Ghana-based 'mystery shopper' scam unravels in Loudoun
Have you fallen victim to a "mystery shopper" scam?
Loudoun officials recovered $2.1 million in counterfeit checks and money orders they said were part of a "mystery shopper" scheme that originated in Ghana. Now they are in search of anyone who may be a victim.
It worked as follows, according to authorities: People from across the country signed up online to be "mystery shoppers" to earn extra cash. When a paycheck arrived in the mail, it came with directions to wire some of the cash to another person.
By the time the shoppers discovered that the check was fake, it was too late.
"Most people don't wait for the check to clear," said Loudoun Sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell. "They just send their own money."
Troxell said the scheme began to unravel in February at a UPS store in Loudoun. An address on one package sent by a frequent customer was incorrect, so UPS contacted the company listed in the return address. Turns out that company didn't send the package.
Troxell said it appears that the scheme's ringleaders were using an unsuspecting Loudoun woman -- whose résumé they found online -- as a middleman. She was being paid to do administrative work for a Ghana-based textile company. The job appeared legitimate, but the checks and money orders she mailed were bogus.
A search of her home and the packages turned up fake checks that purported to be worth $2.1 million. Troxell said the woman has not been charged and that it appears she was not aware of the scam.
Potential victims of this or other scams are asked to call the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Financial Crimes Unit at 703-777-0475.
Meantime, sheriff's officials put out these tips to avoid such schemes.
- Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
- No legitimate mystery/secret shopper program will send payment in advance and ask the employee to send a portion of it back.
- Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
- Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan all attachments, if possible.
- Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
- Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine whether they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
- There are legitimate mystery/secret shopper programs available. Research the legitimacy of companies hiring mystery shoppers. Legitimate companies will not charge an application fee and will accept applications online.
-- Maria Glod
March 17, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories: Around the Nation , Around the World , Cons & Scams , Loudoun , Maria Glod
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