Hoosiers should watch out for secret shopper scam

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(MARCH 3, 2014) – Times are hard and finding a job can be difficult for a lot of people.

So how about a job as a secret shopper?  Sounds great, right?

Well, not if it’s a total scam. FOX59 is taking action for you, as we warn you about a secret shopper scam that may just end up in your mailbox.

Fifty three years old and unemployed, Nancy Petersen thought a priority mail package was the answer to her prayers when a check dropped out.

Also inside, she found a letter from Thompson Market Research informing her she’d been selected as a secret shopper.

“They gave me a check for $2,950 and said deposit this in your bank, wait 24 hours, send $1,300 for guy No. 1 and do same for guy No. 2 and then you keep $250,” she said.

While she could use $250, the former English teacher noticed many spelling and grammatical errors. In addition, the instructions weren’t professionally printed on a company letterhead. Something else stood out, too.

“I was not to tell anyone—not even the bank—that I was a secret shopper,” Nancy said.

She had a gut feeling something wasn’t right.

“The check is from Ohio, the package is from Mississippi, the marketing company is in California and I’m to send the money to Florida…red flag!” she said.

Nancy called the bank printed on the check, First Federal Lakewood. As it turns out, the bank exists, but the check was fake. The bank issued FOX59 this statement:

Recently our internal systems detected the presentation of a counterfeit official bank check bearing the First Federal Lakewood Log.

We also discovered the address for “Thompson Market Research” belongs to a dental office in Sacramento, Calif. FOX59 asked if they were aware of a scammer using their address. The dental office responded in an email:

This is real strange we never heard anything before this.

In addition, you can’t find anything online about Thompson Market Research or the alleged head of the company, Thompson Gills.

For further confirmation we turned to Abby Kuzma, director of consumer protection at the Attorney General’s Office.

“If you get a letter like this in the mail you should assume it’s a scam,” Kuzma said. “In the real world they’re going to hire you like a normal interview, so getting it in the mail is not for real.”

Kuzma also says do your research online and look at all of the material very closely.

“Whenever anyone asks you to wire money, anywhere, that is a huge red flag,” she said. “(Poor) grammar in the letter is a big red flag. The different players are from all over the place, sometimes from foreign countries.”

Kumza says scammers will try to target vulnerable people…especially the elderly and people out of work. Nancy, unfortunately, fit the profile.

“I don’t want anyone to abuse older people this way or younger people. It’s just not right,” Nancy said.

She admitted this one was a close call. Thankfully, she didn’t deposit that check or lose any money.

If you think you’ve received some sort of scam through the mail, by phone or online, contact the Consumer Protection Department at the Attorney General’s Office (find them online here). Also, you can notify your bank, your postman or your local post office.

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