If you were given the opportunity to get paid to shop, would you take it?
Legitimate secret shopping gigs exist, but there are plenty of other “opportunities” that are nothing more than a scam. And unfortunately, many consumers fall victim to this tried-and-true form of fraud every year.
“Fraudsters always go back to this scam, because it works,” says Kelly Liddle, fraud specialist at Dupaco Community Credit Union.
How the secret shopper scam works
You receive an official-looking letter in the mail that says you’ve been selected as a secret shopper. Maybe you applied for the position when you saw an ad on social media, maybe you didn’t.
Either way, you eventually receive a fraudulent check, sometimes for several thousand dollars, and are given instructions to evaluate a service, cash the check, keep several hundred dollars as compensation and wire back the remaining proceeds.
Or, you might be told to use the check funds to purchase gift cards from iTunes, Walmart or other companies and send the gift card codes back to the secret shopper “company”/fraudster.
“That’s instant cash for the fraudsters,” Liddle says. “Once those gift cards are used or moved to a new card, you’ll likely never get that money back.”
Many times, the letters even instruct you not to bring the letter with you when you cash the check (because the letters are a red flag to financial institutions).
Once that check is cashed, and it’s later determined to be fake, you’re on the line for that money.
“Who doesn’t want to spend someone else’s money to go shopping and get cash or products for nothing?” Liddle says. “But in the end, that check will come back, and you’re out the full amount.”
What you should do
Always remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you receive a check and job offer as a secret shopper—and you’re instructed to deposit a check and send back money—it has SCAM written all over it.
If you’re concerned, you can bring the check and letter to your credit union. Liddle keeps a file of letters and fake checks members have received, and she uses them for training purposes with Dupaco staff.
“Our tellers are fabulous about catching these fraudulent checks,” Liddle says.