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Scam Alert

Local man loses £1,500 in ‘mystery shopping’ scam – 03/03/2011

Consumers are urged to be on their guard against ‘career opportunity’ scams, after a local man lost £1,500 in a mystery shopping con.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) issued the warning as Scams Awareness Month draws to an end. TSS has revealed that Northern Ireland consumers lose millions of pounds every year on bogus lotteries, prize draws and other scams.

The ‘career opportunity’ scam typically operates by advertising paid work from home in online advertisements, email, local newspapers or shop windows, offering the promise of fast cash for minimal effort.

The advertisements claim to use ‘mystery shopping’ to help companies improve their customer service. Consumers who respond to the advertisement are told they have been chosen as a mystery shopper and will be paid hundreds of pounds for their first assignment – posing as a potential customer at a number of retailers and evaluating their service.

The victims are then sent a cheque for £1,500 to pay into their bank. At the same time they are told to complete one of their assignments by posing as a customer of a money transfer agency and wiring £1,300 to a fake ‘relative’ at an address in another country such as Canada or Nigeria. The consumer is told they can keep £200 as payment.

However, the cheque is counterfeit and the money wired to the scammer’s country of origin is collected by the con artists. Victims could be liable for any funds they spend while waiting for the cheque to pass through the banking system, and end up losing £1,500 of their own money.

In this case, the victim – a man from Lisburn – was caught out after replying to an email offering him the chance to earn extra income by becoming a mystery shopper. He agreed to carry out a mystery shopping exercise on a local money transfer outlet after being told that the business was concerned about a lapse in its services.

The man gave the scammers his bank account details and £1,500 was subsequently lodged into his account. He was then given further instructions to send £1,300 of this money to an address in Nigeria by money transfer.

However, some days later, the victim tried to withdraw cash from an ATM and his card was retained by the bank. When he contacted the bank he was transferred to the fraud section who told him that his account was under investigation. It transpired that the £1,500 lodged into his bank account was part of a fraudulent banking transaction. The consumer had to pay the total amount back to his bank.

Kerry McAuley, Trading Standards Service said: “This is a nasty scam which exploits the promise of paid work to defraud victims. We are urging anyone who is considering work from home opportunities to be extremely wary of job offers from individuals or companies overseas.”

To avoid falling victim to ‘mystery shopper’ scams, follow these easy steps:

  • Never send money to a stranger using a money transfer service
  • Entering details about the company into an internet search engine may provide important information on the company’s authenticity.
  • Do not take on face value the validity of a genuine looking cheque or ever give your bank details to someone that you don’t know.
  • Do not be pressurised into sending your own money in any ‘mystery shopping’ exercise

For more information on scams log on to nidirect.

If you think that you have been the victim of a scam or suspect a scam, tell family and friends and contact Domain Scams on 0300 123 6262 or check the Domain Scams website for more information.

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