Hawaii consumer advocate warns of mystery shopper scam

Scott Foster
Scott Foster
Angela Callahan
Angela Callahan

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is? There's an internet scam that's been circulating for awhile, only this time, it landed in the hands of a local consumer advocate.

Manoa resident Scott Foster received an 875 dollar money order check in the mail a few days ago. He showed it to us, saying "That looks very real. Gold foil and all."

Foster works as communications director at Hawaii Advocates for Consumer Rights. He responded to an unsolicited email asking him to be a 'mystery shopper'. Legitimate research companies use these undercover shoppers to document customer service at various businesses, but scam artists have created sophisticated schemes - promising those potential mystery shoppers big money.

Foster says, "The internet, of course, has set up all sorts of unscrupulous stuff and preying on, especially when the economy is bad, desperate people, sometimes."

It happened to Angela Callahan. Like Foster, she received a check in the mail - this one for more than 3,000 dollars, plus, a letter instructing her to deposit the check at her own bank. She was then told to go to Western Union and observe its customer service - while transferring money from her bank account. Callahan explains, "They told me that I would have to western union $3,185."

Callahan got duped. The check she got in the mail was forged.

"A mystery shopping company is not going to just hand you a check and say, 'Hey, here's your money. Go do with it what you want'," says Sarah Leeke, owner of a mainland shopping company called Remington Evaluations.

She says legitimate companies don't send unsolicited emails looking for hires, and any potential employees have to go through an interview process and sign a contract.

Hawaii's Scott Foster has been following consumer scams for years and says they're getting more elaborate."This one is the most clever one I've seen, I must say. No telling how many thousands of people in the nation, and in Hawaii, which is, of course, my main concern, go for this."

His next step is to inform the postal service and warn as many consumers as he can. The biggest red flags to watch out for: 1) if you get an unsolicited email asking you to be a mystery shopper, 2) if you get a check in the mail and 3) if YOU have to pay money back to the mystery shopping company, like Callahan did. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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