‘Mystery Shopper’ scam rears its ugly head again

Familiar ploy fails to fool disabled Vancouver woman

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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The “Secret Shopper,” aka the “Mystery Shopper,” racket is the oldest and smelliest scam around.

But some crooks trotted it out again last month and almost fleeced a disabled Vancouver woman.

On Nov. 30, Beverly Ricketts received a FedEx envelope with two “USPS money orders,” one made out for $925 and the other for $870, said her sister, Linda Brindle.

Next came an email saying Ricketts had been hired as a mystery shopper.

She was told to take the money orders to her bank and cash them, Brindle said.

After taking a total of $340 for herself, she was told, she should wire the rest of the cash to another secret shopper.

The mystery shopper hook is dangled at unemployed folks, who are asked to go to various stores, note how clean they are, and how friendly the employees are, and report back to the people who sent the money orders.

The money orders are worthless but look genuine enough that bank employees might cash them.

Later, when the bank learns the money orders have no value, the victim would end up owing the bank the cash the bank provided.

Meanwhile, the scammers, wherever they were, would pocket the cash that was wired to them.

Fortunately, Brindle contacted post office employees with the serial numbers of the money orders and learned they were bogus.

“My sister is on Social Security disability and would never have been able to repay those funds,” Brindle told The Columbian.

Driver’s license scam

A fairly new racket is a website that calls itself “the official provider of Washington driver license forms.” It asks for $24.95 and has prompted a warning from the state Department of Licensing.

“The only ‘official provider’ of Department of Licensing forms is the Department of Licensing, and they are free,” said Alan Haight, the agency’s director.

The website for the state Department of Licensing is http://www.dol.wa.gov.