By Ivy Eastery
They are out there. Scammers and hackers use emails, text messaging and phone calls. No matter what the warnings are, people fall for them.
Recently, an elderly woman walked into a Walmart to purchase $4,000 worth of gift cards. When the employee asked why, the woman said the IRS called her and was going to take her house away unless she paid in gift cards. Needless to say, the employees convinced her otherwise. Happy ending.
I had received a special large envelope via USPS. Inside accompanied with a letter was a check for $2,450.00 made out to me.
I looked at the letter, and it was a thank you for applying for a “secret shopper” position. This was a scam.
1. There was not a letterhead or company address with contact numbers. I was to only contact my assigned supervisor by email.
2. The check only has a bank name, no address or the FIDC logo on it.
I was going to rip it up and toss it, but I thought about little old lady purchasing all those gift cards. Yup, I think I will have some fun.
Note: Make sure not to cash or endorse the check. The check will not clear, you will not get any money, and anything you spend will come out of your account and be your responsibility. The scammers hope you will send them gift card information so they can actually take your money that you spent buying them.
The letter stated that I was to deposit $2,450.00 and keep $450 for my time working. I was to wait until the check was available and go buy $2,000.00 worth of gift cards from, Walmart, Footlocker, iTunes and other various large stores.
After I purchased the cards, I was to scratch off the number and send a picture of the front and back to an email who was to be my supervisor. Please note: This email was a public email, not a company email. It was a Gmail address.
I was also reminded that I was a “Secret Shopper” and was not allowed to discuss this work with anyone as I was eligible for more work on a higher pay scale.
All contact was to be made strictly via email as to keep records for the companies asking for people to secretly shop stores and buy gift cards.
I began my email conversation with the scammer, and I was going to enjoy every moment of this.
LET THE GAME BEGIN:
SATURDAY/ ME: Hello John and thank you for hiring me. I am so excited to help you as a secret shopper. I received your letter today, and it is Saturday. My bank will not open until Monday. I will deposit it and purchase gift cards as suggested.
(NOTE: There was ZERO intention of ever cashing or depositing the check.)
SATURDAY/SCAMMER: Hello Ivy and welcome to the team. Do you fully understand the instructions? It is important not to discuss this work with anyone as we need to keep it confidential for our customers who are paying you to Secret Shop. It is also important to finish this job within 3 days of depositing check so we may offer you more work.
Let me know when you will be purchasing items so we may begin process.
Thank you, John
MONDAY/ME: Good morning, John. I was unable to purchase any of them at Walmart, as they had asked me to leave for not wearing a mask. This is Texas, and I have rights. I can go to the Walmart in Brownsville. I will leave Tuesday morning as I am unable to work today. Ran into a friend at Walmart and we have been enjoying margaritas.
MONDAY/SCAMMER: Good evening, Ivy. It is especially important you get this done as we have a deadline. I am sorry about your incident, but please we need to verify your work with the gift cards. We have already paid you for your service. Have a safe day.
TUESDAY/ME: Good afternoon, John. I am so sorry, woke up late and with hangover. I am unable to get to Brownsville today. It is a 90-minute drive, and it will be rush hour. Am I fired? I can fix this by tomorrow, I promise. I have already spent my $450 on a tab in Port Isabel. Can I use $20 for gas from a gift card?
TUESDAY/SCAMMER: Ms. Easterly, I do not think you understand the pressure I am under. I hired you through a mutual friend. Are you going to disappoint your friends by making them look like liars? Please take care of this immediately.
Thank you, John
WEDNESDAY/ME: Good morning, John. I have spent the $2,000 as a secret shopper. I was unable to make it to Brownsville, but I have some great news.
I am enclosing all the gift certificates I was able to buy here on the Island. I left my car in Port Isabel that night while enjoying margaritas, and it had been towed.
Here is my pictures and list of certificates from local businesses here. It all adds up to $2,000.
(NOTE: Remember how it was said the check was NEVER cashed or deposited? It’s still true. Never cash or deposit the check. And it should go without saying: Don’t buy the gift cards, either.)
WEDNESDAY/SCAMMER: Ms. Easterly, you have not followed our instructions. If we do not receive the gift card pictures by Thursday, the only other option is to cancel payment on that check. You will have until 6 pm Thursday to send us the requested gift card pics or we will terminate this work for you.
(NOTE: It takes a bank about 3 days before they can discover the check is fraudulent. The scammer is hoping you will put that money into gift cards, give them the gift card information so they can take the money, and then leave you on the hook when the check bounces.)
THURSDAY/ME: JOHN! THE BANK MADE ME COME IN AND TALK TO SOME PEOPLE. I HAD TO TURN OVER YOUR LETTER AND ENVELOPE. THE RETURN ADDRESS IS SOME WAREHOUSE IN NEW JERSEY. ARE YOU OKAY?
DO I STILL SEND YOU THE GIFT CARD PICS?? DO I GIVE THEM THE GIFT CARDS?? PLEASE ADVISE.
END OF STORY:
I waited a couple hours and no reply from Scammer John. I tried to email him, and I was blocked. It was fun while it lasted. It is difficult to fight these scammers. Even when I told my bank, they could not do anything. I suggest turn the table on scammers and have some fun. I did, and I will.