Scammers look for secret shopper applicants

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Ever considered working as a "secret shopper," but you can't tell legitimate job offers from scams?

There are warning signs that people, desperate for money, tend to overlook.

Debra Jones thought she found her dream job, shopping and eating out, and getting paid to do it.

Turns out, a scammer is behind the job offer she got in the mail.

The secret shopper letter Debra received in the U.S. Mail appears to be endorsed by reputable retailers — their prominent logos are the perfect lure.

"So, excited, I emailed and told them I am very interested to be a 'customer service evaluator' as they called it," said Debra. "I told them I'm interested as long as I'm not doing anything illegal."

They reassured Debra. The letter reads it's probation training, and she has 48 hours to complete instructions regarding a $2,950 check. Keep part for fees, including the work you will do, and wire $2,500 by Western Union.

"He told me the only thing I had to do was deposit it into my account and when the money was in my hand to call him."

Her suspicions grew when he dismissed her job questions but pressed her to call back when she had the money. Debra contacted the Texas bank on the check. It researched the check's authenticity and informed Debra it's fraudulent.

"Things are very tight, and after first talking to him, I wanted to believe. I had signed it. Put my member number and the checking account I wanted it to go in. Sadly, I was going to deposit it until something said, 'Google the bank.'"

Debra faxed a copy of the check, but the bank asked her to scan it. Scanning revealed hidden information.

"Upon scanning it you can see 'void' all over the check but, with the naked eye you can not see void."

Legitimate companies don't send checks as part of a job offer or ask you to wire money.

There are legitimate mystery shopping jobs. The Federal Trade Commission said usually they come through market research companies.

Debra thought her friend signed her up.

"I thought she turned my name in trying to help me. Then, I could have repaid some of the loans I've gotten from her. I thought she turned my name in because she knew I wanted to do that."

Here's another tip: you get paid after you've been hired and you've invested time evaluating a business or restaurant.

Then, you get re-imbursed for your work.

To research legitimate companies, checkout the MSPA website.