Mystery/Secret Shopper Schemes
The IC3 has been alerted to an increase in employment schemes pertaining to mystery/secret
shopper positions. Many retail and service corporations hire evaluators to perform
secret or random checks on themselves or their competitors, and fraudsters are capitalizing
on this employment opportunity.
Victims have reported to the IC3 they were contacted via e-mail and U.S. mail to
apply to be a mystery shopper. Applicants are asked to send a resume and are purportedly
subject to an extensive background check before being accepted as a mystery shopper.
The employees are sent a check with instructions to shop at a specified retailer
for a specific length of time and spend a specific amount on merchandise from the
store. The employees receive instructions to take note of the store’s environment,
color, payment procedures, gift items, and shopping/carrier bags and report back
to the employer. The second evaluation is the ease and accuracy of wiring money
from the retail location. The money to be wired is also included in the check sent
to the employee. The remaining balance is the employee’s payment for the completion
of the assignment. After merchandise is purchased and money is wired, the employees
are advised by the bank the check cashed was counterfeit, and they are responsible
for the money lost in addition to bank fees incurred.
In other versions of the scheme, applicants are requested to provide bank account
information to have money directly deposited into their accounts. The fraudster
then has acquired access to these victims’ accounts and can withdraw money, which
makes the applicant a victim of identity theft.
Here are some tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of employment schemes
associated with mystery/secret shopping:
* Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
* Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
* Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files
may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan all attachments,
* Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
* Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and
determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
* 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.
Individuals who believe they have information pertaining to mystery/secret shopper
schemes are encouraged to file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.