Saturday, October 15, 2011

Secret Shopping and the Scam Within

     Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I do not make huge decisions on a whim.  I am the type of person who will research until I feel comfortable with a decision therefore, my choices are always informed ones.  With that in mind, I am not perfect and recently fell victim to a horrible scam.

    We all know there are scammers out there, so when I received a check for $1850 along with an "evaluation survey" from Djs Research Ltd., I was skeptical.  I looked the check over for the usual "this is not a check" text because I assumed this was insane.  It was nowhere to be found so I read through the enclosed letter.

    I read about the opportunity for me to be a "secret shopper" and thought, "this can't be right, there is probably a catch". The letter stated that an official check was enclosed and that I was not required to spend any of my own funds on this evaluation. We are told that in most cases, any opportunity that requires you to spend your own money first (save for companies like Avon, MaryKay, etc.) is usually a scam so this was the first thing that made me feel good about Djs Research Ltd.  I mean, the company was including the funds right?

    Off to "Google" I went to research this company because I was not going to fall victim to some greedy person's scheme!  20+ pages of Google results produced absolutely no negative results whatsoever.  I searched "Djs Research Ltd", "Djs research" (which produced results mostly about Disc-Jockies), "Djs Research Ltd scam", "'Djs Research Ltd' AND 'scam'", "Djs Research Ltd fake", "Djs Research Ltd my check bounced", etc.  I was trying to find anything that would tell me to ignore this and I found nothing negative.  I did find both the company's old website and their new one and I felt that they were well put together.  Their website confirmed that they are a company that offers secret shopping so it appeared to be the same company.

     I didn't stop there though!  I needed to see if there were bad reports on the Better Business Bureau's website.  Because my letter was sent by Canada post, I checked both the US and the Canadian BBB and found absolutely nothing.  There wasn't even so much as a listing.  The lack of listing wasn't a big deal to me since my husband's employer is not listed on the BBB either but the lack of negative reports was a good thing to me.  I figured that if they had previously scammed someone then that person must have reported it right?

    When you're not living paycheck to paycheck as we are, it may be hard to understand the following series of events but trust me, you can convince yourself of anything when money is tight.  After being turned down for every job that I've applied to, it's not surprising that I am desperate for any opportunity to earn some extra money.

     There was poor grammar in a few spots in the letter but nothing more than what I attributed to a typo or merely someone typing in their second language.  That seemed possible since the letter was sent from Canada after all.  Another red flag that I explained away was that I was requested to wire a large portion of the money ($1200) through Western Union, to evaluate the customer service of Western Union.  Initially, I admit that this seemed "off" to me but "how else are they supposed to evaluate Western Union?" I thought.  Anyway, this was their money I was sending back to them right?  So what was it hurting me?  The final red flag was that I was required to do all of this within 48 hours.  I explained this away by reasoning that they must be requiring this in order to streamline the process so that everything was fast and efficient.

      With the lack of negative feedback and the professionalism of their new site, I felt like this was a legitimate offer and off we went to deposit the check and then do as asked.  The check was for $1850. My compensation was $300, $200 was provided to fund the evaluation of a retail store (Best Buy, Kmart, or Walmart), $1200 was provided to be wired via Western Union and $150 was even included to pay the Western Union fees.

     We deposited my $300 compensation and took the rest of the money as cash as per my instructions.  Our bank cashed the check with no questions asked whatsoever.

     I wont bore you with the details of what we bought but after we shopped and wired the money I finished filling out my survey.  At this point, I called the number I was given to speak with my "coordinator", so that he could provide me with my "rep ID" number to put on the survey before I faxed the information to him.  I had corresponded with him previously via email and learned that his name was "Kevin".  On the phone, he sounded like a very professional man and not once, during our conversation did I feel that I was being had.  I informed him that it only cost $84 to process the Western Union transaction and he said that that was alright and to hold onto the extra funds for processing fees in future surveys.  "Kevin" did tell me that after he received my fax, they would be sending me a new survey to complete so I was excited for more to come.

     The next day, however, our world was turned upside down.  My husband took a trip to the store to buy some tools for work and our debit card was declined.  Naturally, his next step was to go to the bank and find out what was going on.  As I was expecting him home, he called and gave me a heads up so I knew what was going on.

