How to Spot a Scam
May 24, 2011 by Confero Inc.
Unfortunately, scam artists have targeted unsuspecting consumers under the disguise of mystery shopping companies for several years now. Recently, there have been a couple of news stories involving a few of these scams. Last year, the wire transfer company, MoneyGram had to pay $18 million to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission because it was found that “MoneyGram agents helped fraudulent telemarketers and other con artists who tricked U.S. consumers into wiring more than $84 million within the United States and to Canada.” Also, in early April of this year, a man was sentenced to six years in prison for running a $6 million job scam.
It is great news that some of these scam artists are being shut down and prosecuted for these scams, however, there are still more out there. The scam artists work fast and are constantly changing the details of the scams to avoid being caught. They use new company names (or fraudulently assume the name of a reputable company), they change the names and job titles of the people who “work” for them, they use new phone numbers, email addresses and websites so they are hard to track.
We urge our mystery shoppers and other consumers to be vigilant in investigating these scams. If you receive any type of letter, job offer, or check that you were not expecting, be very cautious. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! If you believe it to be fake, you should notify your local police department and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
New scams pop up frequently, so here are a few tips on how to spot a scam.
- Advertisement that mystery shopping is a full-time job. Mystery shoppers are independent contractors, not employees. Mystery shops are assignments, not jobs. Some mystery shoppers may say they mystery shop “full time,” but what they really mean is that they contract with several different mystery shopping companies which allows them to fill their schedule “full time.” Consumers should be careful about anyone who offers them a full-time job as a mystery shopper.
- A check worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars before any work has been done. The majority of mystery shopping companies do not send paper checks to mystery shoppers. Generally speaking, first mystery shoppers complete mystery shops with an agreed upon shopper’s fee and reimbursement. Then after the report is processed and sent to the client, the mystery shopper is paid. Most mystery shopping companies process payments between 30-60 days AFTER the mystery shop is conducted.
- A letter detailing a simple mystery shop. A check worth thousands of dollars and a letter detailing what sounds like an extremely simple mystery shop should set off warning bells in your head. Veteran mystery shoppers know that the pay for mystery shops is based on what is required in the mystery shop. Simple mystery shop=lower shopper’s fee. Complex mystery shop=higher shopper’s fee. If going to Wal-Mart and completing a wire transfer were an actual mystery shop (which it is not!) it certainly would not be considered difficult, so the hundreds or thousands of dollars offered for this type of assignment should be a red flag!
- Poor grammar or spelling. Fake mystery shop letters, fake mystery shop report forms, and fake mystery shop job postings are notorious for having poor grammar and spelling. Most of these scams are run from outside the United States and often times by people in which English is not their native language. Reputable mystery shopping companies review mystery shopping reports on a daily basis for correct grammar and spelling before sending these reports to our clients, so you can be sure that we are using correct grammar and spelling when communicating with our contracted mystery shoppers!
- Addresses and phone numbers that do not match a companies’ website. Often times scammers will take the name of a reputable mystery shopping company and use it on their fake job postings, fake mystery shop reports and fake letters. Unsuspecting consumers may then look up the real company by searching the name in an online search engine. Doing this might lead them to believe the offer is real. However, usually on these letters the addresses and phone numbers do not match that of the reputable company.
- Email addresses are from a public domain such as @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, @msn.com, @aol.com, etc. Anyone can sign up for an email address on any of these (and other) public domains. Mystery shopping companies are just like other businesses and have their own domain names. For example, Confero staff members will only contact you via their Confero domain email address @conferoinc.com.
We have compiled a list of more resources about these scams:
- The Federal Trade Commission released these videos about scams, including the money transfer scam.
- Check out this short segment on NBC's Today Show about fake check scams.
- Here is an example of a fake check and fake letter that these scammers try to use. (In this instance, the scammers used Confero’s name to try and trick consumers into believing that this was a legitimate offer.)
- Listen to this recorded phone call of one of Confero’s staff members calling one of these scammers. They sound real!
- Confero President & CEO, Elaine Buxton, recorded this video with the Better Business Bureau about scams.
Remember, there are lots of legitimate mystery shopping opportunities. Confero recommends that mystery shoppers use the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s (MSPA) website to find reputable companies.
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