Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Secret Shopping For Scams

The week of Thanksgiving, 2011, officially heralds in the Christmas shopping season, aka "Black Friday", with deals, steals and combat zones inside Walmarts and Targets, nationwide.

But that ain't the only way to get roughed up.

On November 1, I received the following email invitation:

Greetings, We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate. Thomas Heaston, Secret Shopper (with a circled 'R' at the end).

*TOING* I haven't played a 'secret shopper' scam in a while, so I 'eagerly' respond:

A mystery shopper program? What is that, please?And in a lengthy response, he told me what I expected to hear, having been contacted by online scammers running a 'secret shopper' scam before. The essence of it: they get me to believe I'm being hired to secret shop assorted businesses, with money sent to me by the secret shopper company, and I get paid by them to...secret shop. While they hold out the promise that I "get to keep any purchases you make on the secret shopper program", the first assignment is never Walmart, Sears, Target, The Diamond Cabaret, etc....it's always a Western Union.


Yep...they 'pay' you for your first assignment in money orders. Which you are expected to cash at your bank. After setting aside your 'pay' -- in this case, $200 -- you 'secret shop' the chosen Western Union by wiring the balance of the secret shop money order funds to an addressee given you by your 'employer'. And, of course, send your employer the information on the wire, to include the all-important money transfer control number (MTCN).

And after you complete your 'assignment', you await the next. Except -- if you've really been foolish enough to believe in this nonsense -- the next contact you have is with your bank, informing you that the money order(s) you cashed were fraudulent.

And you owe the bank the whole amount.

That's how it's supposed to work...for the scammer. It never has from here. But it's always fun to let them imagine it's going to.

So, I fill out the 'application' I receive from the scammer -- who claims to be Thomas Heaston, email heaston@gmx.com -- and decide to violate one of the cardinal rules of scambaiting, giving him most of my home address. Not all of it, but enough for his "employment packet" to get to me.

The wait is longer than I expect -- his scam operation must have run out of counterfeit money order blanks and he needs someone to make up more -- but in the meantime, Heaston (or whomever he really is) sends me 'how to' instructions for my first assignment. And I am to use a nearby Western Union facility to 'shop', and wire the balance of the money I'm being sent to a Joyce Lindamood, Ferris, TX.

Uh huh.

After some back and forth emails, with me playing the "ever so eager to get to work" secret shopper, Heaston finally assures me that my "packet" will arrive the week of Thanksgiving.

And finally on November 28, I receive via Fed Ex the "employment packet". Which consists of two Money Gram money orders, each for $850.25 (pictured above).

They're not bad, as fraudulent money orders go: they even fake some of the 'security features' on real money orders. Except these 'security features' don't perform as advertised. But no matter....the money orders look authentic. Sent from a John Adam, with an address of 137 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA, with a telephone number of 703-533-0039.

Which, in further research, belongs to a company called Polu Kai Services, Inc., located in Falls Church, at that address. A construction and environmental firm with absolutely no connections to any secret/mystery shopper program.

But well aware of the scam: the young lady I spoke with there told me that the scammers had apparently opened a bogus Fed Ex account on the company name out of New York, and 40 Fed Ex packages had gone out under that account, before it was shut down (presumably including mine). The company there had filed a police report.

I told her my plan: she was at once concerned for my safety and amused. I just hope the other 39 recipients of these packets are either smart enough to do some research before acting, or are scambaiters like me.

Meantime, I contacted the authentic Money Gram 800 number, and through a series of prompts to the right feature, I verify that the serial numbers on my two money orders are authentic.

Or at least, they were once: both belong to money orders that were cashed on August 4, 2011. One for $62, the other for $106.24.

Nyuk nyuk.

So to an unsuspecting eye, the two money orders appear authentic. And that's what 'Thomas Heaston, John Adam' & Co. are hoping I am.


I send Heaston an acknowledgement email that the money orders are received:

I have the packet! Thank you for the opportunity to give me the business! I will be going to the bank first thing in the morning, then off to Western Union! Thanks again! This will be FUN.How much fun for me depends on the scammers. Developing...

UPDATE: it didn't turn out to be so much fun. After sending the scammer a quick email that I'd cashed the money orders and done the Western Union thing, and inquiring about my next assignment, the scammer quickly reminded me that I had forgotten to send him the MTCN number.

No, I hadn't 'forgotten':

Well actually, this gives me a chance to let you know that I didn't give you the MTCN number because I decided that one secret shop with all that money just didn't seem to be a fair representation for you, my employer. So I kept more of the money so that I could secret shop a few other businesses hereabouts, since you did say that I could keep whatever I secret shop bought, right? Anyway, when you send me a reload and my next secret shop assignment, I'll send you the MTCN number. In the meantime, I did send (not really...*snort*) a token Western Union to the lady in Texas you mentioned. Tell her not to expect more than $100. I figure the 'secret shop' was more important than the amount sent, right?

That drew this brief response:

This is not how you were agree to work. I need MTCN and you keep only you pay no more. Get me MTCN at once.

Which drew my brief retort:

Shirley you jest. Yes, I did just call you Shirley. I wired $100 to your Texas lady (not really) and used the rest to secret shop a tire replacement store, a grocery store, a gift store, and a topless cabaret where the girls REALLY appreciate being secret shopped, I can assure you. Dang, this secret shopping sh** is FUN. I eagerly await my next money orders and my next assignment! You rock!

But apparently not any more: no more responses from Mr. Heaston. I guess I didn't measure up to be the kind of 'employee' he sought after all.


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Blogger Unknown said...

Unbelievable, the many scams out there!

29 November, 2011 08:22  
Blogger Sandee said...

Yep there's a thief every few feet anymore. They'll get what's coming to them at some point. Or have they already got it? Probably.

Have a terrific day. :)

29 November, 2011 10:36  

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