It’s a clever scam, and one that could potentially cost you thousands of dollars.
It all starts when you receive a package in the mail with instructions and a check. You are led to believe that you will be compensated for your work as a Walmart ‘mystery shopper’.
Instead, you are the target of a vicious scam that could cost you thousands…
What Is Mystery Shopping?
A mystery shopper (AKA secret shopper) is a legitimate gig in and of itself.
Third party companies, or the company itself, hire mystery shoppers to ‘act’ like a real customer. This involves going into a store and engaging with staff members, and can also include purchasing products.
The mystery shopper documents his or her experience and is paid for their work.
The purpose of this exercise, is to obtain useful feedback. This feedback can help the company figure out what it’s doing right, and areas it can improve upon.
So it does make sense for a company to hire a mystery shopper and it’s a real thing. Which is precisely why this scam works and continues to mislead many people.
Does Walmart Even Hire Mystery Shoppers? Nope!
Walmart does not hire mystery shoppers and they clearly state this on their website…
Mystery shopping, sometimes referred to as secret shopping, is where an individual is hired to “act” like a customer, and evaluate services at a business. Walmart does NOT utilize these services or hire associates to perform services on behalf of other retailers or companies.
This statement alone is enough to expose this scam right here. Walmart is aware, and have been dealing with these scammers who pose as company reps for years now. So they even created a page warning people.
That being said, I thought it would be useful to analyze this scam in more detail. This way you know what it’s about and how it works, so you can avoid these types of scams in the future.
How The Walmart Mystery Shopper Scam Works
The majority of these mystery shopping scams are based on cashiers check fraud.
There are several variations of this scam, so the way each individual scam works will change. But they are all grounded in cashiers check fraud, so I will briefly explain how this works to give you the heads up.
Cashiers Check Fraud 101
Cashiers check fraud begins with some form of advertisement, online or offline. You register your interest in a given ‘job’ and from there you receive a letter in the mail. In some cases you simply get the letter/ package sent to you as pat of a mass SPAM attempt.
In any case, once you receive the cashiers check in the mail, you are asked to withdraw/ use the funds for one purpose or another. Since it’s a cashiers check, you can normally withdraw the funds within one business day.
In the case of the Walmart secret shopper scam, these funds are provided for you to purchase various items in-store.
This catches many people off guard at this point. Because everything seems official and you can withdraw the money they sent you.
I mean, surely if the check clears it’s all good, right? Wrong.
The funds from these checks can often be withdrawn within a day, yes. But the check does not officially clear for days or in some cases over a week. So you are essentially withdrawing the banks money. Which means if the check does not clear, you will have to pay the money back yourself. As you probably guessed by now, none of the checks are real.
They are all FAKE and they all bounce.
So this is the basis of how these scams work. Exactly how the scammers benefit from this process, really depends on the individual scam itself as I will now explain.
The ‘Money Wire’ Mystery Shopping Scam
This is probably the oldest and most common version of the scam.
Step 1) You receive a fake cashiers check for an amount of money normally into the $1,000’s.
Step 2) Once the funds are available (next day) you go into your closest Walmart store and purchase the products they instruct you to buy. Whatever funds are left over from your purchases, and your fee for doing the work, you then wire to the scammers using Money Gram. The sending of funds through MoneyGram is often said to be ‘part of your job’ in assessing the Walmart.
Step 3) The check bounces, you are left with a few hundred dollars and a few ‘nic nacs’. From there, you’re stuck paying the bank back for the entire amount of the fake check that bounced. Which often results in a substantial net loss, and in some cases, criminal charges for bank fraud.
This is perhaps the most common version of this scam. But there’s a different version that is equally dubious, yet arguably more believable.
The Walmart ‘Gift Card’ Mystery Shopping Scam
Here’s what one person reported on Consumer Affairs…
I was to pick five Wal-Mart Gift Cards, go to the register, and add $500 to each card. I also needed to peel the silver scratch off area and not discard the cards and to send captured images of the card front and back after scratched. It is a scam.
This appears to be the latest trick these scammers are using to steal from people.
Here’s how it works…
Step 1) You receive a fake cashiers check for just under $3k and deposit it into your bank.
Step 2) You are instructed to go into Walmart and purchase five gift cards for $500 a pop and document your experience as a customer. As any mystery shopper would do. The end result is you obtaining $2.5k worth of Walmart gift cards, and keeping $400 for your fee.
Step 3) You are instructed to scratch off the silver coating on the back of the card, which reveals the card number and PIN. You then take photos of the front and back fo the card, and send it to the scammers who are pretending to be Walmart reps. They say you are sending them the photos as ‘proof’ you purchased the cards.
Step 4) The check is fake, so it bounces, and you are stuck paying back all the money to the bank. Meanwhile, the scammers have $2.5k worth of valid Walmart cards to do with as they please.
There are limitations on how you can use a Walmart gift card as oppose to cash. So in that sense it’s not as attractive to scammers.
But it does seem more convincing, which means it could suck more people in.
Why? Mostly because you are not sending any money to anyone. You are simply showing ‘proof’ (along with your ‘report’) that you did your job. Remember, you believe you are dealing with the real Walmart.
Although tempting, I imagine most people wouldn’t use the gift cards either. Since they want to keep their ‘job’ and make more money in future.
In any case, by following the scammers instructions, you will have nothing but a few hundred dollars, and a sizeable debt to the bank. Meanwhile, the scammers profit handsomely at your expense.
Protecting Yourself From Mystery Shopper Scams
You know the saying… if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When it comes to mystery shopping ‘jobs’ this doesn’t change.
Only deal with known, trusted, legitimate companies if you want to become a mystery shopper. And always do your due diligence.
Most of all, never deposit checks from a company who claims to be paying you in advance. Cashier’s check fraud is rampant and it is by no means limited to Walmart secret shopping scams. So if you ever receive a check in the mail that you did not expect, exercise extreme caution. Chances are it’s a scam.
It’s also worth reporting these scams to the relevant authorities, even if you haven’t been burned yet. In addition, sites like Consumer Affairs and the BBB are good for warning others about such scams.
Mystery shopping is a real job and there are real companies out there that employ people to do this. There’s no disputing that.
But Walmart does not hire people or companies for this purpose. Period. Therefore, anyone posing as Walmart in relation to such a job is a scammer.
Mystery shopping scams, whether it be wire transfers, gift cards, or some other variation, are very common. By no means are they limited to Walmart, so it pays to safeguard yourself from and warn the people you know.