    While he did this, I was at home in a panic.  "Did that check bounce?", "Did I miss something?", "How could this happen when I was so careful?"- I needed to know so back to Google I went.  I immediately realized that I had assumed "Googling" the company's name was sufficient.  I hadn't thought to search for "secret shopping scams" so I went ahead and gave that a try.  What I found made me worry.  I felt like a fool- "how could I have fallen for this?".  I found countless stories of people being scammed in exactly the same way but for different amounts and by different companies.  I still have yet to find any mention of someone being scammed by Djs Research Ltd but the information I was faced with was enough to make my head spin.

     Snopes had quite a bit to say on the subject.  Some other information that I found was just as scary for me to read.  Here are some links to the stuff I found:

About.com
ABC News
SecretShopper.com
The Consumerist
The Federal Trade Commission
     

     I also found this video on YouTube:


     I got in touch with my husband, told him what I had found and asked him if the check had bounced and he confirmed that the check- of which only $366 remained- had bounced and that our account was overdrawn.  He immediately went to work trying to procure a loan from the bank.  He had just deposited nearly his whole paycheck into the bank that morning so all of our money, save for approx $170, was GONE.

     Hysterical and panicked, I called my father.  Through tears, I managed to confess to him what I had done and that we now owed the bank all this money.   He said that the only thing he would have done differently was wait for the check to clear first- and he's right. Had we done that, the check would have bounced and we would have been alright.  As my dad pointed out, what would this company have done to us for waiting? It was a bogus check so they really couldn't have taken action against us and if it had been a legitimate offer- they more than likely would have been understanding of our suspicion. While I was talking to him, my dad did a search on Bing.com for the company and he didn't find anything either- it seems that to our knowledge, there is not currently any negative feedback available for Djs Research Ltd.

    During my conversation with my dad, my husband phoned and told me that the bank issued him a loan for the entire amount of the bounced check.  They pushed it through as he's been with them for 11 years and I'm sure, in part, because they know that if they had held the check (a common bank policy), none of this would have happened.  The loan will no doubt help restore our bad credit but the sad truth of it is that we are still being held accountable for the funds while some bandit has $1200 that he does not deserve.

     I have since filed reports with the BBB, the FTC.     
 
     I spoke with a representative from Western Union as well.  He said that it's very unfortunate that this happened despite my research and that it sounds like the con artists are very good.  The representative added that when a company is very good at conning, there are a few things you can look for to help you protect yourself- one of those things being that the email address being used should be from the company email account and not from a free email service like gmail like my coordinator had.

     The rep said that they have contact information for the person who picked up the payment and that their policy is to forward all that information to the authorities.  He advised that I contact my local authorities and my state attorney general.

     Here is some more information from Western Union: Common Fraud Types and Tips to Protect Yourself

     I also contacted Djs Research Ltd via the email address listed on their website.  The managing director, Danny Smith, had this to say:

Hi Danielle, I’m really sorry about this. The survey and cheque has been sent to you by Criminals in the US who are using our company name as part of this fraud. We have reported the situation to the authorities here in the UK and I suggest you do the same in the US. Also, the UK authorities have asked me to tell any victims to contact them (Action Fraud) direct on email@actionfraud.org.uk or  +44(0) 0300-123-2040 – they might be able to do something because apparently the money gets transferred to a UK person.
 I hope this helps a little. Kind Regards, Danny
     Sadly, if Djs Research is not involved, then this means that their good name is being smeared through the mud while some unrelated con artist is making off with people's money.

     I filed a police report with my local authorities as well  The officer did point out that the check said "Keneth Simmons"- something I had failed to notice.  In all of my research, I completely overlooked that this was a personal check.

     Please, please do not fall for this scam.  From what I've read, these thieves operate under many different names and as I experienced, may not have negative feedback for all of the business names.  The checks look real and the "coordinators" sound official.  In fact, I received another one in the mail just a few days ago from a different company.  The process is different but they're asking the same things.  I may be desperate, but I'm not a fool.

     I really want to crawl in a hole because of this horrible situation but my husband and I decided that I should share this experience with everyone in an effort to possibly protect someone else from falling victim to this.



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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

jut got my letter with check in the mail. i'm glad you posted this. we learn from our mistakes and sometimes others. Sorry that you had to go through this. good luck with the job search.

Informed

anieb said...

This is one of the best posts that I’ve ever seen; you may include some more ideas in the same theme about Mystery Shopping Research. I’m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post.

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