News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS This realistic check and these official looking documents were received in the mail as an attempt to scam a local woman out of money.
published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Mystery shopper scam circulating
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- A scam through the mail is circulating in Highlands County. People should be on the lookout.
The scam works like this: A letter, with a check enclosed, is sent to a home. It is typically written on paper with a letterhead, bar code, and sequencing numbers.
Below the text, two rows of well-known company logos are printed, including Office Depot and Walmart. The letter looks convincingly authentic. It purports to be an offer of employment as a Mystery Shopper.
The recipient is told the first assignment is "a hands-on self training designed to equip you with the knowledge necessary to effectively carry out your assignments ..."
The first assignment is an evaluation of Western Union.
The recipient is supposed to send a certain amount of money -- the bulk of the amount of the enclosed check -- through Western Union in order to judge its customer service.
The second assignment is to take $80 from the check, go to one of a list of retail stores -- K-Mart, Sears and Best Buy are included -- to evaluate it as well.
The letter says, "You are required to fax in the retail receipts and transfer receipts for verification purposes."
The recipient is told to cash the enclosed check right away. After the assignments, a few hundred dollars remain from the check. The money is said to be the recipient's salary. But the check bounces, leaving the recipient liable for the full amount of the check.
Austin Richmond, with the Wells Fargo Bank in Avon Park, recently saw one of these checks in time to warn the recipient.
"We see this type of check every so often," Richmond said. "Not a lot, but enough so we know them when we see them."
He warns people that any letter/check combination asking for a portion of the money to be returned immediately is a major red flag.
The News-Sun called the International Data Corp., one of the companies sending out these solicitations.
The telephone number was listed on the letter.
A man answered the phone. When the News-Sun explained why it was calling and asked for information, the man said he was transferring the call to the public relations department.
The phone simply rang. No one answered after 20 rings, and no voice mailbox came on.
Other area banks have seen the same scam.
On its website, Highlands Independent Bank has a link to an organization that teaches about all types of fraudulent offers.
Go to www.highlandsindependentbank.com and look for the heading Beware of Scams, in bright red letters.
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