Latest Money Scam Targets Out of Work Students

Nothing says “economic depression” so much as when scam artists run con-games on the weakest citizens: the infirm, the old, and now, unemployed students and recent graduates without money.

The FTC issued a release last week, suggesting confidence games against unemployed students are back in vogue, in the form of “secret shopper” scams. Sites, similar to this Mystery Shopper site, entice students by touting an hourly wage in excess of $20.00/hour, “just for shopping and dining out” and writing reviews (the foregoing site has not been targeted by the FTC and the author makes no claims as to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the site; this site serves as example only).

Here’s the catch: in order to start collecting money, students have to either pay a membership fee, or deposit a bogus check sent to them (as “advance”). In the former case, the membership fee is collected, but no money is forthcoming (“No one wants your review. Sorry.”). In the latter scenario, the company’s check bounces, and gets returned with the depositer’s account information on it, and money is removed from the account. The FTC found that Independent Marketing Exchange, Inc. engaged in such fraudulent business practices.

Working as a bone fide “secret shopper” is a legitimate undertaking and some companies are actively seeking — and paying — shoppers for real reviews. The money, however, is typically not of the sort that will net anyone a full time income. Moreover, according to the FTC, legitimate “secret shopper” companies do not ask for money up front and do not ask members to deposit checks prior to conducting any work. While not dispositive of a bogus company seeking to defraud people, these “red flags” should be heeded by those looking into this line of work.

Practice Note: Advise clients who run such a business to steer clear of deceptive business practices such as charging membership for a secret shopper program, even if the business is a legitimate one. Such practices may subject a business to FTC investigation and complaints.



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