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Warning issued for area scam

Friday, December 14, 2012 - Updated: 6:30 PM

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

Amsterdam Police Det. Lt. Kurt Conroy is warning residents to not fall for the "Secret Shopper" scam.

"It's becoming much more prevalent," he said, "not just in Amsterdam, but all over."

Customers are asked by secret or mystery shopper companies to go into stores and purchase an item or service, then report on what the customer service experience was like.

For customers who want to participate, they are later either reimbursed or allowed to keep the product or service.

Some of these companies are legitimate, Conroy said, but the ones that aren't can cause a huge issue for the person involved.

"When this came to my attention, it was last August," Conroy said, when a woman went in to an HSBC branch with a VISA card -- a type of card that the teller knew didn't come from HSBC.

The teller alerted police.

"This company would send her credit cards," Conroy said, "but the authorized signatures were misspelled."

And a few other red flags went up for the police telling them that something just wasn't right.

In the end, it was a Secret Shopper scam that was taken to extremes.

"She did $50,000 or more in transactions in this area," Conroy said. "She admitted to me she was hired to be a secret shopper."

The woman had done it for so long and in multiple states, that she was eventually arrested and charged with criminal possession of a false instrument, a felony, for the cards.

"These are fake cards and it takes a long time for the banks to catch up," Conroy said.

In the past 16 months, the Amsterdam Police Department has only gotten three reported cases of these secret shopper incidences, most recently just last week, but Conroy said he hears about them all the time from departments across the region.

During this most recent incident in Amsterdam, Conroy explained, a local woman joined the secret shopper club, received money orders, and was instructed to cash them at banks, after which she was instructed to send most of the money to a person in the Philippines.

She contacted police saying it was a scam.

According to a Federal Trade Commission Consumer Alert put out in mid-November, legitimate mystery or secret shopping opportunities are out there, but there are plenty of scams.

"If an 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," the alert says.

The alert advises residents to never do business with a mystery shopping promoter who guarantees a job, charges fees, advertises in the 'Help Wanted' section of a paper or by email, or requires a person to pay for certification.

Conroy said it's just about being alert and smart about being a secret shopper, and if any suspicious activity on the secret shopper front is found, contact the police at 842-1100.

For tips on finding legitimate mystery shopping jobs, access the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Alert on Mystery Sopping Scams or visit Mystery Shopping Providers Association's website at mysteryshop.org.

"Everyone wants to make a fast buck," Conroy said. "But, if it sounds too good to be true, it is."

     

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