Check in the mail: Good fortune or red light?

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Just the other day I received a Priority Mail envelope, you know one of those large cardboard envelopes that I almost never receive so I was instantly curious. I looked at the sender’s name and it wasn’t anyone I knew. Hmmmm …

Then I opened the envelope and found two pieces of paper. One was a document with a large corporate logo printed at an angle across the smaller print. The other piece of paper really got my full attention. It was a check, a cashier’s check. It said for the amount of $1,995.00 payable to me! Wow! A gift from heaven.

Instantly I thought: “Wow, I am going to call Carnival Cruise lines and take the whole family on a short but fun cruise.” But wait a second, let’s read the other piece of paper.

Essentially what I found was that I had been selected to be a “secret shopper.” I was to deposit the check and as soon as funds were available I was to withdraw it all and use $1665.00 to purchase two Walmart Money Cards, one in the amount of $850.00 and the other in the amount of $815.00. When I had done this I was to notify the Executive Coordinator by text message. By now I was seeing many red flags that caused me to dig a little deeper.

One of the very first things I saw that set off cautionary fireworks was the mere fact that someone had sent me this job offer or business opportunity or whatever it was without any preliminary communication of any kind. Maybe I did want to be a secret shopper or maybe not, but wouldn’t any normal — which means legitimate — company want to first talk with me to determine whether or not I was right for the job before just sending me a check? And was the check indeed real? It seemed real. The bank did exist and the routing number was correct. But there were oddities on the face of the check.

For one thing the address given for the bank was a P.O. box. That is, of course, possible but not likely, especially for a Cashier’s check. You would think there would be an actual physical address and there was not.

There was however, a notice in very small print that said in essence that should the check be lost or stolen the purchaser would need to buy an indemnity bond to receive a replacement check. I don’t recall ever seeing that message on a check before but still not a complete deal breaker.

So I took it all over to my local bank branch and met with a banker I have known for years. He looked at the check and the letter and offered his opinion that he was one million percent certain it was a scam. Yes, he said if I wanted to deposit it the bank would accept it and they would even allow me to withdraw the money. But, when the check was returned as invalid or otherwise fake they would, of course, debit my account accordingly.

By the time that would happen I would have already spent $1665.00 for cash cards I would have sent to the so called secret shopper company. They would have the cards and I would have a great big hole in my bank account.

By this time I was about 99.999% certain that it’s a pure scam, but I went back to the letter and the envelope and found even more red flags. The company name they were using clearly had a misspelling in one of the two names that should have been identical. Seriously real companies take great pains to insure that their name is correct on all communications. It is their brand and it must always be accurate, so you would for instance never expect to see an email from say Amazon and in the body of the text see it spelled AMOZIN. But that is essentially what I found in the letter I received from the so called secret shopper company.

Then I noticed that on the Priority Mail envelope the name of the sender was vastly different from the name on the letter I received. One more red flag.

Finally, I Googled, is [insert name of company] a scam? The very first thing to pop up was a message from Emma Fletcher of the Federal Trade Commission that was headlined: “A scam story: Secret shopping and fake checks.” It went on to describe in every detail precisely what I had received in the mail. I was left with zero doubt as to the indisputable reality that I had been targeted with scam.

Lucky for me I pursued my doubts early and uncovered the scam before it could hurt me. Not everyone is as lucky and one more thing in that message from Emma Fletcher of the Federal Trade Commission that everyone needs to understand is this:

“Scammers need a good story to get to your wallet. Once they find one that works they use it again and again. One of their favorites brings together fake checks and secret shopping and we’ve been hearing a lot about it lately.”

The sad truth is that our world has always had and will always have people who thoroughly enjoy stealing from other people. Sure sooner or later they do get caught and are sent to prison but your hard earned money remains gone forever, So, if in reading this little story you are put on alert and reject a similar scam effort focused upon you than I have done a good job. Please help spread the word.

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