Even though Albertans and Canadians are becoming more tech savvy every day, high-tech fraudsters are usually one step ahead of the average person, applying new techniques all the time. One not-so-new-scam which seems to make a comeback every so many years is the Mystery Shopper Scam.
Sometimes, it actually comes to you in the way of an email or a text message looking for part-time Mystery Shoppers. You can earn up to $400 – $800 a week just by shopping. Sounds like a retirement plan! The first thing they want is your postal code and email address.
Once you’ve provided them with that much information, they begin to correspond with you, posing as an employee of what appears to be a legitimate corporation or financial institution. They ask for your birthday and what bank you use – and tell you that you’ll be getting a cheque in the mail with some more information.
They send out a cheque (but it isn’t good, it’s fraudulent) and they tell you to cash the cheque, keep a portion for yourself, and that you’re supposed to spend the balance at various listed stores and send in an evaluation of customer service. That sounds legit, though, right? Often the evaluation of “the customer service” is of a money service at places like Walmart that host Western Union outlets to send some, or all of the money away (the Western Union recipient is untraceable). Or perhaps they ask you to purchase gift cards or iTunes cards and send the original contact person the numbers on the back of those gift cards so they can access the funds.
Then the inevitable happens. A couple days later, the cheque gets rejected, and now you’re on the hook for all the money you withdrew. You were able to withdraw it because banks or credit unions often will give you that money if you have an account with them. It takes up to a few days for that cheque to ‘clear’ and generally speaking, people don’t want to wait. But, if the cheque doesn’t clear from the original source, then it’s your responsibility, not the financial institution’s.
How to Protect Yourself
So you’re out, perhaps, thousands of dollars. Report it to the RCMP but don’t expect to see any of the money back. They’re long gone. Be fraud aware, be money smart. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re worried about any cheque clearing, ask for an Interac e-Transfer. Once the funds are in your account, they’re there. No waiting for a cheque to clear.