Kiplinger – When Janelle Martin and her husband, James, recently received a check for $1,991.62 that appeared to be from Walmart, her jaw dropped. “That’s an awful lot of money to receive in the mail,” she says. But her excitement quickly faded to skepticism when she read the letter that accompanied the check.
The letter asked them to register the check they received online, then deposit it in their bank account and use some of the money to complete a mystery shopping assignment. Although there are legitimate mystery shopping opportunities, the Martins were seeing red flags. The check supposedly was issued by Wachovia, which was bought by Wells Fargo in 2008 and no longer offers accounts under the Wachovia name. And a little searching on the Internet by the Martins turned up complaints about similar checks and letters.
What seemed like a windfall actually was a scam.
Walmart’s corporate site has a mystery shopper scam fraud alert that contains an image of a letter similar to the one the Martins received. It asks consumers to help with the retailer’s mystery shopping efforts by depositing the check to purchase items that they can keep along with a certain dollar amount from the check. The letter then instructs the recipient to wire the balance of the check to an address outside the U.S.
Because the check is a fake, it bounces and consumers are accountable for the amount of the check plus any bank penalties that might be charged, according to the Walmart fraud alert. Or, in some cases, consumers are asked for their bank account information so their secret shopper payment can be deposited into their account. Those who comply become victims of identity theft or have their accounts drained, according to the fraud alert.
“We would never have fallen for this,” Janelle Martin says. But she discovered that others have after she posted an image of the letter and check on Facebook with a message warning people about the scam. Several people sent her messages that they had become victims.
Although a check in the mail or an offer to earn money might seem like a blessing, consider these things before you respond:
A legitimate mystery shopping company will not send you a check prior to completing an assignment or ask you to cash a check and wire funds to someone else, according to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.
Walmart does not use mystery shopping services or mail checks to consumers asking them to make purchases and keep the remainder of the check as payment for services, according to the corporate Walmart site.
Don’t respond to unsolicited e-mails asking you to be a mystery shopper or click on any links within the e-mail, which could lead you to a fraudulent Web site or download malware onto your computer.
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