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Mystery Shopping Scams

Watch Out for Mystery Shopping Scams on Job Boards

A little over an hour from our Measure CP offices, a couple of Loveland, Ohio women were nearly caught in a mystery shopping scam with a new twist. In this case, both women found a “mystery shopping job” on the State of Ohio’s job site, Ohio Means Jobs.

Abigail Gimball was offered a $25 per hour bookkeeping job and was told she would need a computer, so they asked her to buy one for herself. They would just send her a check to deposit so she could buy the computer and then keep whatever she happened to have left over. (That should be a big red flag right there — no corporation in the world ever says “keep the change.” There are tax issues to account for.)

Muriel Casavetes of Clermont County had a similar experience. She was told to cash a $2000 check, take most of the money, and wire it back using Walmart’s Money Gram counter. Luckily, she got suspicious right away.

Both times, the scam followed the same steps as other mystery shopping scams:

  1. Send a big check, asking the shopper to deposit it into their bank.
  2. Withdraw most of the money.
  3. Buy something big, or
  4. Wire transfer the money somewhere.
  5. Keep the rest.

And in every case, it turns out that the check was a forgery, so when the person depositing the check made a withdrawal, they were either sending their account into a negative balance, or they lost some of their savings.

Either way, they’re out the amount on the check. Unlike credit card fraud, which the bank will waive because it’s usually a result of identity theft, the responsibility for these mystery shopping scams rests squarely on the shoulders of the shopper.

Now They’re on the Job Boards

But now the scammers have taken it one step further and are just making the problem worse. They’re posting their fraudulent activities on job boards, which people like Abigail Gimball and Muriel Casavetes assume are legitimate, because they believed the job board would vet and confirm the job postings.

Mystery shopping scams are being found on job boards. This is a listing for CareerBuilder, where I searched for "scam artist." No listings though.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Big job boards have thousands of job postings, and they have no way of vetting even 1% of the jobs that get posted. That means you need to do a little of your own sleuthing. And watch out for these red flags.

Beware of work-from-home jobs to begin with. They’re not actually as common or beneficial as you might think. There are people who telecommute, but they tend to be working for either tech startups or large corporations. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but the employer will typically want to talk to you and meet with you for a few interviews before they give you a $25 per hour job ($50,000 per year). In Abigail Gimball’s case, her fake employer was going to send her money to buy a laptop so she could do a bookkeeping job from home. Bottom line, if it seems to be good to be true, it probably is.

Never accept a check from an unknown party. I mean, come on, we live in an electronic age. People transfer money via PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and other online methods. You can protect yourself by only accepting money that is electronically transferred to you. This way, you’re protected if the offer turns out to be fake. If you leave the money in your account until you confirm it, your account won’t dip into the negative if the other party takes the money back.

If someone wants you to get a computer, have them send it to you. There are plenty of companies that will build and ship computers directly to you. If you encounter a legitimate “we’ll buy you a computer” job, have them take care of all the ordering and shipping. If they won’t, you may want to question their true intentions as well as their financial viability.

The scammers are really getting tricky with their different mystery shopping scams, which only damages our own industry. If you want to be a mystery shopper, visit our own website MCPFieldAgents.com. Also, be sure to check to see if your mystery shopping agency is a member of MSPA-Americas, the official trade association of mystery shopping agencies in North and South America.

Mystery Shopping Scams

Watch Out for Mystery Shopping Scams on Job Boards

TaskRabbit, the handyman-for-hire app, just announced that their network had been hacked by cybercriminals, putting over 1.25 million Taskers at risk for having their personal and financial data stolen.

During the investigation, the app and website will be temporarily be taken down while cybersecurity investigators and law enforcement determine what happened.

Cybersecurity image of a padlock over a screen of jumbled text. TaskRabbit was hacked by cybercriminals, so we thought this was an appropriate image to post.We wanted to alert you because we know many mystery shoppers like to use systems like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, and GigWalk. Some stores and brands will hire mystery shoppers to perform small tasks, like take a picture of a store or buy a sandwich, and upload the results to the client.

The mystery shoppers are then paid by the client, and money is either placed into their app’s account, or they can be paid directly to your PayPal account. (Some apps may even let you connect directly to your bank account. We don’t suggest you do this.)

If you use TaskRabbit, or any other mystery shopping/task completion service, here are a few things you’ll want to do to protect yourself online (plus a few others in that link right there).

