Somehow, my name and address found its way on a list of potential suckers. Some company out there thought I would be gullible, falling for an obvious financial scam.
A few days ago, I received a letter and check for almost $3,000 in the mail. I wasn’t expecting this delivery, so my suspicions were high by the time I looked at the letter. The letterhead includes a clip-art image of a shopper and identifies the sender of “Best Mark Interco Mystery Shopping Company Ltd.,” based on Rayne, Louisiana. I signed to be a secret shopper several years ago in order to look into methods of making incremental income with my spare time, and decided early on that it was not the best use of my time. Perhaps one of those legitimate mystery shopping companies made their address lists available to scammers.
There seems to be a legitimate mystery shopping company called Bestmark, but they are based in Minnesota.
The red flags continue. The cover letter is written with bad grammar and punctuation. In today’s linguistic environment of short text messages and Facebook statuses, people are more comfortable with a lackadaisical approach to the English language, even within apparently official documents. I’ve scanned the letter and included it here for review.
The “salary” for the first mystery shopping assignment offered is significantly higher than what mystery shoppers should expect. Legitimate mystery shopping companies pay $5 to $20 per assignment, though some professional mystery shoppers, later in their “career,” can receive difficult assignments commanding a higher fee, perhaps $100. This company is trying to entice me with a starting gig paying $400 after completing two assignments. If it sounds too good to be true…
The core of the first assignment is the classic Western Union scam. The letter instructs me to take the money I receive from the check — minus my $400 salary and minus $100 for my second mystery shopping assignment — to any Western Union location to transfer the funds to a receiver named Emilien Wiscome based in Seattle, Washington. This would require me to cash the check at a bank first (or, as most targets would likely do, take it to a check-cashing storefront where the validity of the check would be harder to verify). This is to completed as a secret review of the Western Union branch, with a very short evaluation form. The form is included on the reverse side of the letter, and the completed form must be faxed back to the number provided.
My second assignment is to use the remaining $100 to shop at one of a large variety of stores, evaluate the experience, and fax the completed evaluation form. The letter informs me I can keep whatever I buy — how generous! This is primarily how secret shopping works, except for the fact that legitimate secret shopping assignments target one particular store. it’s not the shoppers’ responsibility to choose from a list of stores that includes Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco, Best Buy, and The Home Depot, among others.
It’s sad that scams like these take time and money away from unsuspecting people. If people are stuck in difficult financial conditions, following job losses in a bad economy or through health problems with insurmountable hospital bills, receiving a check for almost $3,000 in the mail is certainly a happy turn of events. Even some who fall for this scam have a strong feeling that the letter is not legitimate, but their life situation drives them to take a chance, anyway.
Please don’t fall for this scam. You could be on the hook for the money. If you receive a letter and check from “Best Mark Interco Mystery Shopping Company Ltd.,” just ignore it and shred the check.
Here is the scanned letter: