter is most often accompanied by a check for a large sum of money, instructions, and a phone number to contact via text message to let them know you've "Accepted" the job.
The check in these letters will seem very official, and the letter will provide instructions to deposit this check in order for you to have access to these funds immediately. The scammers claim this check is to provide you with the funds to Mystery Shop, plus your compensation for doing this task for them. The scam will request that you purchase various gift cards at different locations, all using your own cash or your debit card. Then the details of those gift cards will be sent back to the scammers for proof that you have completed your mystery shopping task. A survey will follow, once again in an attempt to make this seem as real as possible.
Unfortunately, the letter, check, and all those details are not true. The check is not attached to any existing account, meaning the funds that you thought you deposited do not exist anywhere. When you purchase those gift cards, you are using your own funds, and when you provide proof you have purchased them, the scammer can immediately use those cards and remove the funds. Leaving you with empty gift cards and missing money.
These scams are appearing more frequently in Illinois, and the letter is good enough to make one believe it is real very easily.
Here are some good tips for determining if these offers are valid.
1) Most retailers do not utilize mystery shoppers. In the rare cases where they might, they will hire these people the same way they would hire employees. Businesses need to keep track of the money they pay out to people. This means any person hired will need to complete paperwork in order to be paid.
2) Anytime a letter asks you to use an alternative method of contact to verify you've received the letter, you should be asking questions. Scammers send out thousands of these letters, and the only way they know they have a victim is when that person reaches out to the scammer. Sending a text message or calling a phone number is the easiest way to verify they have someone they can defraud. This can also open you up to being targeted for even more scams.
3) Check the company's website. If Walmart is saying they are hiring you, check the Walmart website to verify if they use Mystery Shoppers. Their website has an entire page dedicated to the types of scams that are committed with their name attached to them. The Mystery Shopper Scam is one of them. Most retailers that have been targeted for use in scams will have a page dedicated to fraud and helping consumers. Use your own search to find the correct website. Do not use any website listed in the letter itself.
4) Before you deposit a check from an unknown source for a large amount of money, speak with your financial institution. They can attempt to verify the existence of any accounts associated with the check or use their knowledge of scams and fraud to ensure you and your finances are protected.
5) Do not buy gift cards for third parties that you do not know. Nearly every time a gift card is being used in place of a payment in a transaction of any kind, it is a scam. Neither businesses nor retailers will request payment via gift cards. Gift cards are the fastest way for scammers to get money. All they need are the numbers on the card, and the funds on the card can be removed in minutes.
6) Do an internet search for whatever company sent you the letter or check. Search for what the letter is asking you to do. If they suggest they are hiring you for mystery shopping at Walmart, do an internet search for "mystery shopping Walmart." You are not the only target of these scams, and unfortunately, people fall victim to them every day. Their experiences help prevent additional victims, but it is a rapidly growing issue.
If you are ever hesitant or unsure of something, the best thing to do is reach out to your financial institution. At First Northern Credit Union, we have a Fraud and Security Center available for you to utilize. We are here to offer support and assistance in any situation where you believe you have been scammed. There are numerous resources available for consumers as well.
First Northern Credit Union Fraud Center: https://www.fncu.org/FraudCenter
FTC for Consumer Fraud: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
BBB Scam Tracker: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/reportscam
Walmart Website Fraud Warnings: https://corporate.walmart.com/privacy-security/fraud-alerts/
Walmart Fake Mystery Shopper Warning: https://corporate.walmart.com/privacy-security/fraud-alerts/#mystery-shopper-scam
Best Buy Fraud and Scam Protection: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/privacy-policy/protect-yourself/pcmcat266100050002.c?id=pcmcat266100050002
Target Security and Fraud: https://security.target.com/