Well… I got duped. About a month or so ago, I received an email from “Kroger” asking if I wanted to sign up as a secret shopper. At first, I wasn’t sure. I sat on the email for a few days until I finally made the decision that I was just going to go for it. I thought it would be an easy way to make a few extra dollars and I’m already visiting there once a week for my normal grocery shopping so what was the harm?
When I clicked on the link, it took me to a site where it asked for my name, address, and phone number. I didn’t think anything of it and gave them the requested info. Once I was done, the site said they would contact me within a few weeks if I was chosen. After about two weeks I received a text from a random number saying it was “Bill Smith” from the Kroger Secret Shopping Program and my first assignment was in the mail. I was curious what the assignment would be, but mostly I was excited. I was thinking that secret shopping would be the perfect way for me to make a few extra dollars a month without taking a second job like I did a few years ago.
So I get my ‘assignment’ in the mail. It looks legitimate enough and it appears to be certified mail. But as soon as I opened it, I knew it was suspicious. All it contained was one sheet of paper detailing my so called assignment and a check for $2,900. As soon as I saw the check, I knew I had been duped. I worked as a teller for a year in college and I generally know a fake check when I see one. My assignment was to deposit the hot check, go to Kroger, and buy a bunch of Ebay gift cards up to $2500 and I got to keep the remainder from the check. This was my second red flag. From what I’ve read online from people who do secret shopping, the companies aren’t paying $400 a shop (although that would be nice). Per the instructions, I was supposed to finish this assignment within three days.
The way the fraud works is this: I deposit the hot check into my account. Then I got to Kroger and use the funds to buy a bunch of gift cards. After I bought the gift cards, I was supposed to take a picture of the front and back of the cards and send them to good ol’ Bill. What would happen then is that while I’m finding out that the check I deposited is fake and I’m $2,500 in the hole, Bill is using the pictures I’ve sent him to buy a bunch of stuff on Ebay. It takes about three days for a check to come back as fake.
Long story short, Bill is a douche. I text him back to let him know as much. He then text me a few days later to ask if I had completed the assignment yet which made me laugh. Ultimately, I did not deposit the check and I did not lose any money, just a little pride. But you might be surprised by the number of people who used to come into the bank I worked at to deposit these hot checks. Sometimes, the bad checks were actually using the account and routing number of a legitimate account and the actual account holder had no idea. By the time the fraud is figured out, the account holder has lost hundreds to thousands of dollars.
While I’m super embarrassed that this happened, I know why it did. I was excited about an opportunity to make extra money and ignored a suspicious email. I’ve never heard of a company reaching out to an individual to secret shop. Normally, I’ll hold my mouse over the email address and links, as you should, to see if they are linking to an authentic account. I literally receive annual cyber security training from my work and I still fell for this crap initially. Make sure you are using proper internet safety protocol and be cautious of anything that feels suspicious. There is a good chance you are right. Be safe out there my friends!