If you want to be a 'secret shopper,' watch for red flags - Albuquerque Journal

If you want to be a ‘secret shopper,’ watch for red flags

An Albuquerque woman has been doing a particular good deed for several years.

She faithfully fills out customer surveys for The Kroger Co., which owns the Smith’s Food and Drug chain, “in hopes I will someday win a shopping spree and can then donate the proceeds to the food bank.”

The website to access these customer surveys is listed at the bottom of the grocery store’s receipts, with the message “Tell us how we are doing!!”

Almost immediately after the woman submitted her most recent questionnaire, though, she became the unlucky winner of a scammer’s “secret shopper” efforts. A secret shopper is someone who poses as a customer to evaluate a business’ services.

The woman says soon after she submitted her survey, she received an email suggesting she had agreed to become a secret shopper and asking her to fill out an information form. She had made no such agreement, so she deleted the email.

That was followed by a letter sent by priority mail with an information sheet titled Customer Service Evaluation Tool and a check for $1,950. The woman was told to quickly deposit the check and buy $1,500 worth of gift cards. She was to scratch off the PIN codes and report them to the phone number and email address provided.

To make things seem more legitimate, the scammers told her that her secret shopper assignment was focused on gift cards the grocery store sells. That’s why, they said, they were asking her to buy some.

The woman did not fall for this scheme, but she worries that others who fill out legitimate customer surveys might do so. Had she played the game, she would have learned too late that the check she received was fake and that she was out the $1,500 in gift cards.

A spokeswoman for Kroger said the attempted scam was not connected to the business or its customer satisfaction survey.

“The fact that this occurred after filling out a Smith’s … survey is coincidence and not due to any data breach or affiliation with Smith’s or The Kroger Company,” spokeswoman Tina Murray said. “Thankfully, the customer did exactly what they should do to avoid falling victim to the scam – they questioned its legitimacy and didn’t follow the letter’s instructions or deposit the fake check.”

She added that customers should visit a local Smith’s store if they have questions because “Smith’s trains our associates to be vigilant in identifying fraudulent activity…”

In a legitimate secret shopper assignment, the participant is reimbursed for expenses at the business being evaluated and often earns a small fee.

“If you enjoy shopping, dining out and trying out new products or services, the idea that someone would pay you to indulge in these pleasures and report on the experience could seem mighty alluring,” according to AARP. “But … let the buyer beware: Many are scams aimed at collecting your cash, not your feedback.”

Consider it a giant red flag when you are asked to pay something upfront to get started.

Here are other ways to protect yourself, according to AARP:

• Research a company that offers a secret shopper gig. You can find legitimate opportunities through the trade group Mystery Shoppers Professional Association at mspa-americas.org. You can also do a search on the company name, as well as the words “complaint” or “scam.”

• Be careful about any information you provide on an application. It could be used to steal your identity.

• Contact the issuing bank on any check you receive to make sure it’s authentic.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3972 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.

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