A person responds to an email or sees a job offer online to be paid for working as a mystery shopper.
The mystery shopper then receives a large check in the mail or by overnight mail service.
Included with the check is a list of small items to be purchased and instructions to send the majority of the money via Western Union or wire transfer to a named individual in the letter or by telephone instructions. The "mystery shopper" completes an evaluation form included in the mailing and rates the service level of the small purchases and money transfers. For their work and effort the "mystery shopper" is allowed to keep a portion of the funds sent to them, usually several hundred dollars or so.
The scam reveals itself when everyone finally realizes that the large check sent by the mystery shopper program is a counterfeit check. The counterfeit notification process from the Federal Reserve can take days or weeks depending upon the bookkeeping oversight of the company whose checks were counterfeited. The person who deposited the counterfeit check is responsible for any loss of funds associated with the return of the deposited check. There is also a criminal aspect as well since it is a crime to possess and negotiate a counterfeit check.
The best way to spot a fake "mystery shopper" program is this fact - no legitimate company will ever mail a check to a prospective "mystery shopper" in advance of any work completed. The average payment for a real "mystery shopper" program is also only $15-$20 and that is received only after an extensive evaluation form is completed and returned to the company. A real company would never send a valid large check to a stranger and hope that the stranger would return the money.
The poor economy of the past few years has intensified these type of scams since victims are usually unemployed or needing to increase their household income. The lure and ease of earning money from home can sometimes cloud the judgment of financial caution. We don't want anyone to become a victim. Members are encouraged to bring any suspicious checks and associated correspondence to the credit union for a review by credit union management BEFORE attempting to deposit any such items.