Military spouses targeted in online job scams

Mystery shopping scams might drop names of big name retailers, such as Walmart, Target or Best Buy.


By SUSAN TOMPOR | Detroit Free Press | Published: August 12, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Military spouses and veterans looking for extra cash are being advised to watch out for too-good-to-be-true job offers online.

Fraudsters are using trusted names like Walmart, Target or Best Buy and offering jobs with high pay or a chance to work remotely and with flexible hours.

Many scams targeting military spouses aim to steal money under the guise of “mystery shopper” jobs, according to a July warning by the Federal Trade Commission.

Victims are sent fake money orders or checks and are instructed to deposit the phony check into their personal bank accounts. Later the consumer will be told to withdraw hundreds or thousands of dollars from their bank and put that money on gift cards or send the money through Western Union. The “shopper” will absorb the loss once the fake check eventually bounces.

Army veteran Willie Smith, who served from 1975-79, went online looking for a way to make some extra money. He saw a site offering a job opportunity as a secret shopper, so he filled out some information.

Smith, 63, became suspicious when a priority envelope was sent to his home in Saginaw, Mich., and included a check for $2,150. He was to deposit the check into his bank account, start buying gift cards and do some secret shopping at Walmart.

Before he cashed that check, he did some digging online and discovered that Walmart doesn't use mystery shoppers or hire anyone to perform these services for other retailers.

“Don’t do it. Don’t put that check into your account. When that check doesn't clear, you've got to pay all that money back,” he said.

A member of the military community in Virginia received an email from a talent acquisition manager saying that she was selected for a shortlisted online interview. She did the interview and was hired right away.

She was told she would receive a check in the mail to buy equipment for the job.

When the check didn't arrive, she became skeptical and talked with her bank, which warned her that the check was likely fake and she'd be held responsible for paying any money back.

Consumers are warned to "never wire money or buy gift cards for a mystery shopping assignment or any job opportunity. Those are sure signs of a scam," according to the FTC.

Military consumers saw a median loss of $2,460 in connection with employment scams in 2018 – more than double the losses for all consumers, according to the latest alert from the Better Business Bureau. About 8% of the scams reported by the military involved employment-related scams, according to the BBB report.

Others job-related scams

Displaying a sign on a car or truck. A Michigan consumer reported searching for work-from-home jobs and finding an opportunity to get paid to display a sign on his truck. The consumer was sent a check for $1,550.60 and then told to send back $600 to cover some costs associated with the deal. The check was a fake and the consumer lost the money.

Buying materials to work from home. An Indiana consumer reportedly lost $4,999 in July after receiving an email saying a company spotted the job hunter's resume on Indeed. The company sent another email saying it was sending a check for materials needed for working at a home office. The instructions included depositing the check into the consumer's bank account. The next step – the one that cost the consumer big money – involved withdrawing $4,000 and depositing it to a different bank for a person named Harold Ward. "A couple days later, I received a call from my bank saying the check for $4,999 was a fraud."

Online or on-the-spot interviews. Many victims report doing a phony interview through Google Hangouts or another video chat service. Also watch out for on-the-spot job offers that don't even involve any interview.

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