RENO, Nev. (KOLO) It's called secret shopping. Companies hire you to shop on their dime to report undercover on a store's personnel, customer service, issues like that.
Getting paid to shop and using someone else's money. Who wouldn't be intrigued? Mary Ann Brock, a disabled vet looking to make some extra cash, was certainly interested when she got the emailed offer.
"Sounds like fun," she says. "No biggie. I love to shop. Why not do it with someone else's money? It's great!"
So, she filled out an application and a couple days later got her instructions. It came priority mail, a nice touch.
"You think a fake company is not going to send it two-day mail. They're not going to send it that way."
Also inside was a check for $2300. She was told to deposit it in her account, use a small portion to shop, keep another portion as her pay. Notify them and wait for further instructions.
But it didn't feel right to her.
"If it's supposed to be $300 for shopping, why are you sending me $2300?"
Other details didn't match up. The return address wasn't the same as the company listed on the instructions. And that company was in California. The bank was in Virginia. The name on the check was also different.
She did some research. The company was real, but the offer didn't come from them. The bank said the check wasn't theirs.
"And both of them said 'No, no, no."
She didn't go any further. If she had, says Tim Johnston of the Better Business Bureau, she would have deposited the check, but at some point she would have been told to send the remainder back. Later the check would bounce.
"At that point if she had spent it, shipped it off somewhere, then she's on the hook for that in addition to any banking fees for an overdraft."
Johnston says the check is the first red flag. Legitimate companies never operate this way.
He says, like Mary Ann, you should always do your research when you receive an offer like this, but beware. Don't trust phone numbers. The scammers left a number off the check. They could have included their own and when someone called, pretended to be the bank.
But there's one more way to tell if such an offer is legitimate and it's unique to our state.
"In order to do secret shopping in Nevada you have to be employed by a business that has a license through the private investigator's licensing board."
And that means you have to obtain a work card as an employee. If that's not part of the conversation the deal is not real.
Mary Ann was not a victim of this scam. She followed her gut and did some checking, but she worries others may fall for it. That's why she contacted us. For that we thank her.