Looking for a new job for 2015, perhaps for some extra spending money? A job as a mystery shopper might sound perfect: promising you can make money while shopping.
But even savvy, college educated people like Val Sena fall for mystery shopping scams.
"I was just reading my email one day," the Cincinnati woman said. "I came across an email that said I had been recommended to this company to be a mystery shopper."
She applied, and learned a few days later she had been accepted, and that her first assignment was in the mail.
"They sent me a check for $2,445. A cashier's check no less," she said.
The letter accompanying it instructed her to deposit the check, then start shopping.
How the scam works
"They said subtract a 10 percent commission, then go to Walmart and buy something and send us a report on the customer service," Sena explained.
So, she shopped Walmart and emailed in her first report.
Her next assignment, she says, was to buy some Green Dot prepaid money cards, to test out the cashiers at drugstore chains.
"I was then told to email them the number on the back of the cards," she said. "Which I did, not realizing that the number on the back gives you access to the money on the card."
Before she knew what had happened, "Our bank notified me that the check had bounced," she said. "I said it couldn't have bounced, because it was a cashier's check!"
But it did: The account it was drawn on was fake.
So was the mystery shopping company, which had taken all the money on the cards, and was suddenly not answering its emails.
Sena was wiped out.
"I lost $1,700," she said.
She filed a police and FBI report, but investigators told her the scammers were outside the country, and there was no way to recover the money.
Other versions, same scam
The Better Business Bureau says thousands of Americans have lost millions of dollars to similar mystery shopping scams.
Sometimes they ask you to test out the Western Union desk at Walmart or a grocery store, which is essentially the same thing as the Green Dot version.
In either case, you are wiring hundreds of dollars of your own money to the scammers, while the check they sent you is worthless.
The BBB says if you want to mystery shop, check with legitimate groups like the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, mysteryshop.org.
It will lead you to legitimate companies, and away from scammers who can fool even the smartest of us, educated people like Val Sena who says she has never fallen for any sort of scam before.
As always, don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
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