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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Anatomy of a Scam Mystery Shopping Email

Wikipedia's definition of mystery shopping is a method used externally by market research companies or watchdog organizations, or internally by companies themselves, to measure quality of service, or compliance with regulation, or to gather specific information about products and services. In other words, you can think of it as getting paid to shop, but, with a different purpose. Instead of shopping to get the best deal or for some needed clothing, as a mystery shopper, you need to evaluate the store and the transaction.

Because of the thought of getting something for nothing, or even to get paid to get something you might need, the field of mystery shopping is ripe for people trying to scam you out of your money with offers to do it. To become a mystery shopper, you apply at a market research company. There is no fee to apply. There is no fee to get an assignment. In almost all cases, you will not be approached by the marketing company, but must be proactive and approach the market research companies. Getting an email from a company claiming to offer you the chance to be paid to do a shop that sounds too good to be true should be a big red flag. Here are some pointers to help you identify this type of email, based upon a real email I recently received. You can use these techniques to identify scam emails not related to mystery shopping, too.


First, look at the header of the message. The header is the part of the message which states who the message is from, where it is going, and what is its subject.
Reply-To: angela.mero@aboutfacecorps.awsapps.com
From: Angela Mero <7nxzdlir0l@seoshnek.had.su>
Subject: Aboutfacecorp: mystery shops (retail...
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
There are big red flags here that immediately make me question the email. First, the from address is 7nxzdlir0l@seoshnek.had.su. Rarely, will a legitimate email come from an address that is not something like somename@companyname.com. Since the subject of the message includes Aboutfacecorp, which is close in name to a legitimate mystery shopping company, one would think the mail should come from an email address like angela.mero@aboutfacecorp.com. The trailing .su part of the email address means the email comes from the now-defunct Soviet Union. (There is a list of Internet top-level domains that include a mapping of these two letter codes to countries.) A US-based company would not be sending an email from there. The Reply-To email looks closer to a valid email address for Angela, but notice that the part after the @ is aboutfacecorps.awsapps.com. That means the email did not come from the aboutfacecorps.com that I previously mentioned but instead goes to a company with a domain name of awsapps.com, where aboutfacecorps was part of that. Just because aboutfacecorps is in part of the email address doesn't automatically make the email address valid. That piece must be in the furthest right part of the address. Specifically, the email address ending after the @ should look like @aboutfacecorp.com. Always look for the whole email address to make sense. The 7nxzdlir0l before the @ should also be a red flag. Again, if a company wants a relationship with you, their employees are going to have email addresses that people are going to be able to remember, not random gibberish.

The remaining two parts of the header are the To: field and the Subject:. The To: field actually looks fine here. The sender hid the email addresses of everyone they sent the message to. Sometimes, you might see a long list of email addresses for people that you don't know in the To: field. That is poor email etiquette, exposing all the email addresses to everyone getting the email message. Instead, use the BCC: field, which stands for Blind Carbon Copy, whose values are hidden at the receiving end. The subject of the email should also raise a red flag, or at least a yellow one. The email address of the company is @aboutfacecorp.com, but the company goes by the name AboutFace. Even if you don't know the company name, you should still expect the Corp part of the name to be a different word.
While the header part of the message contains the fields like To: and From:, the rest of the message is called the message body. If the problems in the header didn't convince you already, there are numerous red flags in the message body that should raise concerns, too.
Aboutface Corp. has been contracted to conduct a Retail Store Customer Service Survey! your city was also selected for the exercise.
Here, they did better with the company name, but the second sentence has a problem. The first letter isn't capitalized. Sure, we all make mistakes sometimes. More often than not, spammers make spelling and grammatical mistakes in their emails. Taken in the context of all the other problems with the message, that little typo is another thing that should make you question the validity of the message. Oh yeah, how did they know what my city is? If you haven't previously registered with the mystery shopping company, they have no clue where you live, or more importantly to them, where you can mystery shop.
You are required to purchase an |Ebay |Gift-Card| ($200) at any | CVS | Walgreens | Kroger | 7-Eleven | Rite-Aid | close to you.
Still not convinced the email is from a spammer? What's with all the | characters here? That | character is called a pipe character. You can't just replace commas with |s and add them at other random places. While buying a gift card might be a legitimate reason for a mystery shop, having to get a $200 one, that you later find out you get to keep, is just so wrong. The company that hired Aboutface to find mystery shoppers wants to minimize their costs. Something closer to $25 might be more reasonable. Another reason but not necessarily a red flag is the list of stores. If they know where I live, they know the stores near me and shouldn't include any places that aren't near me. And... it is eBay, not Ebay.
While at the store you are to observe the following;
• Quality of service
• Response time
• Availability of item
These are valid reasons to do a mystery shop. No red flags here.
Your scope will include images of card display rack, images of gift-card, receipt and submit your report.
I hope this part is obvious. If you have to submit an image of the gift card, that means they would have the codes to use the gift card. The grammar here is also atrocious.
- Shopper fee|  $30
- Total refund| $230 ($230 for every $200 card purchased)
If you're doing a mystery shop and get to keep what you're shopping for, especially if the value is $200, keeping the item is your fee. More often then not, you're not going to get to keep an item and get a fee, too.
NOTE:
• Number of cards allowed: Between 1 to 3
• Number of stores you can visit: 4
• Number of allowed purchase per store: 2 cards per store
The next section highlights how many cards you can get and how many stores you can visit. If I'm reading this right, you can visit four different stores to find eBay gift cards. From each of the four stores, you can get up to two gift cards, but you can't buy more than three in total, and you must end up with at least one. In dollar value, that means you can have between $200 and $600 in gift cards. When you realize the dollar amount, it makes you think something like, "gee I really hope this is real," and forget about those thoughts of it being a scam email.
Refunds will be made 2 to 3days after report submission.
This next one is a tricky one that most people won't pick up on. Oh, and ignoring the "3days" without the space. You are never paid on submitting a report. You are paid on acceptance of it. If there are deficiencies in your description of the transaction, you will get it back, multiple times potentially. So payment on report submission is also just wrong. Two to three days to get reimbursed for a mystery shop is also quick. Typically, you would be reimbursed after the company that hired you was paid. So, expect a check in maybe 30-60 days. And... the company more than likely will write checks for all their shoppers on the same day, not everyone's two-to-three days later.
please reply with the following, detailed guidelines will be sent on reply.
* Full name
* Phone number
* Location of Interest (You may self-select between 1 to 3 stores around you )
* Date of planned visits
  
