NBC 5 Responds

Secret Shopper Scam Hits North Texas

While the check may be tempting to cash, experts warn this scam could cost you thousands

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Getting paid to shop sounds like a dream job? Especially if you’re looking for a side hustle or part-time work. But imagine getting a letter and check in the mail with promises of an easy payday. Sounds a little too good to be true but the secret shopper scam is once again targeting North Texans. 

NBC 5 responds explains what you should know before you cash that check.

North Texans Trey Letcher and John Waldowski both turned to NBC 5 Responds to help warn others about a familiar but convincing scam.

I was not expecting anything at all in the mail,” said Letcher who lives in Plano.

Letcher received this check and letter promising a quick buck.

“There's a check in the mail in the envelope that came priority mail for $1,950, and to take $400 dollars out of this check for my services and use the rest of the money to purchase gift cards,” Letcher said.

He said it didn’t sound right.

“I've fallen for one of these in the past, and what ends up happening is that money that's deposited into a bank suddenly that accounts frozen,” said Letcher.

How it works:

The scammers want you to deposit their check. It looks real and the money may even show up in your checking account. Then they want you to go out and buy gift cards and then text or send photos of the gift cards showing numbers on the card.  In this case, you’re promised a bonus if you do this task within three to five hours.  But here’s the problem, it may take days or weeks for your bank to confirm the check is bogus. By then, the money you spent on the gift cards is long gone.

“I just had that feeling that I didn't want to go down that road again, and so that's why I called you guys,” said John Waldowski of Fort Worth. 

He received a similar offer.

“I got a text message congratulating me on my new position that I had been hired as a secret shopper for Whole Foods, which was really shocking since I had not applied for a position,” said Waldowski.  “Then two days later I received my packet in the mail with my letter instructing me on how to perform my secret shopper duties.”

Waldowski said he knew it wasn’t legitimate.

“I was able to sniff it out instantly. It is as a rip-off,” said Waldowski.

“The best thing you can do is not cash that check. It's not real. And you are going to be on the hook for that money,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the ID Theft and Resource Center.

While this scam isn’t new, their data shows a 250% increase in the secret shopper scam complaints just in the last month.

“It's been a goldmine for scammers and the bad actors. And I think the mystery shopper scams are enjoying a resurgence because so many people are looking for work. And it just seems like really easy money,” said Velasquez.

Which is why both Letcher and Waldowski wanted to get the word out.

“I just think it's terrible that given our current circumstances and what's going on with COVID and other things, a lot of people are don't have jobs,” said Waldowski.

What should you do?

If you get a check out of the blue, don’t cash it even if it looks legitimate. Read the letter and don’t ignore red flags like grammar or spelling mistakes. The scam will pressure you to move fast, take the time to tell a friend or family member about it. Most importantly, you should take time and report it.

“If it came through the mail, by all means, report it to the postal inspector. If they see a pattern and they can trace it back to the individual that's engaging in that activity, those are some pretty serious regulations and they carry some pretty strict penalties and fines,” said Velasquez.

Earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission said ID theft is up more than 2000%.  

Scammers are looking at every way possible to steal your information and your money.

NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and a resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.

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