The Investigators

Jun 13, 2013 1:05 PM by Matthew Schwartz

Secret Shoppers Scam?

TUCSON - Lorraine Paterniti says she thought right away that something was wrong. Apparently, she was right.

Paterniti recently got a check in the mail for almost $2,000 from a company she'd never heard of. ($1992.55 to be exact). The firm, "SCT Logistics", wrote that Lorraine had indicated a desire to make extra money by being a mystery shopper, to shop in assigned stores then write reports on them. But Lorraine never indicated any such interest. The northwest Tucson resident is busy and happy with her full-time job as an office manager.

Lorraine told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "I don't like the invasion that it is, because that's what it is, an invasion, them saying 'Welcome to our Company.'"

SCT Logistics listed its address as a post office box in Beaverton, Ore. But the envelope was postmarked, "Madrid, Spain." A letter that came with the check told her to activate it by going on the company's website and entering an assigned user ID and password, then depositing the check into her bank account. The letter was full of misspellings; even the guy who signed it apparently typed his first name wrong, unless his name is "Athnony", instead of "Anthony.

"Any time you're sent a check to cash, that is just a huge red flag," says Nick LaFleur of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. He adds that that the BBB's number one employment scam nationwide in 2012 was the "Mystery shopping fake check scam."

LaFleur says the local BBB receives 10 to 20 calls a week from consumers about this. Here's how it usually works: Consumers receive bogus checks for about $2,000 and are instructed to cash them and keep $350, as pay for their first mystery shopping assignment. Then they're asked to wire the remaining $1,600 or so overseas, using Western Union, and then rate how Western Union did in completing the transaction. But soon the bank catches on and the consumer is on the hook.

The BBB's LaFleur says, "The bank will find out it's a counterfeit check and then they'll take the money out of her account. And if she has forwarded any money to the scam artists, then that's money she lost."

When we Googled "SCT Logistics Beaverton, Oregon," we found six complaints in just the past week on "ripoffreport.com. They described the exact same scenario as Lorraine's. The News 4 Tucson investigators called the phone number on the letter sent to Lorraine six times, and always go the same message, saying, "You've reached SCT Logistics Company. We are unable to take your call due to high volumes of incoming calls."

When we asked Lorraine what she'd say to them if she ever got them on the phone, she replied, "I'd have a lot of choice words for them because it's just entrapment at this point."

There are many legitimate secret or mystery shopping companies; they pay you after you shop and file reports. But if, like Lorraine Paterniti, you get a check in the mail from a company you never worked for, Nick LaFleur of the BBB advises:

"Best thing to do? Toss it in the trash."

If you get one of those checks in the mail, you should report it to the national consumers league and the Better Business Bureau. Both agencies have forms on their website. Here are the links:

The Arizona Attorney General azag.gov
The Better Business Bureau: bbb.org
The National Consumers League: www.fraud.org

There is a legitimate trade association that has extensive information on how you can become a mystery/secret shopper. It is a non-profit group called the "Mystery Shopping Providers Association." The link to its website is below.

Mystery Shopping Providers Association: mysteryshop.org

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