Beware of secret shopper scams - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Beware of secret shopper scams

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ATLANTA -

Any chance to make a little extra money before the holidays is welcome, but sometimes there is a fine line between making money and losing money.

Some retailers hire people to go into a store to check out its customer service. For your trouble you make a small amount of money.  It's when you're offered a lot of money that you should say, "wait a minute."

Shanty Watson received a check for $2,194.00 after signing up online to work for Ace Shoppers.  She thought she'd been hired to secretly shop at local retailers, reporting back about customer service.

"I've been actively looking for the past of months now," said Watson.

She was thrilled, and she had strict instructions.

"She said to deposit that check into my account and once I did that, in 24 hours, it'll be active," said Watson.

Watson's high-paying, new part-time job came tumbling down before she got into trouble.  

"Went to the bank and they said, ‘No ma'am, you won't be able to do that.  It's a fraudulent check,'" said Watson.

Without even talking to her, Fred Elsberry of the Atlanta BBB says he can tell you that next she would have been asked to shop for a few items, then send a large chunk of the money back to her employer.  

"Most of this money we want you to wire back to us by Western Union 'cause we want to see how good their service is. And so you wire that money back," explained Elsberry.

According to the National Consumers League there is a spike in secret shopper scams. Elsberry says this is how it generally works.

"The interesting thing is that these people have stolen the bank account number from the company that's on the check. So, if you go to the bank, they'll tell you that's a legit account for that particular company," said Elsberry.

Had the bank not caught this, Watson would have been responsible for paying back nearly $2,000 to the bank. Furious, she called "Ace Shoppers."

"I said, I'm going to report you to FOX 5 and she hung up! And every time I called she kept hanging up," said Watson.

An I-Team investigation connects Ace Shoppers from the Bronx, NY  to another secret shopper company with the same address: Value Shoppers. According to the New York BBB, they're "scammers (who) defrauded consumers of large amounts of money" through the same scheme.

The National Consumers League says that a legit company will never ask you to do a money transfer.  

"I would tell FOX 5 viewers you make sure you do some thorough investigating when you do an application online for mystery shoppers," said Watson.

For more information on how to become a secret or mystery shopper with a legitimate company, visit the Federal Trade Commission and the National Consumer League.

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