Knoxville woman spots ‘mystery shopper’ scam

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Scammers need a good story to get money from your wallet. Once they find one that works, they use it again and again.

One of their old favorites brings together fake checks and secret shopping. You get a check in the mail with a job offer, including instructions. You’re told to deposit the check quickly, then go to your assignment. That first job is to test the in-store money transfer service of a place like Walmart. As directed you purchase gift cards from the check you deposited, then call and give the numbers on the cards.

It’s an old scam. What’s different about this one is the name used in the letter sent to a Knoxville address.

When Cat Pasquaretto went to her mailbox a few weeks ago, she received a priority envelope and its contents caught her attention. Inside she found a letter with instructions.  There was also a cashier’s check for a hefty amount.

“They gave me a check for $2,150,” said Pasquaretto.

The logo reads KSS International, but Pasquaretteo didn’t know at the time it had been copied by scammers. 

“It shows that I’m prequalified to take part in the international KSS secret shopper program and they’re asking me to evaluate the Walmart stores,” she said.

The letter included guidelines on what to look for and how she was to evaluate the store, but it’s the check and how the money was to be spent that she questioned.

“They want me to deposit the money. Three hundred was for compensation, $50 was for transportation during the assignment, $1,800 for the gift card shopping purchase. and I also had to complete a survey within three days. Also, I have another text,” Pasquaretto said.

From text messages, Pasquaretto was given instructions on what to do with those gift cards obtained from the check she received.   

“You will purchase three Walmart gift cards in the value of $500 each and one more card in the value of $300,” she said.

She was then instructed to take a picture of the cards, including their codes and text that information on. Instead, Pasquaretto disobeyed the rules.

“I called the bank on the check. The bank is out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It is PA State Credit Union. I called the bank. They told me do not deposit the check, the cashiers check,” she said.

If she had deposited the check, she would have had to pay the money back, plus some other fees.

KSS International is a legitimate mystery shopper business out of Boston. Founded 21 years ago, the company has gained recognition as an industry leader in scheduling and recruiting evaluators. Its database includes over half a million mystery shoppers, according to its website.

Under the important category of payment for its evaluators, in bold letters, it says KSS does not pay shoppers. 

In other words, you would not be getting one of these phony checks with instructions that you had to purchase gift cards and forward the codes. This logo is easy to copy. KSS International did not send the letter, but it’s likely the instructions in this letter sent by hoaxsters have fooled a lot of unsuspecting people. 

“It’s a scam.  A pure scam. I worry that other people would get scammed and lose everything,” said Pasquaretto.

If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then send money, you can bet it’s a scam, no matter what they tell you. There are real mystery shopping opportunities as a way to make extra cash. It’s not a full-time job.

Legitimate secret shopping never involves putting a check or money order in your account and then wiring money to anyone.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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