It’s a new twist on an old scam designed to steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting consumers nationwide.
It used to be called the Secret Shopper scam. The new version goes by the name Secret Surveyor, but the con is the same.
“This is very alarming”, says Kim Cordero who contacted KTLA sister station WPIX in New York City after her parents, Irma and Rick Cordero, of the Bronx, recently received a postal-service priority envelope. The return address says Smart Shopper in Santa Clarita. The mailing label indicates the sender paid $6.65 cents in postage.
Inside the envelope was a cashier’s check for $2,400 and a sheet of Secret Surveyor instructions. The address on the check is the University Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas.
“Not only was it a cashier’s check, but it’s a bank that actually exists, which makes the offer that much more compelling,” Kim said. The instructions say to “deposit check received in this package and proceed with your assignment.”
If you deposit the cashier’s check, you’ll find the money, in this case $2,400, will quickly show up in your account. That’s because the law requires banks to quickly make the money from cashier’s checks available to you, even before they know if the check will clear.
The “assignment” the instructions mention calls for the unsuspecting victim to take $2,000 of the $2,400, go to a store that sells iTunes gift cards and buy 20 cards worth $100 each. The individual is told to take pictures of the front and back of each card. The back contains the code number.
The person is then supposed to fill out the Secret Surveyor form, evaluating the store where her or she bought the cards. After, the victim is instructed to email the pictures of the cards plus a scan of the completed form to email@example.com. For doing this work, that individual gets to keep the remaining $400 from the $2,400 cashier’s check.
“It would be a nice extra bonus for our fixed Income,” says Irma, “but I don’t believe it’s true.”
Postal inspectors say it’s an elaborate scam full of false information, starting with the priority envelope. The return address says Smart Shopper and includes a street address on Plum Canyon Road in Santa Clarita that, according to WPIX, does not exist.
There is a company called Smart Shopper based in the Santa Clarita Valley that is listed online, but it’s not the same company that’s sending out these cashier’s checks. The owner of the legitimate company told WPIX that he’s been getting complaints from consumers all over the country.
The name of the bank on the cashier’s check is real, but the check itself, according to the station, is counterfeit.
That means whoever deposited the check and then spent most the money on iTunes gift cards is responsible for the money spent once the bank eventually finds out the check is no good.
While postal inspectors say they’re aware of this and other similar scams, the trouble in shutting them down is the companies or individuals behind the con are usually located out of the country, and finding them is next to impossible.
The Federal Trade Commission has information on its website on how to avoid becoming a victim of mystery shopping scams.