Troubleshooter: Secret Shopping Scam

May 8, 2009 3:10:49 PM PDT
While there are several legitimate secret shopping companies out there, more than two dozen viewers have contacted Troubleshooter Diane Wilson about secret shopping job offers that pay hundreds of dollars. They all sound enticing because who doesn't like to shop? - especially when you get paid for it.Shelia Leak thought she'd be able to shop till you drop when she got a job offer of secret shopping.

"I got this letter in the mail and I read it several times to be honest because it was so unbelievable," she told Wilson.

It was unbelievable because it said she'd earn $600 just to go shopping and evaluate each store. The secret shopping offer came in the mail with a $2,960 dollar check. The instructions told her to use the funds to go shopping, pay herself, and then wire the rest back to a company called Northwest Alternative Job Services.

Leak deposited the check into her account and went to work.

"Who doesn't like to shop? I'm usually a window shopper, but if you give me money and tell me to go shop, who's not going to shop? Said Leak.

Leak did some shopping, but she decided not to follow through with wiring the rest of the money back to Northwest Alternative Job Services. Why? She had an uneasy feeling.

"I kept reading the letter, re-reading it and re-reading it over and over again, and I've done money grams before. It didn't seem right," she explained.

When she checked with her bank, after more than a week of cashing the check, she learned her account was restricted. It turns out the $2,960 check was bogus.

"The fact that I held on to the majority of the money from day one is the only thing that saved me," Leak told Wilson.

She now has advice for others.

"If anybody sends you a check in the mail, don't even tear it up. Just write void on it and send it to the Attorney General and let them find out about these people because it can be really hurtful to your pocketbook," she said.

The good news for Leak is she didn't lose much of her own money - just the cash she did spend on shopping. But if she had wired the rest of the money back to the company - since the check was bogus - she'd be responsible for replacing those funds.

Her bank did charge her a return check fee. That's because it's not the bank's responsibility to know or not if a check is legitimate or not.

Eyewitness News did try to reach the company listed on the secret shopping job offer. However, their phones are not working.

Experts familiar with legitimate secret shopping companies say typically you have to spend your own money up front and then get reimbursed for that purchase. It's not something you make hundreds of dollars doing. You typically just get a free meal, or a free item.


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