A mystery shopper scam targeting Walmart customers, which has been around since at least 2011, has resurfaced. Reports of the scam have started circulating on Facebook and other parts of the Web, from people who have gotten checks of up to $2,000 in the mail.
The scam starts with a legit-looking check, usually for an amount of up to $2,000, which is mailed to a consumer. The check is supposed to be used at Walmart to purchase items as part of their mystery shopper program, a program that pays random people to shop at their local store and rate their experience through a survey.
A letter that comes with the check directs the reader to a registration website, which requires several items of personal information including name, address, phone number, Social Security Number, and in some cases a driver's license number.
The program is a scam, full stop – and the personal information collected will provide the scammer either everything they need to commit a number of crimes including identity theft or financial fraud. If you're curious, the checks themselves are worthless.
"Fraudsters are sending fraudulent solicitations via mail, print, text, and e-mail to entice consumers to evaluate the retail experience, products and services at stores, including Walmart," the retail giant said in a warning on their corporate website.
"This mystery shopper scam uses fraudulent offers, fake checks and wire transfers to persuade unsuspecting consumers into sending money to fraudsters who are often located outside the U.S.," the warning adds.
Bottom line: "Walmart does NOT utilize these services."
The scam itself has existed for several years. In 2014, the scam reached a point that required a wider public notice, so Walmart implemented their own fraud alert, and the BBB of Alabama (due to a number of complaints) issued their own warning.
In 2011, the consumer watchdog website Consumerist warned readers about the scam after a jobless victim in Los Angeles had $4,000 stolen from him. The website issued a follow-up reminder in 2015 when the scam once again started to circulate.
If you or someone you know finds one of these letters in the mailbox, or similar offer in your email or through a job-hunting website, ignore it.
The victim in Los Angeles is just one example of someone who was taken by the scam. Odds are, many others have had similar horrible experiences. These cruel scams play on the base fear that comes from having either no job, or the pressure of finding a second job just to support yourself.
It's hard to resist the pull of a way out when you're struggling, but you have to. Remember, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Update: A follow-up to this story has been posted to Salted Hash. In addition to posing as Walmart, scammers have also started posing as a legitimate mystery shopping company. One victim lost $1,825 last week due to this new variation.