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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.