Another scam has been making its way into Coastal Bend residents' mailboxes, and one local woman who received it knew something was wrong.
It's called the "mystery shopping scam" -- a letter saying that you have been selected for a part-time job as a mystery shopper, along with a big check. That check arrived in local resident Brandy Pantoja's mail, but she said it seemed too good to be true.
The check looks real, and in fact, many people who have fallen for the scam were able to cash it. The one that arrived in Pantoja's mail was made out for a total of $1,550.14.
"Seeing that much money in the mail, it's like, why am I getting this check?" Pantoja said.
Along with the check was a letter from a company called Gardview Research out of St. Louis, Mo., informing brandy that she has been selected to become an undercover customer service evaluator. In other words, a mystery shopper.
"I called up the guy and said, 'What is this about?' He said that I put the money in my account -- the check -- withdraw $1,020 dollars," Pantoja said. "After I do that, I was supposed to call him back."
That was the first red flag. When Pantoja called back the man on the other end of the phone, who identified himself as Mark, he said to go to CVS and use that money to buy prepaid cards. She knew something wasn't right and contacted 3News.
The first thing Pantoja did was call the number again, this time with Kiii News Reporter Bill Churchwell by her side; and once again, Mark answered the phone.
"Good afternoon, Mark speaking. How may I help you today?"
"Hi Mark, this is Brandy. I spoke to you earlier. I had some concerns about this being a scam."
"For what?" Mark asked.
"The check and everything else," Pantoja replied. "Is it a scam?"
"No, not at all."
That's when Mark was told that he was on speaker.
"Hi Mark, this is Bill Churchwell. I'm with Kiii-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas. We're a TV station and we're recording this conversation right now. Is this a scam?"
And that's when Mark hung up, and possibly for a good reason. Remember the company name, Gardview? A quick Google search found that it does not exist. A search of a Website that lists legitimate mystery shopping companies also turned up nothing. Even a search of the company's address came up empty -- there was no such place in Missouri.
"There are plenty of people out there, especially young kids. They see a check, lets put it in the bank, get some free money, and you've got to be careful," Pantoja said. "Money is tight. Christmas is around the corner. I don't want anyone to be out."
The Better Business Bureau says never wire money to strangers, and do not pay a company to hire you; and if you get a check or a money order in the mail from a possible scammer, report it to the National Consumers League at www.fraud.org.
The Better Business Bureau offers this advice about mystery shopping offers:
- Remember that anyone can place a newspaper or online ad. Do not confuse the appearance of such solicitations in reputable forums with proof of the offers having been thoroughly evaluated by those publications or job search services.
- Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by official-sounding corporate names. Some scam artists operate under business names that can be confused with those of long-standing, reputable firms.
- Don't pay a company to hire you, not even if such payment is presented as necessary for buying training materials, obtaining required certification or registering with databases of available mystery shoppers. Remember, if the process involves you sending money to your potential employers, it's probably a scam.
- Be wary of companies that ask you to disburse money from your own pocket for the goods you buy as their secret shopper.
- Do not wire money to strangers or to firms that have supposedly hired you. Once cash is out the door, it's gone for ever.
If you have questions about the legitimacy of a job listing, contact your local BBB at www.bbb.org. Also, check out www.mysteryshop.org to search mystery shopping providers.
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