We all hear about it almost daily on the news and various websites. Internet fraud and scams is running rampant.
Now I would like to think of myself as somewhat aware in these matters and perhaps like most everyone, always looking to make some extra money. Of course that I am presently looking for work finds me spending a lot of time on the internet. As a result I have registered with a variety of job search engines and websites.
On one of these sites an advertisement popped up indicating that you can become a mystery shopper and make good EXTRA cash!
In a moment of “oh well what the hell let’s see what they have to say”. Certainly I have heard of mystery shoppers long before today. How hard can it be? So I click the window to receive information.
Low and behold I received an email one or two days later thanking me for the response. The email was rather straight forward, raising no red flags. Basically they introduce themselves and asked that I forward my name and contact information to receive the information packet in the mail. They outlined what the job would basically consist of for which I would be paid a handsome $400 per assignment. Hook #1 greed of good pay for little work.
They continued to explain that all tools needed would be provided for each assignment, including any needed cash. Hook #2 no responsibility. All I would need to do is follow a few instructions and visit various businesses and assess their customer relations. Easy enough. In the letter they advise that anything I purchased as part of the assignment was mine to keep.. Hook #3 greed of purchases. All that they wanted was a report of the transactions.
In the letter I was advised that to carry out the assignment the regional general manager would send the instructions and the funds required for me to carry out my assignment. Dam how easy is that? Get paid up front, don’t need to supply anything but time and they will pay any extra expenses I incur in the execution of the assignment, all I need to do is supply the receipts. Sign me up……
As indicated about a week later I receive in the mail an envelope which included an instructional letter and a company cheque for $2980.00.
So ok they mean business. The letter at first glance appears all above board and the cheque nice and clean. Ok so the amount has cents in it while the letter specifies an even dollar amount, so it has a typo….nothing else seems out of place.
The letter might have been a bit too flattering where “I” was chosen out of 48,000 respondents. Why me what’s so special? Reading the letter a few subconscious red lights seem to be going off in my head but I could not quite put my finger on any specifics.
After an hour or so, common sense eventually settled in about the project.
What was the game here? Was this really legit? Certainly they provided all kinds of contact numbers and addresses and a cheque. It all looks professionally done.
But wait a minute….even in today’s fast internet banking cheques don’t clear that fast so if I submit the cheque and take out the funds from my account in the clearing process tomorrow the bank is really issuing me the money in good faith that my business dealing is legit. If I deposit that money in a different bank of Mystery Shopper’s choosing I “really” would be depositing my own money….. Yep no matter how I looked at it that would be what would happen, but they stipulated that I had to carry out my assignment within 48hrs….. Red flag #1. Why the rush?
Ok let’s look at this cheque “Coventry Connection Inc. “in Ottawa. The letterhead indicated a company situated in Toronto. Why use a bank in Ottawa? Well that of itself is not totally impossible.Amber light #1. All right let’s check with BBB in Ottawa. Does this company even exist? Well of course no one answers the phone at BBB so I have to leave a message, fine done that.
Never mind let’s ask Mr. Google to see what else I can discover on my own. Well “Coventry Connections Inc.” does exist and at the correct address but it is a Taxi and limousine service. Ok so that does not appear correct. Well maybe the Mystery Shopper is a sideline of the company. Who knows in these economic times many companies do many things.
Yea I know stretching things a bit and that little voice in my head is starting to get agitated, plus I can see my good pay starting to unravel.
Well the Bank that the cheque is written on does exist in Ottawa at the specified address, so that’s something right?
Ok let’s read through the letter again. Oh…. here is something…. This paragraph written in somewhat of a confusing manner…. They talk about a 2 hour training assignment for which I am paid $200/hr. That’s about what you pay a descent lawyer. Does not seem appropriate for what they are asking me to do. . Red flag #2.
So towards the end of the next day I called the regional manager as requested in the letter upon receipt.
The manager seems to be straight forward after confirmation of my “employee number” (stated on letter)and provided reinforcement of the instructions as laid out in the letter. Seemed to be in a rush (but not pushy) by asking if I still had time to make the banks today? I advised him that no it would have to be tomorrow. That did not seem to be a show stopper for him, and he asked that once the cheque was cashed I was to keep $400 dollars because that was MY pay and of course the $100 dollars for the required Walmart purchase, which is part 2 of the assignment. I question the training mentioned and he advises that no, the assignment IS the training…..Once I have the $2480 cash in hand I was to call him back and he would provide the final details of the bank assignment…. Which bank was to be evaluated and reported on by depositing the $2480.00.
Now having worked substantially overseas I detected what I thought was a slight Nigerian accent in the managers voice. I am well aware of issues associated in the past with Nigeria and Angola and the internet. Amber light #2.
