Mystery shopping firm tries to bilk woman for thousands
A Luling resident looking for a way to supplement her income signed up to become a mystery shopper and almost got scammed out of thousands of dollars. Now, Alexandra Schmaltz is warning residents to watch out for the mystery shopping scam that she thought was the real thing.
“A company called Shopping Track Incorporated sent me a check in the amount of $4,998 and requested that I deposit the check in my account, and then go out and purchase several items from various stores that they told me I would get to keep,” she said. “The scammers then ask that part of the money be sent to them through Western Union or Moneygram.”
Once the Moneygram wire is made, the employee believes they’re monitoring the company’s performance but they’re not.
“You’ve already deposited their check into your bank account and have sent them the cash and their company check bounces leaving you in debt,” she said. “Luckily, I verified it with my bank first.”
Schmaltz had applied for several mystery shopping jobs online, and a couple of weeks later she received a check from Shopping Track along with a list of stores to shop at and screen for courteous service to customers.
“The check looks real,” Schmaltz said. “There’s no way to tell just by looking at it that it’s counterfeit.”
The check, issued by Brimfield Bank, in Brimfield Ill., has a bogus 1-800 number set up and only allows check verification. The “teller” answers the phone and then hangs up once the check holder asks questions about the legitimacy of the check. The real bank, located in a small town, has placed the following statement on their website to warn consumers that have received bogus checks from the company:
“If you have recently received a mailing from SHOPPING TRACK, INC. with a Brimfield Bank Cashier’s Check enclosed, be advised that this check is counterfeit.”
“We’ve received so many calls about this phony company using our bank name and logo, that we had to post something on our website to warn consumers that we are not affiliated with this company,” Sandy Ward, bank spokesperson, said. “A lot of times these con artists target small banks in an effort to swindle people.”
Ward says they’ve never heard of the company and they’ve received calls from all over the United States about the fraudulent checks they’ve been issuing with their bank name on them.
Schmaltz says she called her bank prior to cashing the check and asked her bank to verify the funds for her. They informed her that the check was no good and told her to shred it immediately because the company was not real.
Suzie Camp, a Luling resident and owner of a legitimate mystery shopping company called Peak Techniques, says residents should never pay to become a mystery shopper.
“If you apply for some of these companies online and they request you pay $25 for a list of companies that offer mystery shopping opportunities, it’s a scam too,” she said.
“Legitimate companies will send you on assignments. You will sign an independent contract and fill out a 1099 tax form as a self-employed worker.”
Shopping Track seemed legitimate to Schmaltz because they issued her a list of locations to mystery shop at and included a check, but she never signed a contract or filled out any paperwork with the company.
“A friend of mine living in Jefferson Parish told me about it and so I decided to try it out too,” she said.
A call was made to Shopping Track and a representative answered the phone and identified himself as “Scott.” He said that the checks couldn’t be cashed at the bank where they originated from, and also said for clients without bank accounts, it was better to deposit the check in the account of a friend or relative.
The scam extends all the way to North Dakota. A woman in Bismark, who is disabled, signed on with Shopping Track too. She took the check, made the shopping trips, cashed the check, and it bounced – leaving her $5,000 in debt.