Scam emails – the cost of response

Recently, I received an email in my personal inbox with a subject line “MYSTERY SHOPPER ASSISTANT“ (the message did not filter to my junk folder and was not marked as spam).

Image 1 - "Mystery shopper assistant" spam from "Richard Fletcher"
Image 1 – “Mystery shopper assistant” spam

I’m familiar with the hobby of mystery shopping – a service provided under contract where the contractor discreetly reviews an establishment and observes various aspects such as customer service, cost of goods or services sold and so on. The contract then reports back to the contracting agency and receives a modest payment, commonly less than $50 plus reimbursement for any item purchased. This email however was laced with the promise of paying $300 per assignment, which sounded my inner suspicion alarm.

Image 2 - the lure
Image 2 – the lure

Several key components of the message attempted to lend credibility to the post, for instance, naming companies that employ the services of secret shoppers. The message is a scam, however -- readers beware.

The scam scheme begins when the prospective secret shopper responds to the email. The scammer may send the target additional instructions such as what part of the store to review; for instance, Wal-Mart's “MoneyCenter” service, an in-store service that allows customers to send money electronically to a recipient. The scammer obtains the target’s address and sends them a (fraudulent) cashier’s check with instructions to cash the check, keep $300.00 for themselves, and send a remainder back to the scammer. This is a classic fraud scenario as the trick in this case is that the cashier’s check is made of rubber, and the person cashing the fake check is liable for amount of the cashed check during the transaction. Meanwhile the scammer has received valid cash at your expense.

Wal-Mart stores have been a conduit for scammers for a few years now, and there is a landing page on the Wal-Mart site describing the “Mystery Shopper Scam”:

In a section titled “How to protect yourself”, it is mentioned that no legitimate business “will pay in advance and ask you to send back a portion of the money.” The MMPC concurs with this statement – and don’t forget the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


-- Patrick Nolan, MMPC

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