WEBER COUNTY (ABC4 News) – What would you do if you received a check in the mail for $2,300 and a letter stating you had been selected to be a secret shopper? That’s what happened to a Weber County woman on Tuesday, who luckily saw the red flags before falling victim to the scam.
The woman, who requested to have her identity concealed, said she received a text message on Monday asking her to confirm that a package from Forrester Survey Research had arrived.
The package arrived on Tuesday, following by another text message asking her, once again, to confirm its arrival. Inside the envelope was a check for $2355 and a letter stating she would be “evaluating Walmart and CVS stores around your area.”
The letter went on to say, “The enclosed check is ready for you to deposit into your bank upon receiving. Once it’s available, you will go to any Walmart and CVS store around you and proceed with the evaluation. Please note that $400 is compensation for your participation, $50 for transport and miscellaneous during assignment, and $1900 for the gift card shopping purchase.”
The 65-year-old woman told ABC4 News she was initially excited about the offer.
“I think it’s every girl’s dream to be able to shop and get paid for it,” she said.
But after she and her husband read the letter in detail, they became suspicious.
The letter specifically instructs her deposit the check into her bank account and then use the funds to purchase four American Express gift cards from two different stores in the amount of $400 to $500.
It then stated to, “text or e-mail a picture of the receipt and a clear picture of the card on both sides by removing or peeling off the label on the front to reveal the hidden numbers.”
She also noticed multiple red flags about the package, specifically that each article came from a different location. The envelope was mailed from Pennsylvania, the check was supposedly issued from a bank in Texas, the phone number on the letter was from Washington, and the number that texted her was from Massachusetts.
“Scammers have ways of bouncing things all over. It’s a lot harder to catch or find somebody when everything is different. There’s not one address or one phone number on here that matches anything,” she said.
Other red flags include bad grammar and spelling in the letter and a letterhead that didn’t look legitimate. She and her husband eventually decided to go online and research the company and found reviews from other people.
“There’s quite a bit of information on the internet about it. We started reading all the little snippets of different people who have been scammed,” she said.
Although she didn’t fall for the scam, she said she wanted to share her story to prevent others from being victimized.
“I don’t want anybody else to have this happen to them,” she said.
What can you do?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, these types of scams work because fake checks generally look just like real checks, even to bank employees.
They are often printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. They may even be real checks written on bank accounts that belong to identity theft victims and it can take weeks for a bank to figure out that the check is a fake.
By law, banks have to make deposited funds available quickly, usually within two days. When the funds are made available in your account, the bank may say the check has “cleared,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a good check.
Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. By that time, the scammer has any money you sent, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank.
Your best bet? Don’t rely on money from a check unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with. Once you send someone the card number and PINs for a gift card, it’s like giving someone cash, it’s almost impossible to get back.
Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer. If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away.
When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Also, tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible.
For more information on fake check scams, click here.
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