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Tipline Warning: Secret Shopper Job Scam

Sadly, the victims of most scams are the people who can least afford to be ripped off. In our Tipline report, a warning about a scam that seems to come in many devious forms.

You’re about to meet Kathy. That’s not her real name and we’ve concealed her identity and altered her voice.

“They sent me the check and I was supposed to go and survey businesses. It has 12 questions they’re looking for, which I thought was part of the job process,” said Kathy.

She says she was supposed to be a secret shopper. Check up on local businesses, report on them and get paid.

“I just figured it was my compensation. I thought, ‘Wow this was great.’ And then, I thought let me check. I went to the bank and cashed the check,” said Kathy.

The check looked real and it was made out through Jackson County bank, a real bank.

But, here’s where the scammers get their payday. Kathy was instructed to cash the check, keep some of the money and send the rest to a guy named Joseph Kwaku in Binghamton, New York via Moneygram or Western Union.

“I started looking at it again. I started thinking, ‘why would you send me more money, for me to send you money back?’ And that’s when the bells and whistles started going off. So then I Googled the person’s name on the envelope, that person didn’t exist. So then I Googled the address, the address didn’t exist,” said Kathy.

The scammers sent Kathy two more checks. Again, they wanted her to keep some money for herself and send the rest to them. This time, Kathy took the checks to her bank in Santa Barbara.

“I walked in and asked to speak to the manager who I know very well. Usually he has a pleasant face, but he looked down and saw the envelope and his facial expression changed. He informed me, they usually average about six to seven thousand dollars a month where people have been ripped off at this one bank location. they target students,” said Kathy.

Once the victim wires the money to the scammers, most likely overseas, that money is gone and there’s no way to trace it. Eventually, the bank figures out the check is fake and the victim is responsible for paying that money back to the bank.

Kathy called the NewsChannel Three Tipline hoping to warn others about the scam. We contacted Jackson County Bank in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. They knew about the scam, but didn’t give any other details about it.

We also called the Bank of Oklahoma which also appears on the checks. Bank officials did not know about the scam and they are now investigating.

“I was absolutely livid and very angry because it could have been me,” said Kathy.

In case you’re wondering, Kathy did not lose any money thanks to that alert bank manager. You’re probably asking, “Didn’t the bank put a hold on the check to find out if it was real?” In many cases that happens. But even if the check clears and the money is deposited into your account you can be held responsible anyway if that check turns out to be bogus.

So, it’s up to you to protect yourself.

Here’s a written statement sent to NewsChannel 3 from Heather Diehn, Vice President of Operations for Jackson County Bank:

“Checks are used for everyday transactions and unfortunately can be counterfeited when a legitimate check falls into the hands of criminals. The Bank is actively working with law enforcement and encourages anyone who thinks they’ve received a counterfeited check to contact law enforcement. The Bank also recommends consumers and businesses visit the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau websites for information on a variety tips and resources to protect against common scams and fraud.”

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