Voice of the consumer: Secret shopper left holding the bag

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - 11 News lead Call For Action investigator Katie Pelton pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

The offer sounds almost too good to be true: get paid to go shopping. Well, in most cases, it is too good to be true. There are legitimate secret shopper programs, but if someone is asking you to pay money or buy gift cards to take part, that’s a big red flag. I talked to a woman who lost a couple thousand dollars thinking she was making some extra money on the side.

“I got an email saying I’ve been selected as a secret shopper and if I would be interested in doing that,” said Shellie. “They sent me a check in the mail for $1,500 and told me to go to certain stores and purchase gift cards and check out the customer service and then write a review.”

The email came through Shellie’s work account, which is filtered for spam, so she thought it was legitimate. It sounded intriguing so she agreed to take part. Shellie deposited the check into her bank account and then went to the store to purchase the gift cards.

“Each of them were $200 and there was six gift cards,” said Shellie. “They asked me to take pictures of all of them with the receipts and the activation numbers and all of the numbers on the back, too, and then email it to them.”

After she purchased the gift cards and sent the pictures to the group, then she got another call.

“I got a call from my bank this morning telling me the check I had deposited was a counterfeit check and the money that I was spending on the gift cards was coming out of my own money and then they took what I had left,” said Shellie. “The bank told me there was nothing they could do for me since I was the one that deposited the check. I was liable for it. So then I was in the negative on my account.”

She told me she lost more than $2,000.

“It made me mad. It made me really mad,” said Shellie. “I don’t know how people live with themselves who do stuff like that.”

It didn’t stop there, the scammers reached out to her again.

“They contacted me and sent me another check and told me I had more tasks to do,” said Shellie. “I told them that it was a scam and they were like, ‘How is this a scam?’ I told them the check was counterfeit and they stopped responding.”

Once the scammers get your money, they will continue to reach out to you, so just block their number and their messages.

We heard from another viewer whose mother got a check in the mail asking her to be a mystery shopper. She fell for it and lost about $1,400. Then she got another check for $1,300 and they told her she could keep $300. They want to warn others about this ploy.

The Federal Trade Commission says becoming a mystery shopper for a legitimate company doesn’t cost you anything. Make sure to research the company, search the Internet for reviews and never wire money as part of a mystery shopping assignment.

If you’re the victim of a scam, you can reach out to our Call for Action team at 719-457-8211.

A reminder, Silver Key Senior Services is still in need of donations for their Thanksgiving food drive. You can donate to the Bountiful Bags food drive through November 6. Call Silver Key at 719-884-2313 or find more information at www.kktv.com and click on "Find It."

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.