The job offer — be a secret shopper at Walmart, get paid, and keep the merchandise the company paid for — sounded too good to be true.
“It turned out it was,” said the Whitesburg man who got sucked into the scam, which asked him to keep a “commission” from the money orders sent to him, and forward the rest to another secret shopper in Texas.
Now he has to repay a Whitesburg bank for nearly $2,900 for fake money orders he cashed there over the course of a week.
The victim asked not to be identified because of embarrassment about falling for the scam.
“I feel like a DA — a dumba**,” he said ruefully.
The man reported the scam to the Letcher County Sheriff’s Department, which forwarded the report to the U.S. Postmaster General and the state Attorney General. Deputy Sheriff Eugene Slone said the department hasn’t seen anyone caught up in this particular scam lately, but people have reported being solicited for it in the past, and some have gone as far as to agree to the terms, then get suspicious when the money orders arrived in the mail.
The email, claiming to be from “Scott Coleman, Head of Recruitment, SSNetwork @2017” says that the company, which claims to be Walmart and gives a walmart.com email address, is accepting applications from “from qualified individuals from all-over the worlds to become Secret Shopper (sic). There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience”
The email goes on to say the shoppers will have access to training materials, will be paid $250 per assignment, and that at least two evaluations a week will be assigned to each shopper.”
“Money order/Payment (sic) check would be in a certain amount which you would be required to Cash (sic) at your Bank (sic), then deduct your salary and have the rest used for the evaluation at the store that would be given to you for evaluations,” the initial email reads.
After the victim replied, he received another email telling him to deposit the money order in his bank account, withdraw it in cash, buy $40 worth of goods at Walmart and keep $130 for himself. The balance, more than $700, was to be used to buy a Western Union wire transfer or a Moneygram, which were also to be “evaluated.” “Never inform the Cashier at Western Union or Money gram (sic) personnel about your assignment of performing a customer service evaluation at this might not produce the intended result,” the email says.
He received another money order by Federal Express a few days later, and another email with the same instructions, but telling him to split the money and send half to “Chris Adabo” in Crockett, Texas, and half to “Ray Neyo” in Spring, Texas. Police in Crockett and Spring said they have had no contact with anyone by those names, and were not familiar with the scam. Conroe police said they had no information about it and transferred the call to a public information officer, who did not answer the phone. Internet people searches turned up no one by any of those names in Texas.
Slone, with the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department, said they have dealt with similar scams in the past, and have been able to trace to money to one coastal city or another, but then it is transferred offshore — to Nigeria, the United Kingdom, or Jamaica, usually, and they have been unable to follow it any farther.
Charles Crowson, a spokesman for Walmart in Bentonville, Ark., said that occasionally, people do attempt to use Walmart for mystery shopper scams because it is well known.
“We don’t use these types of shoppers via e-mail, mail or any other public means,” Crowson said.
Slone advised residents who are concerned that they may be in contact with a scammer to contact the Kentucky Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud hotline at 888-432-9257. If they receive something that appears to be a postal money order, they can verify the number on the order by calling the U.S. Postal Service’s Money Order Verification System at 866-459-7822.
You can identify a real money order by holding it to the light. There should be a watermark of Benjamin Franklin repeated from top to bottom on the left side of the order, and dark security threat from top to bottom with the letters USPS repeated. The amount cannot be more than $1,000 for a domestic money order, nor more than $700 for an international money order.