Mystery shopper scams are nothing new, but I’ve learned about a frightening new twist that I thought I’d tell you about.

Folks lured into the scam might receive an email like this:

“Hello, We are a company engaged in the mystery shopper field. We need to put together a team in your area.

You will be assigned to visit the shop, store, bank, etc
You have to pretend to be a normal potential customer who is looking for a specific product/service.

You will then complete questionnaires online to share with us your customer’s experience
Get $350/assignment, at least 2 assignments/week will be assigned. 

You must be 18 years old or above. read and write English. and speak the local language well.”

The recipient then fills information like their name, email address, street address, date of birth, and more.

Or you might see a listing on Craigslist or in the newspaper’s classified ads section.

At that point, there are a few ways this scam can go.

Sometimes, the victim is sent a certified check that they are instructed to deposit into their bank account to make purchases and then wire the difference in price back. The check is for a much larger amount than the purchase. After the money is already wired, the victim discovers that the check is a fraud.

Another twist on this is to instruct users to make a purchase and send it to an out-of-town address. This happened to the parent of a friend of mine. The victim is told to put the purchase on a credit card and they will be reimbursed.  They’re then asked to ship the item to an out-of-town address. In the case of my friend’s parent, an address in Chicago. Often times, the crooks will start with a small purchase and actually reimburse you and pay you the promised fee. After that, they’ll switch it up and ask the victim to purchase more expensive items like television sets and other high-ticket electronics and send them to the alleged company.

When my friend’s family caught on to the scheme after tens of thousands of dollars had been charged to credit cards, the scammers tried to contact her parent to see why they hadn’t made contact in a few days. That’s when it all took a scary turn. The scammers made death threats against the family and even offered up personal information like phone numbers and home addresses that had been obtained from the information the victim filled out to get the “job.” With access to bank information, the crooks managed to steal even more from the victim’s account. What’s worse, is that unlike when someone steals your credit card information to make purchases, getting these purchases removed is difficult. Because the actual owner of the card made the purchases and received the merchandise. Unfortunately, they sent the expensive merchandise off to a place that forwards packages overseas.

The simplest version of this trick is where crooks tell people that they are testing wire transfer services and have them wire money. The first time, it’s a small amount and the user is reimbursed and paid a fee. The second time, of course, it’s a much larger amount that’s then gone forever.

The moral of this story is that there are very few legitimate mystery shopping jobs out there and the legitimate ones won’t ask you to cash checks, send them money, or ship expensive electronics to them.

As always, nearly everything that sounds too good to be true is a scam.