‘Mystery shopper’ scam continues in East Tennessee with new name


Scams that are profitable to criminals tend to cycle around, perhaps using a different name. For years, fake checks have been sent out to lure unsuspecting people to become a “mystery shopper.” While the name has changed, the scam has not.

The scammer still sends fake checks with similar instructions. Legitimate mystery shopper opportunities are out there. Some retailers hire real companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores, but scammers have taken advantage of the franchise. If you take their bait, you are not a mystery or secret shopper. You are now a “secret store evaluator.”

Rockwood resident Judy Waldo wants others to know about a letter received in the mail recently.

“I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to become the lead member of a three-person team of secret store evaluators,” read Waldo.

The letter supposedly came from American Bankers Insurance. Included was a real looking check for nearly $2,000 with instructions on what to do after putting the money in your bank account.

“You’re supposed to spend three $500 gift cards, or money cards, put $500 on each card and call them, these people at American Bankers Insurance Survey,” said Waldo.

Before you call, you’re told to check “yes” or “no” to five simple questions.

“It says you would be required to pose as a potential customer at the reload card location by purchasing three Vanilla re-load network cards,” Waldo said.

Vanilla re-load cards can be purchased at five different stores in East Tennessee. Waldo said she was to evaluate the service given when she purchased the cards. Then within 24 hours, she was to call the survey team giving them the numbers from the pre-paid cards.

“It looks like you come out clearing $400, but you end up clearing nothing,” Waldo said.

To supposedly show they’re honest, the letter came with this warning to the secret evaluator: “Misuse of company funds will not be tolerated.” 

Last year Velta Lane believed she was being asked to be a “mystery shopper.” The information was delivered by Priority Mail. 

“Well they want me to cash the money and then they want me to go a specific store,” said Lane.

Similar to the instructions given in Judy Waldo’s letter, Lane was told what to do when the got to the store.

“I’m supposed to check on how clean the store is, if I experience any overcharges,” said Lane.

As a mystery shopper, Lane said she was sent a check for $2,150, was told to deposit it in her bank, and keep a small portion as salary just like Waldo was instructed. Lane said she became suspicious when told to buy money cards and pass on the numbers.

“I was supposed to get three of them for $500 and another $450. And, according to the check, there was enough money to purchase the item,” Lane said.

Lane said she never loaded the cards nor did she deposit the check.

The Federal Trade Commission warns that counterfeit or fake checks are being used in a growing number of fraudulent schemes: foreign lottery scams, check overpayment scams, secret shopper, mystery shopper, and now the new one – the secret store evaluator scam.

“Don’t cash the check because you will end of owing yourself. You will come out with nothing,” said Waldo.

All of these scams sound like an easy way to make money. That’s one reason why so many people fall for them. It doesn’t matter what you are told to do with the unsolicited checks because they’re fake. Just throw them in the trash.

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