Secret Shopper Scams

I have talked to a lot of people over the years that have become victims of this scam, and I recently had a brush with it personally. 

I have been looking for a new job, so my information is out there on a lot of the resume posting sites, and I am guessing that is where the scammers found me.  I got a letter in the mail, along with a check for $500.  Basically, the letter told me that I had gotten a position as a secret shopper/customer service evaluator.  I was to take the check enclosed and cash it, keep $100 for my payment for the work I am doing, and then take the rest of the money and go to a Money Gram location and wire it to Ontario, Canada.  After that, I was to fill out the survey questions and fax that in to show that I have completed my assignment.

Obviously I did not do any of this.  Because I have heard of this scam, and worked with victims of it at ScamVictimsUnited.com I knew that the check was counterfeit, and if I did cash it and wire the money off, in a few days the bank would come back to me looking for me to refund the money.

With times being tough right now, and the holidays just around the corner, I could see how some people would fall for this even though all of the warning signs are there . . . a letter from a company I have never heard of before, a check that I did not know was coming to me, the letterhead says the company is in New York, the check is from a bank in Minnesota and the postmark on the letter is from Canada, I am supposed to complete the entire thing in 48 hours (they always want you to work fast so that you wire off the money before you have time to realize the check is fake).

I even went as far as to google the name of the company on the letterhead, and it turns out that they are aware of this scam and they have posted a warning on thier website.  http://surveyclub.com/e/ScamAlert.aspx

Be careful!

Secret Shopper Scam Letter

Fighting back

After we realized that we had become scam victims, we started looking for help.  I spent many hours on the phone and on the internet searching.  I would contact one place, that would refer me to another, that would refer me to another to find out that really, there was no real help.  There were plenty of places to report this scam to, but we were looking for a place that would actually do something about it . . . help us recover our money and stop “the bad guys” . . . but we could not find any such place.  That is when we decided that we should try and do something to fight back.

 
And with that, our website was born.  Yes, we can not help people to recover their money, but we do offer education about the scams, a list of the places to report this to, and support to scam victims.  Scams effect you not only financially, but emotionally also.  Many people have found a great amount of relief just from talking with other victims on our message board.  It helps when you see that you are not alone and that others have made it through the same hard times that you are going through.
 
We have done a lot of work with the media to try and bring more attention to these scams and educate more people.  And when we find a new resource that may be of assistance to scam victims we update them on that also.  It is our hope that someday we will be able to work with the government and law enforcement to actually recover money for scam victims, but for now education is the best way to fight these scams.  The fact that you are here reading this is bringing more attention to the scams, and that is a step in the right direction.
 
Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

It all started with a car . . .

It was the fall of 2002, and we were selling my husband’s car (1961 Buick) and a man contacted us off of an ad we placed on the internet.  He said that he was a car dealer and wanted to purchase it.  Here is the info we have on who he was claiming to be:

Adebisi Julius
Magrove Transport LTD
17 Fani Kayode Street
Gra Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
phone: 2348037143721
magrovetrans@yahoo.com

He said that someone in the states owed him $8,800 and would just have them send us a cashiers check to expedite the purchase.  We would then deduct the price of the vehicle ($1,600) and send him the remaining balance via Western Union so that he could arrange transportation, once the check cleared.  

We thought this sounded fishy, but  we told him to send the check, and that once it cleared the bank we would contact him to set up the transportation of the car.  We thought that we would never really see a check, or that when we brought it to the bank it would not clear, so then we just would not set up for transportation and that would be the end of it.

We received a cashiers check from Adebisi Julius’s American friend Victor Tom on 10-7-2002.  Here is the info we have on the person claiming to be Victor Tom:

Victor Tom
512 Easton Rd Unit B
Warrington, PA 18976

The cashiers check was sent via Fed Ex for the amount of $8,800 made out to my husband. The cashier’s check number was 03202324 with the Bank of America logo.  Account number 03202324114000019001641002500.

The check was deposited into our savings account on 10-08-2002.  While at the bank depositing the check, I asked when would the check clear and I would know that the funds were GOOD, they said 24 hours.  I said to the teller, “Really, I thought that it took like 10 days for a check to clear?” and he said “Not with a cashier’s check”.  Since I wanted to be sure that I was being clear to him, I said “I need to know not just when the funds would show up in our account, but I need to know when we can be sure that it is a good check, that it has cleared, and that it is real money that we can touch and use.  I don’t want to get a charge or have this come back and bite us in the butt” The teller laughed, and said “Tomorrow afternoon ma’am.  No problems”, I thanked him and left.

Then, 2 days later, twice the time that I was told that I needed to wait to be sure that this was a good check and that it had cleared, I went back to our bank. So, since we had waited the amount of time that the bank had told us to wait to make sure that the check was clear and good, I took out $7200 that was supposed to be used for the transportation of the car and we wired it via Western Union to Adebisi Julius’s Accountant Ben Olawale at Magrove Transport.  Here is the info we have on the man claiming to be the accountant:

Ben Olawale
Magrove Transportation
17 Fani Kayode Street
Gra Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria

The funds were wired via Western Union on 10-10-2002 and picked up on 10-11-2002.

On 10-16-2002, our bank called us and told us that the check was counterfeit and that they were deducting $8,800 from our saving account, even though they told us that the check would be cleared in 24 hours.  We now have a negative account balance of over $5000 that the bank says we are responsible for.

But their clerk told me that it would be clear after 24 hours.  If I had known that it might come back at me I would have waited longer.  I even asked the clerk, “I need to know when the check will be totally cleared and the money is really there, because we don’t want this check to bounce or something and have it come back at us.  I wouldn’t want to find out our account went negative because of this”  And the clerk said, it would be good in 24 hours.  Why are WE responsible because THEIR employee gave me incorrect information?