Due Date  -  22nd September 2019
Angela Mero
Scheduler

|Aboutface Corp.|
5579B Chamblee Dunwoody Road,
Suite 204 Atlanta,
GA 30338
The rest of the email is fine. You can even lookup the company address and see it actually matches. Well, the suite number is written as 5579-B, and Atlanta really should start on its own line. Again, sloppy little things like this should raise red flags with any questionable email.

Mystery shopping is a real thing. You can't make a living at it, but you can get the occasional free lunch, car wash, groceries, or boat ride, to name a few. If you ever get an unsolicited email offering you a free way to make money, it will be a very rare occurrence for the email to be legitimate. Learn ways to identify which ones are scams (all of them, typically), and you'll be able to hold on to all your money. They usually are just a little different of the same pattern of deceit.


There is a twist to this email that I've seen, too, that I feel I should mention. Instead of asking you to buy a gift card that they can then use when you send them the numbers on it, they're asking you to cash a check for them to test a local bank. They send you a cashier's check for say $225. You cash the check at your bank and get the $225. You send $200 to them, letting you keep the $25 fee. What's wrong with that scenario? A couple of days later the bank will call you and tell you that the check was bad and take the $225 out of your bank account. If your balance is low, this could cause overdraft fees and all kinds of troubles.

Well, hopefully, this blog post helps you to not fall for their tricks to get your money. If you truly are interested in becoming a mystery shopper, AboutFace is a real place, and you can apply there. This post is not a paid endorsement of them. They aren't the only place where you can apply to be a mystery shopper. To find the "right" place for you to apply, search for what company provides your favorite chain restaurant with its mystery shoppers and apply there. Mystery dining is a great way to get started. You do need excellent writing skills and be very detail-oriented. If your short term memory is horrible, like for remembering names or knowing if the waitress gave the correct introduction with upsell offering, you're probably out of luck. You can't take notes, except for when you do the bathroom inspection.

Below is the full contents of the email body.

Aboutface Corp. has been contracted to conduct a Retail Store Customer Service Survey! your city was also selected for the exercise.
Requirements
You are required to purchase an |Ebay |Gift-Card| ($200) at any | CVS | Walgreens | Kroger | 7-Eleven | Rite-Aid | close to you.

While at the store you are to observe the following;
• Quality of service
• Response time
• Availability of item

Your scope will include images of card display rack, images of gift-card, receipt and submit your report.

- Shopper fee| $30
- Total refund| $230 ($230 for every $200 card purchased)
NOTE:
• Number of cards allowed: Between 1 to 3
• Number of stores you can visit: 4
• Number of allowed purchase per store: 2 cards per store
Refunds will be made 2 to 3days after report submission.

please reply with the following, detailed guidelines will be sent on reply.

* Full name
* Phone number
* Location of Interest (You may self-select between 1 to 3 stores around you )
* Date of planned visits
Due Date - 22nd September 2019
Angela Mero
Scheduler

|Aboutface Corp.|
5579B Chamblee Dunwoody Road,
Suite 204 Atlanta,
GA 30338

*Read my Disclosure

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