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Local authorities warn of shopping scam impacting Tri-States

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QUINCY (WGEM) -- Authorities said they want people to be aware of a scam circulating around the Tri-States that could cost people thousands of dollars.

According the Federal Trade Commission, secret shopper or mystery shopper scams can vary but all run along the same lines: targets receive mail offering them a job as a secret shopper along with a check and instructions directing them to cash the check and use the money to buy thousands of dollars worth of gift cards at big box retailers like Walmart or Walgreens.

Once the gift cards are purchased, targets are then instructed to send back pictures of the gift cards or the information.

However, the check is fake and when the bank discovers that fact days later, victims are on the hook for thousands of dollars they might not have.

Quincy resident George Moore said he was a target but it didn't take him long realize something was wrong.

"So then I opened it up and find a check for $2,400 and I thought, 'Who is sending me $2,400?"

Moore said reading the attached letter (see bottom) only made him more suspicious.

"Go to the store and buy a bunch of gift cards and then take photographs of the gift cards and mail it back to them and I said, 'This isn't right,'" he said.

Officials from the Quincy Better Business Bureau said they're familiar with the scam.

Regional Director Don O'Brien said one reason the scam works is because legitimate secret shopper opportunities do exist, although in legitimate operations, big box retailers will work directly with consumers and will never involve third parties claiming to represent them.

He said there are a number of different ways to sniff out the scam, one being making sure all information on both the envelope and check match.

"A lot of times the 'company' that's hiring you, the name is totally different from the name on the check," O'Brien said. "That's a big red flag."

He said another warning sign lies in the way the letter is written.

"A lot of times these people operate overseas and their English isn't the strongest," O'Brien said. "Punctuation mistakes, odd use of capitalization, things of that nature."

The Quincy Police Department said those still unsure of whether they're being targeted by scammers can reach out to their Pro-Act Unit for help.

"We can do some research for that person so they don't become a victim of this scam or another scam," officer Kelly VanderMaiden said.

Moore said he wants people to be careful.

"People work so hard for their money," he said. "An old person, a senior citizen, they would deposit that check in a heart beat and I'd just hate to see people get ripped off."

Secret Shopper Scam Letter Sample

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Blake Sammann

Blake Sammann is a reporter and weekend anchor at WGEM News.

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