The more the evening wore on the more I reviewed the material the more it seemed to stink of scam. So the next day on my way to my bank I decide to stop at the local detachment of the RCMP. (Our Federal Police Agency in Canada) Now the lady who answered the wicket after my telling her that indeed I had not sent any funds to these people she could not provide any department which dealt specifically with internet fraud information gathering. Her whole demeanor seems to be, forget about it and tell all my friends so they do not get caught either with this scam. As I push slightly that a department must surely exist for these things, she almost indignantly produces a form to fill out to register a “fraud loss” which I could file. There seemed to be no desires beyond that with respect to RCMP involvement. I departed without any insight of how these things are tracked or even if the RCMP cares. Sadly I later found on my own an online site which does track this information the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre CAFC. It is listed on the RCMP website. Maybe I should go back and leave a note at the RCMP counter for the next person that might show some concern.
Anyway by now I am pretty much convinced that the whole thing is a scam but cannot see how I am putting myself at risk by depositing the cheque and follow the sequence of events.
So I did just that. However I also advised the bank that I did not know these people and was suspicious that they even existed. They deposited the money (as a bank does) but I withdrew nothing, waiting for the cheque to clear completely first. If by some miracle it did clear then I would defend myself to the company for the missed 48hr window but if the cheque bounced then I would be out nothing. Now the wait began.
By the middle of the following week I called Mr. Rogers with Mystery Shopper again, before I knew the outcome of the deposited cheque at my bank.
I lied and advised him that I had lost his phone number and only just now found his letter and asked what he wanted me to do with the money I had from the cheque. He appeared to be somewhat surprised but gave me the details of which bank to deposit the money, the account holders name and with appropriate bank account number with transit code. While I had Mr. Rogers on the phone I tried to engage in some small talk and asked if indeed he was from Nigeria? Of course he was a bit taken aback and quickly replied that no actually he was from Brasil. I switched to Portuguese and asked if he spoke Portuguese. He avoided the question completly and in a manner that signal to me that he did not speak Portuguese. He also strongly indicated that this was private affairs and nothing to do with the business. In a continued effort to discover more and indicating that I was only trying to make small talk and find out a bit more about him since we plan on doing business. Again he strongly indicated that “where he is from is a private affair and we only discuss affairs of business.” The phone conversation was ended with “call me when you have deposited the money”
I contacted the bank and inquired where the transit code placed the bank. It was for a bank in Toronto.
I followed this call with a verification of my bank account online to discover that the cheque had indeed bounced and all funds deposited previously had been retracted. I drove to my bank to obtain the description for the deposit retraction. Turns out the cheque was labelled as “Counterfeit Item” Feeling Vindicated I thought let’s see how far this can go.
A couple days later I called Mr. Rogers back to advise that the bank numbers he provided would not be accepted by the bank he had specified.
That did not seem to fizz the man and he replied that someone else had already handed in the report as I took too long to complete my assignment. However he has a second number he can provide but I need to get to the bank as soon as possible or I risk of not getting any future assignments.
With the new account number and new name I again contacted the bank to discover that this time it was for a bank in Saskatchewan in Davidson.
I contacted the main bank office and informed them that a scam was afoot and using their various branches to deposit and extract the money. If they provided me an email address I would gladly provide them copies of all of my findings in hopes that perhaps their fraud department could use it in some way to stop it.
The lady took the bank numbers that I was given by Mr. Rogers and advised that if the account holder came back to the bank to report any improperly deposited monies they would act on it then.
WHAT???….. if the account holder complained of the deposited money? I again re-iterated to her that the account holder would not be coming in to complain about improper money deposited in that account as this was a SCAM. Those people would likely extract the money and I don’t know close the account? I suppose that would prevent me, if I was stupid enough to deposit the money in the first place from retracting that money after discovering that their cheque had bounced higher than the moon. I am not a scammer so I really don’t know how it works, I can only guess at the process. That ended THAT phone conversation.
The bottom line is that if YOU do nothing to protect yourself no one else will, not the police (until a crime has actually been committed, not a supposed fraud) not the banks, nor the government. Once you have deposited the money and it gets removed and the account closed the bank has no recourse available to return you your money, it is GONE. Cash money was deposited in a legal bank account and extracted appropriately and the account closed correctly. They followed the law and performed their task as advertised. That they are in effect part of the money laundering process does NOT appear to be of any concern, at least not to the person answering the phone. Perhaps additional training is required on the part of banks to their personnel to address issues such as this.
Today as I was adding the finishing touches to my post I received a message on my cell indicating that “Aliant Telecom has sent you interac e-transfer of #94883DE3. Click here to deposit your accredited funds for your next bill payment:(with link address)” Now I know I am not expecting any credit from my service provider. So I contact them to ask what the deal is and …. you guessed it….fraudulent message please delete.
So the lesson here is the old adage still holds: If something looks or sounds too good to be true chances it is.
For me keep the greed in check and question everything. Greed is the instrument of choice to the evil forces out there.
“Everyone is selling something, if you can’t see what people are selling, maybe you’re the cart.”
― Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel
From the Los Angeles Times
Column: Scam victims aren’t dumb; they’re human
An excerpt: The best way to protect yourself is to take a step back.
“Distance yourself from any decision,” advised Deevy. “If the fraudster is demanding an immediate decision, disengage.”
(If you like what you read…please let me know …I’d love to know who has visited me….leave a comment…one word is great….THANKS)