Postal Service warns of ‘secret shopper’ scam

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DENVER -- The U.S. Postal Service is warning consumers about an old scam with a new twist.

“People across the country are receiving letters in the mail -- accompanied by fat checks -- inviting them to earn extra money as mystery shoppers,” the United States Postal Inspection Service said in a news release.

The scam has made its way to Colorado. Denver native Keith Maness said he was contacted through email.

“I got an email from King Soopers and I opened it up and it was for an application for a secret shopper,” Maness said.

He jumped at the opportunity to make some extra money to pay bills, so he applied online and was “hired” almost immediately.

“I got an email back from them saying they were sending me a package,” Maness said.

The package arrived in his mailbox on Friday. Instructions, his first job assignment and his first paycheck came inside a USPS Priority envelope.

“Your job is to act like any regular customer and perform a normal business transaction while you conduct a simple survey/evaluation (without being noticed) and gather information about the quality of service by staff, customer service professionalism, behavior of staff and other issues at such locations,” said the letter, appearing to be from Target.

The letter also explained that Maness would earn $300 for his work.

“I was like, oh. Three-hundred extra dollars, that’ll be super helpful with bills and everything,” he said.

However, his check wasn’t for $300. The check, from Woodforest National Bank in Texas was for a whopping $2,972.

The letter explained Maness was supposed deposit the check and keep $300 for himself. He was to use $72 to pay for transportation and transaction fees during his excursion as a secret shopper.

Finally, he was to use the remaining $2,600 to purchase four “Reloadit” packs.

Maness says at first, he thought it was legitimate. But he started worrying something was wrong when he noticed the instruction didn’t tell him what to do with the prepaid cards after he bought them.

After that, the red flags started popping up.

“Why would they send me a check for over $2,000 and I haven’t even done anything for them yet?” he said.

Maness called Woodforest National Bank to check it out and it informed him the cashier’s check was fraudulent. However, it looks so real that most banks would probably accept it as a deposit.

“Sounds like an easy way to make money, right? But if you deposit the check, you’ll get a notice from the bank that it bounced. And you’re left holding the bag for the $3,750,” USPIS said.

Maness did not lose any money to the scammers. He said if he hadn’t called the bank to verify the check, he would be in a financial mess.

“I’d be out of my apartment. Especially right now, paying rent and being paycheck to paycheck. That’s two months' worth of pay for me,” he said.

Do not respond if you are approached with an offer to become a mystery or secret shopper.

If you are contacted by scammers, report the incident to postal inspectors online or call USPIS at 1-877-876-2455.