Secret Shopper Scam Sent to Students

Anonymous Student's texts

Anonymous Student's texts

Francis Klingenberg, Centurion Staff

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Bucks has been hit with a wave of secret shopper scams in the past year.
In this scam, an inconspicuous e-mail is sent by a random Bucks account that informs the reader about a possible job opportunity with a “premier mystery shopping company” that will pay around $600-$1200 per week.
A secret shopper is a person who partakes in a mystery shopping program to evaluate and grade a store or business for its quality of service. This scam plays on this trope.
A check is sent to the victim, and they are to cash it. Then they wire the money, or buy gift cards, and send them to the person without realizing it is a scam.
Then after the money is transferred, the bank will realize the check is fraudulent, and force the victim to repay.
Dennis McCauley, the executive director of Security and Safety, said, “I would advise students to stay away from any offer of work as a secret shopper. There is a long history of fraud associated with such offers.”
Anthony Saracino, IT Security Officer, added, “There are legitimate secret shopper/mystery shopper companies out there but they will never send out unsolicited email.”
He also mentioned that the scam has been around for a while.
One Bucks student spoke under anonymity about his experience with this scam.
“I filled in the form sometime in July, and got a response on my phone within a day,” he said, pulling out his phone. He showed three texts from David Bodin, survey coordinator for Pebble Surveys Inc.
“They sent me a welcome packet with a couple of papers and a check for $2,500” the student continued.
The check was from a person in Tuscon, Arizona – somebody unrelated to the scam. It is unknown why their name is on the check, but the student assumes it is because that person was a victim of another scam.
“The packet told me to cash the check, and to tell David as soon as possible,” the student revealed, “then I had to go to a nearby Apple store and buy $2,200 of Apple gift cards, two $1,100 gift cards specifically.”
“I was to scratch off the codes, and send David them immediately to prove I did the task,” he said.
“Luckily, I grew up with half a brain to realize something wasn’t right,” he laughed.
“I told the Warminster police about it, and they told me a cop would be around to pick it up. But nobody came around,” he said.
The business claimed to run this is “Track Market Surveys,” which reportedly “serves clients with over 5,000 shoppers available,” according to the file that is sent with these scam e-mails.
However, a website claiming to be owned by “Track Market Surveys,” reported 1200 clients a year. Having 5,000 shoppers to 1,200 clients doesn’t seem right.
The application form claimed that this company has been running for over 16 years, and that it had been working with Career Builder, LinkedIn, and other platforms.
Its clients are claimed to be Apple, Best Buy, and various others, with immediate assignments at Apple and Walmart.
The application form said, “You’re to shop secretly and discretely. During this shop you will visit the location and make several observations as regards to the customer service, from entry to exit.”
It asks for personal information like first and last name, an e-mail, occupation, phone number, address, and more.
The application form is hosted on a pharmaceutical website. Whether they are aware of it being hosted on their site is unknown.
In the past fall semester and current spring semester, there have been three separate instances of this scam reported to the Centurion.
Each time, Bucks has responded to the scam through a portal announcement, and/or a phone text informing students.
On June 11, 2018, a secret shopper e-mail was sent by Sarah Altman, and she claimed in her e-mail to represent Bucks. Bucks responded to it with an announcement on July 20, and a phone text July 23.
Altman was unable to be found on the Bucks employee directory.
On Nov. 18, 2018, another scam was sent by Joshua Thompson, and he claimed to be a part of the Job Placement & Student Services department. Bucks responded to it with an announcement on Nov. 19, 2018, and a text alert on the same day.
Thompson was also unable to be found on the employee directory.
On April 3, 2019, another e-mail was sent by Taylor Cataldo. Bucks responded to it with an e-mail and announcement the next day, April 4.
With each e-mail scam, it is imperative to inform students that it is a fraud. Some unfortunate students may not realize that and fall victim.

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