HAMMOND, LA (WVUE) - Some businesses use mystery or secret shoppers often to measure and improve the customer experience, but not all job offers to pay you to go shopping are real. People are falling for the scams that have become more sophisticated.
"The spelling on them and the grammar on them is pitiful. I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out," Warren Mott said. The Hammond resident luckily didn't fall for email and mail offers to get paid to shop.
His first assignment called for him to evaluate certain stores and take good notes of things like the "smartness of the attendant." "When I started reading it, a bell went off right off the bat, and that just clued me in," Mott said.
Instructions included what appeared to be a U.S. Postal Service money order payable to Mott for $929. "There ain't nobody who's gonna send you money like that if you're not willing to give this money," Mott said.
The instructions were for Mott to deposit the questionable money order at his bank and go shopping immediately afterward. In all caps and bold letters, Mott was instructed to go to any of the stores named in the letter and "with the cash, purchase Green Dot moneypak cards," which are pre-paid money cards, specifically two of them, one for $500 and the other for $220.
Mott was told to evaluate the business while purchasing the cards. Then, Mott was supposed to email the scammers the numbers on the back of the card, essentially giving them information they need to gain access to the money on the cards.
"They're catching people who are totally unaware, and when they see it right away, they think they're gonna make a quick buck right off the bat, and it's not gonna happen," Mott said.
Remember, the questionable money order they sent Mott was for $929.
Subtract from that the $720 he had to load onto the Green Dot cards and figure in $9 for Green Dot charges.
What's left? $200 for Mott for being a secret shopper.
It turns out when we checked with a postal inspector, she told the FOX 8 Defenders the money order is counterfeit. Had Warren Mott followed through with the secret shopper job, he'd be on the hook for the whole $929.
"What it boils down to, you give them your good money, and you're left holding a piece of paper, and these checks, money orders the counterfeit ones look very authentic," Cynthia Albert with the Better Business Bureau said. Albert suggests if there's any question about a secret shopper opportunity, don't do it.
"Marketing research firms may use them (secret shoppers), but they will train you, and they won't send you a check and ask you to send money back or wire a Green Dot card. They're gonna pay you," Albert said.
The FOX 8 Defenders tried tracking where the counterfeit money order came from. Shop 'n Check, the name listed on the assignment, had an address in Southern California.
When we tried calling the number, there was no connection, and since the counterfeit money order, Mott has received more fake offers for similar secret shopper jobs.
"The cashier's check was, what, $2,800," Mott said. The financial institution on that fake check is a credit union based in Honolulu, Hawaii.
A spokesperson with Hickam Federal Credit Union emailed FOX 8 a response and said, "these reproduced checks look very authentic and consumers are advised to be wary of receiving these checks, in response to a solicitation through email, internet, and regular mail propositions." The credit union says one sign a cashier's check could be fraudulent, the check should have a perforated top edge not a smooth top edge.
"I wish these people could be caught and put in jail, really," Mott said. But the Better Business Bureau and authorities stress that in many cases, the bad guys are overseas.
When it comes to those Green Dot Moneypak cards, the company no longer offers the ones with scratch off numbers on the back, according to its website. Consumer reports has in the past rated the company's prepaid money cards one of the best on the market, but scam artists have used them to try and swindle money out of unsuspecting consumers.
If you have a consumer complaint, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-888-670-6397 or fill out our online complaint form.