  1. Change your password. One of the things the criminals took were all the usernames and passwords of all the accounts. So change your password immediately. And use something that’s easy for you to remember, but hard to figure out. Don’t worry about the whole *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq kind of password. Pick a really long sentence that only you will remember — HotDogsArenNotedForTheirUnusualHistory — and write it down somewhere. You should be using passwords like this all the time anyway. And if you can swing it, get a password vault like 1Password (which runs on Mac and Windows), or KeePass (which is free and Windows-based), and you can save all these complex passwords without having to ever remember them.
  2. If you’re on TaskRabbit, disconnect your PayPal or bank account. We’re not sure if the criminals can get your credentials this way, but you don’t want to find out that they were able to drain your PayPal account. Change your PayPall password while you;re at it.
  3. Set up a CreditKarma.com account. If you’re on TaskRabbit, they may offer you a free year of credit monitoring from someone like Equifax or Experian (which is a problem in itself, since Experian was hacked last year). But Credit Karma is more thorough and can help you keep an eye out on unusual transaction. Take the free credit monitoring they offer, but just know that if the criminals have your account information now, they can use it two years from now, long after the credit monitoring has run out.
  4. Change your email password. The worst thing that can happen is that you lose control of your email account. A crook only has to change your email password, and then start visiting sites like your PayPal account or bank, click the Forgot My Password link and enter your (their) email address. Then they’ve got your new password and access to your account.
  5. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication wherever possible. Two-factor authentication (TFA) is an extra security step that sends a short code to your mobile phone. When you log into your Gmail, PayPal, or other important sites, you’ll be asked for that code, and you can’t proceed until you give it. At the same time, if you ever receive a TFA code on your mobile phone for no reason, you’ll know that someone tried to get into your account, but can’t without that code.

At Measure CP, we take every measure we can to protect our mystery shoppers from cyberattacks and criminal activity, and we’re sure TaskRabbit did too. But there are so many ways for criminals to break in that no one can ever be 100% safe. (You only have to look at the Experian and Target data breaches to know that. The Target breach was through a third-party contractor who fell victim to a phishing email.)

So practice good web security. Use complicated, but easy-to-remember passwords, or better yet, store them in a password vault. Change any and all passwords associated with TaskRabbit or any other site that has been hacked. And turn on two-factor authentication on your important accounts, like your primary email, your bank, and anywhere else you want that extra measure of protection.

Photo credit: TypographyImages (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Mystery Shopping Scams

Watch Out for Mystery Shopping Scams on Job Boards

We’ve talked in the past about mystery shopper scams and the way unsuspecting mystery shoppers can be tricked into different ways of parting with their money. We recently heard a story that has us scratching our heads a bit and wondering if this is a scam or not.

A mystery shopper competition in the United Kingdom is offering customers £100 ($141) gift cards to spend in Aldi in exchange for a review. While this is not an unusual practice per se, it still has us thinking this may be a scam for a couple reasons.

For one thing, $141 is an awfully high amount for a grocery store review. Typical mystery shops run between $8 – $20.

But most importantly, Aldi has said they are not involved with the shopping campaign at all.

Aldi supermarket, Alphington Road, Exeter. Aldi supermarkets are the subject of a questionable contest for mystery shoppers.

Aldi supermarket, Alphington Road, Exeter

They released a statement that said,”Aldi has confirmed that this opportunity isn’t genuine and is in no way connected to the business. Please alert readers to the fact that this is not an Aldi opportunity.”

For another thing, Aldi does not sell gift cards. So there’s no way this mystery shopping contest is offering Aldi gift cards. (Maybe they’re Visa gift cards, which Aldi accepts, but there’s no such thing as an Aldi-branded gift card.)

According to a Cambridge News article, if the shoppers are selected, they only have to visit the store and then provide “honest feedback” about their visit.

To qualify, shoppers must provide their personal details and agree to submit a 500 word written review within a week of the visit, as well as a video and photos.

And there’s the rub: shoppers are being asked to provide their personal details. While your basic personal details are not that hard to find — name, address, email address — anything more than that is liable to make you the victim of identity theft.

At no point should you ever share your birth city, mother’s maiden name, or social security number to someone who’s promising to send you a large gift card.

If these are the kinds of personal details you have to provide to qualify for this kind of “contest,” chances are it’s not on the up and up.

That’s because it could just be an outright lie; they may not send you a card in the first place, but they’ve got your details and can use that to sign up for credit cards in your name.

Now, this could be on the up-and-up. It could be a totally legitimate contest being run by a marketing agency or even an Aldi’s competitor. And the contest website even says they’re not involved with Aldi’s and that this is not an Aldi’s-sponsored contest.

