The RCIPS Financial Crime Investigation Unit is issuing a warning to the public regarding scams being run under the guise of mystery shopping promotions.
What is Mystery Shopping?
Retailers (primarily in the USA and other jurisdictions) hire third-party companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores. This is often done using mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers are persons who are instructed to make a particular purchase or use a particular service in a store or restaurant and then report on the experience. Typically the mystery shopper is either reimbursed for the purchase or can keep the items purchased, and also receives a small additional payment.
Mystery Shopper Scams Locally
The current scams involve residents being targeted via social media by dishonest promoters who create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are a gateway to high-paying jobs.
The victims will receive a request from someone they believe to be a friend or person known to them. This is often done using hacked social media accounts.
They will subsequently be contacted by the person via Messenger and then “hired” to be mystery shopper, with their first assignment being to evaluate a money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram.
As part of this process a request will be made for personal details including name, phone number, and address, as well as personal bank account details, in order to receive the funds that the scammer claims will be used to evaluate the transfer service.
The victim will be told to check their account for a transfer of the funds that will then be used to evaluate the money transfer service. These funds are transferred from another account that often has also been hacked.
Alternatively, persons may be given a cheque and instructed to deposit it in their personal bank account. In these cases the cheque is usually fake. Unfortunately, uncovering a fake check can take weeks, and in the meantime it may seem that the check is cleared and the money has been posted to the affected person’s account.
Finally, the victim will be told to withdraw the cash and use the money transfer service to send it to a third party, in order to evaluate the quality of the service.
In either case, the person who deposited the check and/or withdrew funds that were transferred to their account will be held responsible for reimbursing the bank once the discrepancy is discovered.
The FCU Recommends:
In order to protect yourself against these scams, the FCIU is offering the following reminders and recommendations to the public:
-Keep in mind that becoming a mystery shopper for a legitimate company does not cost anything.
-Don’t respond to mystery shopper promoters who advertise for mystery shoppers in local newspaper classifieds, via email, or on social media (Messenger / Facebook).
-Do not click on any links contained in emails, and never provide your banking or personal details to anyone via social media or over the phone
-Ignore any request to deposit a cheque or to withdraw funds transferred to your account. Report such requests to your bank immediately.
-Never transfer money to a third party who you do not know.
-Once the scam is discovered, contact your financial institution immediately.
-It is encouraged that you keep all original documents, emails, withdrawal and wire transfer forms and any other logs of communication.
Because scams and fraudulent websites can emerge and change very quickly, individuals are encouraged to report any suspicions of possible internet scams by filing a complaint with the police or FCU regardless of whether a loss is suffered.
Any such reports can be made to your local police station, or directly to the FCU at 949-8797.