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Watchdog: Feb. 3, 2013

George Gombossy

Publication: The Day

Published February 03. 2013 4:00AM

Right after Christmas I received an email offering me a chance to make $700 a week working part-time as an "agent shopper."

It is all very simple, wrote Donny Martin of SS-Network Team.

"Hello Candidate, We are accepting applications from qualified individuals from all-over the world to become an Agent shopper. There is no charge to become an Agent shopper and you do not need previous experience. The assignment will pay you $350/assignment of 2 assignment a week. This is a part time job and you would have flexible hours."

"We will provide you the money for all of your assignments," Martin wrote. "Money order/payment check would be in a certain amount which you would be required to cash at your Bank then deduct your salary and have the rest used for evaluation."

To get started I would have to provide all kinds of personal information to Martin.

"The sooner you apply, the bigger possibility you will get a shop to visit," Martin wrote.

If only it were real. It is another version of the mystery shopper scam where consumers are conned into either paying up-front fees for jobs that don't exist or they receive bogus bank checks, which they are required to immediately deposit and forward a large portion of it to one of the scammers.

Of course by the time the bank figured out that the check was no good, it is too late for the consumer, who is out all the money he wired to the scammers.

SS-Network Team has been investigated by 708media.com, which found that the scammers typically send victims checks for thousands of dollars.

After depositing the check they are instructed to go to a Walmart store and purchase a $20 item. Once they have your trust, then the real scam kicks in.

"You are to send the remainder of your balance to the person listed in your instruction email. Once the money is sent, you are to take note of how the service was and send them back an email letting them know your survey results as well as the transaction number," according to an email 708media.com published.

The scam works because banks will frequently honor checks for their customers, but it may take a week or more before the bank discovers that the check is bogus.

There really are mystery shoppers who are given money to check out stores and restaurants and make small purchases and then report back their findings. They are permitted to keep the items and, of course, have a free meal. Normally they do not receive any salary.

But according to the Federal Trade Commission, mystery shopping jobs don't come to you, you have to go find those opportunities.

"You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don't need 'certification' to look - or apply - for assignments in its database," says the FTC.

"In the meantime, don't do business with mystery shopping promoters who:

• Advertise for mystery shoppers.

• Require that you pay for "certification."

• Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.

• Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.

• Sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers.

• Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.

You can reach The Watchdog at george@ctwatchdog.com.

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