‘Mystery shopper’ scam making rounds again

WASHINGTON — The email looks legitimate: You’ve been chosen to be a secret shopper for major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Best Buy and Home Depot, to evaluate their service. The jobs are real, but the offer is not.

The “Mystery Secret Shopper” scam is nothing new. But it is making the rounds again, and victims are forking over thousands of dollars before they realize it’s a fraud.

The link in the email sends the person to what looks like a major retailer’s website. The instructions prompt victims to provide personal information with the promise of a $1,500 cashier’s check. Deposit the money, wire it back and you have the job.

But not so fast.

“These are people who really want to steal your identity and steal your money,” says Cristina Miranda, a consumer education specialist with the Federal Trade Commission, who used to be a real mystery shopper.

Miranda says the checks are fake, and people might not realize they are victims until their banks notify them weeks later. It’s especially dangerous because consumers cannot recover money sent through wire transfers.

“Wiring money is untraceable. It’s like sending cash. Once you send it, you can’t get it back,” Miranda says.

Real secret-shopper jobs are posted online by reputable marketing firms, and no one has to pay to become one.

Consumers can consult the Mystery Shopping Providers Association for member companies who post assignments online.

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