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Best Mark Interco Mystery Shopping Scam

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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:

Best Mark Interco Mystery Shopping Scam Letter

Published or updated June 27, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steve

Out of curiosity, how does a check-cashing storefront protect themselves against these kinds of bogus checks?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Mostly by charging large fees so they can cover their losses… or recognizing a scam when they see it, before the check is deposited, but these checks look like legitimate checks and include forged but accurate bank account information (valid account number / routing number combination and a matching account name).

Before I quit my corporate job, a few people in an adjacent department were dealing with scammers that used our company’s bank account information and company name to perpetrate Western Union-type or sweepstakes scams. The check cashing storefronts worked with intermediary retail deposit banks that would try to get our company to cover the forged checks. Phone calls went back and forth between us, the intermediary retail bank, and the check cashing outfit. Obviously, the customer who fell for the scam can’t be liable as they might partially be with a retail bank, because there are no deposits and no bank accounts.

A quick Google search revealed fairly recent news items that show that this scam involving the name of my former employer is still being perpetrated…

(Around the same time this was going on and my co-workers were aware of the scam, one of my co-workers actually fell for a separate scam. These things can sound so good that they appear to be worth the risk, but she was stuck battling her bank for a long time after that.)

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avatar jim

Thanks for reporting this.

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avatar Apex

I will take this much farther.

If you are EVER asked to send part of a check to a third party IT IS A SCAM. EVERY TIME!

This happens in real estate with people trying to rent a place and sending you a deposit for way too much money and then asking you to send them back the difference because their company (which is moving them) had a mistake in their accounting department and they do not want to lose the place so just cash the check (which is usually like 3 times too large) and send them back the difference once your bank makes it available. Of course its a bogus cashier’s check which the bank is required to make available in 24 hours but won’t be able to find out it’s fake for 2 weeks. When they do they will debit your bank account and you will be out all of the money.

No legitimate place will ever send you a check for too much money and ask you to send the difference somewhere else. Their reasons are usually not very good either.

Look at the reason in Flexo’s letter. You are to send thousands of dollars to a receiver. A receiver is someone charged with holding funds for another. Why on earth would this company send money to you and then have you send the difference to a receiver. They would give the money directly to the receiver because of course you could just keep the money and never send it to the receiver which would defeat the purpose of the receiver. It makes zero sense. Because of course there is no good reason to ever send too much money to you and ask you to send the difference somewhere else.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Great point, Apex. That’s why these clever scammers take advantage of mystery shoppers. Mystery shoppers have already accepted the premise of “testing out a business,” so they would be less concerned about testing out a Western Union facility with what appears to be the mystery shopping company’s money. It’s a population of consumers who have already let their guards down when it comes to pretending to be a customer.

It’s a version of the Nigerian scam… we’ll send you money, you’ll send most of it back after keeping your “fee.” What they send isn’t legitimate money, but you send legitimate money back, and you’re liable when the bank realizes the deposit wasn’t legitimate.

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avatar Mike Collins

They certainly go to great lengths to make their letters look official and legitimate. It’s sad to think about how many people fall victim to these kinds of scams.

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avatar Lance@MoneyLife&More

Glad you are getting the word out there. I signed up for legitimate bestmark secret shops but haven’t found anything I want to do yet.

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

I have never seen or done a mystery shop that pays up-front. If this were a real mystery shop assignment you would pay out-of-pocket and be reimbursed. I’ve also never seen one that expects someone to spend so much. I have seen one shop that did pay $400 before. It was testing loan approval processes at a bank and noted that completing the assignment would affect your credit rating and report. Otherwise i think $25 if the largest single-shop payout i’ve ever seen.

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avatar Evan

Did you report any of this info to the authorities?

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avatar Melissa

I actually just received a letter that is similar to the one shown. I looked up the bank on the check and it’s a real Bank. I’m actually in the process right now to speak with a Better Business Bureau associate. I’ll comment later to let everyone know exactly what they say. But i do agree that this does sound shady.

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