Still, it makes me wonder what kind of mystery shopping campaign it is. Here in the United States, no one would publicly hire mystery shoppers for $141 to go check out a store without some connection to the store.

There might be companies that would do a secret shopping campaign to gather competitive research, but they certainly wouldn’t announce that they were doing it. They would usually hire a mystery shopping agency, or they would do a lot of their own competitive research with their employees.

As we always say, the bottom line in avoiding mystery shopping scams is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone offering you $141 (or even $100) in a mystery shopping contest is probably not a legitimate campaign. Avoid it, hold onto your personal details, and only work with agencies that are members of the MSPA Americas (the Mystery Shopping Professional Association).

If you would like to become a real mystery shopper yourself, you can sign up at our website. Or to hire a mystery shopping agency to run your own campaign, please visit the website for more information.

Photo credit: David Smith (Geograph.org.uk, Creative Commons 2.0)

Mystery Shopping Scams

Watch Out for Mystery Shopping Scams on Job Boards

A Canadian pilot for Cathay Dragon, a Hong Kong-based airline, has been ordered to repay Air Canada more than $36,000 CDN ($29,181 USD) after leaking a “mystery shopper promo code” to friends and family members.

According to a recent CBC story, Marc Anthony Tacchi pleaded guilty to “fraudulently obtaining transportation” and was ordered to repay the airline after he scammed them out of several discount first class flight tickets.

Tacchi booked four trips for him and his family, as well as helping friends to obtain tickets as well.

Tacchi is a Canadian citizen, but is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, To help locate Tacchi, the RCMP circulated an online “wanted poster” of him, which can still be found online. The judge in the case, Patrick Chen, said that this poster and the repayment of the theft was enough punishment, and that Tacchi would not face any jail time.

Marc Anthony Tacchi was ordered to repay $36,000 CDN to Air Canada after he scammed discounted tickets using a code obtained from a mystery shopper.“In my view, to the extent that denunciation and general deterrence is necessary to be addressed in this sentencing, that need has been satisfied by the damage the accused has already suffered to his reputation,” Chen wrote in his decision. “These postings [RCMP wanted poster] will endure and remain on the internet for the foreseeable future for the world to see and may well have a more general deterrent effect than a conditional sentence order.”

In other words, if you search for Marc Anthony Tacchi on Google, his news story and wanted poster will likely appear at the top of the results. We’ll help ensure that it does. You can see the original poster and information here.

How the Scam Went Down

According to the CBC story, Tacchi obtained his promo code from an unnamed man who had been hired by Sensors Quality Management (SQM), the mystery shopping agency that had been hired to run a quality control shopping program for Air Canada.

The shoppers were not supposed to be given the promo code, but were instead supposed to buy a regular ticket at full price through SQM, who then used the code to book the flights at a discount. After the shoppers turned in their evaluations, SQM reimbursed them 50 percent of the flight cost.

In other words, if you had a trip you wanted to book, you could get it at 50 percent off if you wrote a review for the agency.

David Lipton, SQM’s president, said the shopper was not supposed to have access to the code, but managed to crack it himself and gave the number to Tacchi. Lipton said this whole ordeal has been “a headache for his company.

“We were certainly victims. We had to spend time, effort and money. And we’re a small business,” Lipton told the CBC. “We take it very personally and we work with a high degree of integrity and we’re well respected in the industry.”

The unnamed shopper who leaked the code to Tacchi was also ordered to repay his own fraud costs, which total over $90,000 CDN ($72,954 USD). Tacchi has paid back the entire amount he owed, and he was not convicted. Judge Chen declared that a conditional discharge was in the public’s interest, and so did not convict and sentence Tacchi.

But the unnamed shopper was given a nine month conditional sentence (i.e. house arrest), because his position also involved a breach of trust.

Mystery shopping scams don’t just affect the shoppers who get tricked into providing personal details to crooks, or fall victim to the old “deposit this check and send us some of it back” trick. Mystery shopping scams affect the mystery shopping agencies too.

Companies like SQM and Measure CP are small businesses trying to help their clients as well as their shoppers. Both groups trust us: the clients trust us to provide accurate information, and the shoppers trust us to keep their information safe and to treat them fairly.

That’s why we take precautions to protect our shoppers’ data, and carefully control the information we’re given by our clients. Whether it’s quality checks, customer service, or regulatory compliance, Measure CP works to ensure that our clients’ data is protected and private. If you would like to learn more, you can contact us and ask to speak to one of our mystery shopping experts.