BBB warns of secret shopper and check scams

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Most people could use a little extra money whether it's to help cover pain at the pump or to save for the kids college education.

So an offer to be a secret shopper sounds not just appealing. It could be downright fun, don't you think? Well don't fall for it, consumer experts say it's a scam.

Offers to be a secret shopper or a mystery shopper may come in the regular mail or via email. Basically they send you a check or money order along with detailed instructions on how to distribute the funds part of which you get to keep for evaluating a service or shopping experience.

The problem is, it's a scam as Better Business Bureau Executive Director Carmen Million explains.

"It looks legitimate. You can bring it to the bank and the bank will deposit it," Million said.

How do they get you? When you cash the check or money order and keep part and send part to them you end up having to pay back the part you sent them when the check or money order turns out to be no good.

"What they're doing to make it seem like it's legitimate is, they're sending you a check.  It could be $2500 and they're asking you to send $2000. So it looks like you're not sending money from your account, you're sending money that they sent to you," Million said. "But when the check comes back bogus you find out that they actually are receiving your money because you have to pay the bank back.

There are real secret shoppers, but million says they don't operate this way.

"They go through research firms that actually specialize in this and they won't hire just any person off the street to do their secret shopping," Million said.

There are other check scams offering government grants or claiming that you've won a prize or lottery. A big red flag is if they ask for money up front.

"You can get a grant to start a small business. You can also get a grant to help you purchase your first home," Million said. "But you have to go through the government agencies and they don't' necessarily advertise.  And they never ask for money up front.  A grant is something free and you shouldn't have to pay for it."

So remember if you get a fake check or money order in the mail.  Don't fall for it. If in doubt it's always a good idea to check with your local better business bureau.

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