LACONIA — The are no shortage of online scams, as one Laconia resident discovered this week.
Two weeks ago today, Dean Dow received an email enticing him to become part of a secret shopping program. He responded by text and last week he received a Priority Express Mail packet containing a check and slip of paper with instructions to text information about the check to a particular phone number.
Fortunately, Dow soon began to suspect something was fishy.
The return address on the envelope was for a business in Beverly Hills, California, but the check purportedly was cut by an extermination business in Salina, Kansas, while the phone number of the contact person Dow had been exchanging texts with had an Alabama area code. And while his contact, who used the name Jerry Paul, said Dow would be paid $500 for each Secret Shopper visit, the check he received was for $1,911.06. And the contact was telling Dow to deposit the check in his bank account.
“That’s when I knew something wasn’t on the up-and-up,” Dow said Wednesday.
After telling his wife on Monday, she called Sgt. Bill Wright at the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department.
Wright said the department gets about three or four calls a month about secret shopper scams.
Wright confirmed the check was bogus, Dow said.
Typically, in this kind of a scam, a person will be told to deposit the check and then go out and buy gift cards, then give the contact the gift card numbers and PINs, Wright explained.
“Of course those behind the scam spend the money on the gift card before the check bounces, and so the person who deposited the check is not only out whatever the check was supposed to be worth, but also the amount they spent to buy the gift cards.
“If a (Secret Shopper) opportunity is on the up and up, you won't have to pay an application fee or deposit a check and wire money on to someone else,” according to a notice about secret shopper scams posted on the Federal Trade Commission website.
There are legitimate secret shopper programs. Some retailers hire companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores; and they often use mystery shoppers to get the information. They instruct a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product or service. Sometimes the shopper receives a small payment, as well.
Scams of one type are often linked to other types of scams, according to Brandon Garod, the chief of the Consumer Protection and Anti-Trust Bureau of the state Attorney General’s Office.
The check someone like Dow received may have originated from a victim of a different scam.
“There are so many scams, and they are fairly well organized,” Garod said.
Unfortunately it is “basically impossible” to locate the people who are behind the scam and then charge them criminally. The people behind the scams are almost always operating outside the U.S., Garod explained.
He said the best advice is that people should be suspicious anytime they receive money that they either did not earn or from a contest which they did not enter. He also said that in cases that involves a check sent through the mail, his office may advise the caller to report what happened to the local FBI office.