FBI warns of 'mystery shopper' scam

DAYTON, OH (FOX19) - Recently, multiple Dayton-area residents have reported becoming victims of "mystery shopper" and work at home scams.

The FBI's Cincinnati Division, which includes central and southern Ohio, reminds consumers to carefully research any work at home opportunities in order to prevent becoming a victim or unwitting conspirator in a fraud scheme.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), many retail and service corporations legitimately hire evaluators to perform secret or random checks on their own company or their competitors.  Unfortunately, fraudsters also have found ways to turn potential employment opportunities into schemes to steal money and merchandise.

In the Dayton area, "mystery shopping assistants" were hired to ship merchandise to Russia.  Subjects illegally obtained credit card information from victims.  Using this stolen credit card information, they ordered merchandise from various retailers and had it shipped to the Dayton-area mystery shopper assistants.  These mystery shopper assistants repackaged the merchandise and sent it to Russia, unknowingly acting as an intermediary in a criminal fraud scheme.

In other versions of mystery shopper scams reported to IC3, victims were contacted via e-mail and U.S. mail to apply to be a mystery shopper.  Applicants were asked to send resumes and were told an extensive background check would be performed before they could be hired as a mystery shopper. The mystery shoppers were then instructed to deposit a check, not knowing that it was counterfeit.  A portion of the check was to be sent back to the "employer" while the mystery shopper was allowed to keep a designated amount as their payment.  While banks are required by law to make the funds from deposited checks available within days, determining a check is fraudulent can take weeks.  If a check, such as those commonly used in these types of schemes, turns out to be phony, the depositor/victim is responsible for the funds and must reimburse the bank.

When considering mystery shopper and work at home opportunities, consumers are reminded of these tips:

  • There are legitimate mystery/secret shopper programs available. Research the legitimacy on companies hiring mystery shoppers. Legitimate companies will not charge an application fee and will accept applications on-line.
  • No legitimate mystery/secret shopper program will send payment in advance and ask the employee to send a portion of it back.
  • A legitimate company will never ask you to use a money transfer to send cash to them or anywhere else, for any purpose.
  • It's never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don't know—especially if the stranger is asking you to wire money.
  • Never pay a fee to become a mystery shopper. Legitimate companies don't charge people to work for them—they pay people to work for them.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau to determine the legitimacy of a company before you work for them.  Note that the names of well-known financial institutions and companies are sometimes used to lure victims into fraudulent schemes.

Individuals who believe they have information pertaining to fraudulent mystery shopper or secret shopper schemes are encouraged to file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.

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