We have contacted the police and they took a report, and said that the info would be sent on to the Secret Service.  And my husband did go to the FBI website for reporting internet fraud and filled out an online form.  He also, contacted the local FBI branch and reported this.  We have also contacted the Attorney General and are waiting for the paperwork to arrive from them.

I know that the whole deal sounded weird from the get go, but we said if the check clears then what the heck, who cares how this guy wants to pay for it.  And that is why I made sure I said that I needed to know when the check would be cleared and we would be sure that the check was good.  If the clerk had said that it would show up in my account in 24 hours, but we would not be totally sure that the check was good for 12 – 14 days we would have told the guy in Africa that we would not be going forward with anything for three weeks or more.  But they told me 24 hours, and I trusted that they knew what they were talking about.  Isn’t that their job, to inform their customers and to help ensure our financial safety?

The bank manager basically told me too bad, and that if I was worried about the check and the funds clearing I should have been more careful.  I thought I was by asking the bank how long it would take for the check to clear, and then waiting twice that amount of time.  She said that I should have called the Bank of America that the check was issued from to verify the account number and that the funds were in the account to cover the check . . . I guess I thought that is what a bank is supposed to do, during the time that they tell you that you have to wait to be sure a check clears.  And the regional director said that he would have to talk with everyone involved before he could answer any questions.

Then, on 10-17-02, we got a call from someone with the bank’s headquarters.  She was calling to tell us that she was handling the return of  counterfeit check, and that it was going to be returned to us once she received it, if our account was not negative.  My husband said to her, “I know that you know nothing about what we have been going through in the last day, you are just the person that will be returning the counterfeit check, but can I ask you something . . . if I were to bring a cashier’s check into your bank and deposit it, how long would it be until I would know it had cleared?  Not just the funds have been transferred, but that the check is good, and there is real money that I can pull out of my account and use and not have to worry about the check bouncing?”  She said that she thought it was 24 hours, but she was going to go verify this with someone else.  When she came back to the phone she said that yes, it was 24 hours until we would know it was a good check.

So, now we have had two bank employees tell us that when depositing a cashiers check we need to wait 24 hours to make sure that the check is “good” and clears.  We did that, we waited 48 hours, so what did we do wrong?  And why are we being held accountable for the bank not giving us the correct information?  If they would have said that we needed to wait 10 days, then I would not even be writing this letter because we would have waited longer, and the check would have come back counterfeit and our account would be right back where it was on the 10-7-02, before we deposited the cashier’s check.  We would just have to tell the buyer that the sale did not go through.  And that would be the end of it.

I called the regional director and tried to talk with him again, and he said that he was standing behind what the manager has told us.  I then told him about the conversation with the other bank employee and that I have contacted our lawyer, the police, the FBI  and the Attorney General.  I restated to him that I have now been told by TWO employees of his bank that I would have to wait 24 hours for a cashier’s check to clear, and we did that, so what did we do wrong?  He could not answer that question.  He said that he had to make some more phone calls and he would get back to me by the end of the day.  When he did call back, all he could tell us is that they are still looking into things, and that they have released the hold that was put on our checking account because of all of this, so at least we will still have access to those funds and not have to worry about checks that we wrote last week bouncing.

Well, on Saturday 10-19-02 I got in the mail a notice from our bank that checks from our account had bounced! And they had just assured me on Thursday evening, around 6pm, that this would not happen!

I called on 10-19-02 and asked them about this. It turns out that on 10-17-02 ALL of the money from our checking account was transferred to our savings account to cover the negative balance, even though that same day the regional director assured me that this would not happen. We now have negative amounts in BOTH our savings and our checking accounts, and service charges of over $90 being charged to us!

By the way, just to see if this would be the way that things would be handled at other banks, I called several local banks and asked them all this question . . .

“If a customer of yours came into your bank and deposited a $8800 check from the Bank of America in Pennsylvania and asked you to tell them when they could be sure that it is a good check, that it has cleared, and that it is real money that we can touch and use, and that it is not going to come back and bite them in the butt?”

Here are the answers I received . . .
Mandy with Bremer Bank in Richfield, MN
“With out of state cashiers checks we recommend 5 – 7 business days”
Kathy with Western Bank in Edina, MN
“In a situation like that I would wait 11 business days”
Erin with Highland Banks
“That could take anywhere from 2 – 11 business days ma’am”
Teller (did not get name) at US Bank in Mpls, MN
“That would be 5 – 10 business days”

Since my husband and I had agreed that we were going to wait twice the amount of time that the bank recommended, if we would have been customers with any of the above banks, I would not be writing this letter right now. There would have been no problem.

The bank manager finally admitted to us that a cashiers check could come back and the amount would be deducted from your account in 6 days, 6 weeks, or even 12 months after you deposit it. According to her they have no way of telling!

I had to call the regional manager, several times last week to find out if things were being resolved and what would happen next. He said that they were reviewing the information, including the bank lobby video tape and the police report and that they will know more in a few days. After a few days past, I called again. I was told that if I would have shown this much concern over the check at the time of deposit that the bank would have handled this different and could have checked the account to make sure it was safe. He said that from viewing the tape it seemed like I was paying more attention to my daughter than I was to the transaction with the check. By the way, my daughter was two years old at the time . . . I would HOPE that I would be paying attention to her in a public place!

Welcome

I have been thinking about doing this for years, but have never gotten around to starting my own blog.  I plan to use this as a place to talk about scam related issues, to further network with people, and to continue to spread the word and educate people about scams.