Calais Resident Targeted by Mystery Shopper Check Scam

By Lura Jackson

 

A Calais resident was recently the target of a check scam that originated from a Mystery Shopper website. Vikki Hartford received the fake check after signing up for a legitimate secret shopper business, along with instructions that would have presumably led to her sending a money transfer to the perpetrators. 

Earlier this month, on February 6th, Hartford applied to become a Mystery Shopper at Second to None, an established business with 28 years of history behind it. The same day, she received an e-mail from LetShop1@unige.ch. The email provided a description of what she would be doing: pretending to be a customer “looking for a specific product/service” and then completing a questionnaire on how it went. It stated she would be paid $279 per assignment and that she would receive two assignments each week. All of the personal information provided in Hartford’s application was included in the email. While Hartford didn’t regard the e-mail as unusual at the time, it was perhaps the first indicator that her application had been hijacked.

A few weeks later, Hartford received a Priority mail envelope with a letter and check for $2,450 inside it. The letter stated that she was to send a text to a specific number with “TASK RECEIVED” and her full name as the message. It continued with, “You are required to deposit the check received into your bank account...” and that the funds would clear within 1-2 business days. At that point, Hartford was to go to Walmart for the purpose of completing an as-yet unspecified task, which would “either be making a purchase OR carrying out financial services” using the $2,450 she received. She would be allowed to keep $200 of the amount sent as payment for her services as a presumable mystery shopper. 

The letter was addressed from Second to None in Ann Arbor, Michigan, matching the company Hartford had applied to. However, there were some glaring anomalies. The envelope the letter was mailed in was sent from California, and the enclosed cashier’s check was from a Maine credit union. Hartford googled all of the names in the letter and the credit union, finding that the routing number on the check was accurate. “But still, I was thinking, why would someone who doesn’t know you send you a big check and trust you to only keep a small amount?”

The next morning, Hartford took the check to her bank before her shift at work began. “They confirmed the worst of what I already knew. It was indeed fake.” Hartford brought the envelope, letter, and check to the police to report it in case someone called in the future asking if they had heard of such a thing. Calais Police Officer Matt Vinson shared, “This is an old scam,” and said that the last time someone had been affected by it locally was a year or so ago, to his knowledge. 

Hartford contacted Second to None about the scam. She quickly received a reply that included the following statement that implies the breadth of such incidents: “Our company name, along with other mystery shopping companies, is unfortunately being unlawfully used by scam artists. We are fully cooperating with state and federal authorities to identify and prosecute these individuals and to protect consumers.” On its website, Second to None provides a guide to avoid being scammed by alleged Mystery Shopper businesses. The first tip reads: “Do not deposit unexpected paper checks into your personal account and then wire funds or purchase and mail gift cards, as this is almost certainly a mystery shopping scam.”

While glad she didn’t become a victim of the scam, Hartford is not impressed with the perpetrators. “I don’t know why someone can’t use their brains to earn money a legal way or better the society with their brilliant minds.”