Mortgage California Blog

Three Scams to Be Aware of and Avoid

January 9th, 2013

prevention ave and this way

Three Scams to Be Aware of and Avoid

In a prior post, we talked about what you need to do if your identity is stolen.  In today’s post, we’ll look at some common scams going around currently, and resources for learning more about them.

Scammers rely upon the natural trust of people.  A good rule of thumb is always to trust but verify.

Secret Shopper Scams

This sounds like a great idea: be paid to shop and report back on  your experience. And there are legitimate companies out there.  Unfortunately, there are many more scammer companies.

From the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

Don’t Pay to Be a Mystery Shopper

Dishonest promoters use newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are a gateway to a high-paying job with reputable companies. They often create websites where you can “register” to become a mystery shopper, but first you have to pay a fee — for information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.

It is unnecessary to pay anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The certification offered is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free, and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are listed on the internet for free. If you try to get a refund from the promoters, you will be out of luck. Either the business won’t return your phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.

Don’t Wire Money

You may have heard about people who are “hired” to be mystery shoppers, and told that their first assignment is to evaluate a money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram. The shopper receives a check with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account, withdraw the amount in cash, and wire it to a third party. The check is a fake.

By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money has posted to the account, but when the check turns out to be a fake, the person who deposited the check and wired the money will be responsible for paying back the bank.

It’s never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back.


Delivery Email Scams

You’re waiting for a package that you ordered and you get an email appearing to be from FedEx stating that they couldn’t deliver your package and to please click on a link to reschedule delivery.  Unfortunately, it’s a trap to get your personal information, or to download malware onto your computer.

From the Better Business Bureau (

Fake delivery emails: Phishing emails enter consumers’ inboxes claiming to be from reputable companies like UPS, Federal Express and others. They claim to link to tracking information, but are really just filled with phishing links designed to get the consumer’s personal information for fraud.
BBB tip: Don’t click on any links or attachments in emails until the sender of the email is confirmed as the company. Red flags include typos, grammatical mistakes and unsolicited emails from unfamiliar companies. When in doubt, call the company the email came from to verify the legitimacy.
Some email programs will show you the actual link when you  hover your mouse over it.  Often, you will be able to see it’s a completely fake domain.

Gift Card Scams

You bought or received a gift card but the number was written down by someone.  Once you buy it and activate it, they can clean it out of the funds before you can buy.

From Scambusters:

8 tips to protect yourself from a gift card scam:

  1. Don’t buy gift cards from online auction sites. Since this is a large source of gift card fraud, these cheap gift cards may well be worthless to you. Sure, some of these cards are real, but many are stolen, counterfeit or used. It’s not worth the risk.
  2. Only buy gift cards directly from the store issuing the gift card or from a secure retailer’s website — no matter how much cheaper they may be somewhere else. If you do buy a gift card online, make sure you buy it from the place that you plan to use it.
  3. Don’t buy gift cards off of publicly displayed racks in retail stores. In addition, don’t assume that because gift cards are inaccessible to the public, they are safe. After all, store employees can participate in gift card scams too.
  4. Always carefully examine both the front and back of a gift card before you buy it. If you can see a PIN number, put the card back and get a different one. If a gift card looks like it could have been tampered with, don’t buy that gift card.
  5. Always ask the store cashier to scan the gift card in front of you. This will guarantee that your card is valid when you buy it and that it reflects the balance you just charged it with. This will also protect you from crooks who exchange worthless cards for the cards you think you are buying.
  6. Always keep your receipt as a proof of purchase as long as there is money stored on the gift card. Since many retailers can track where the gift card was purchased, activated and used, if the card is stolen, some retailers will replace the card for you if you have your receipt.
  7. If possible, register your gift card at the store’s website. Although not all stores offer this option, you can uncover any misuse of your gift card sooner and report it more quickly.
  8. Finally, never, ever give your Social Security number, date of birth or any other unneeded private information when you purchase a gift card. No reputable company will ask for this info.


We hope you enjoy this series, and will keep our ear to the keyboard to find more scams to keep you informed.  Please write in the comments if you know of any  scams that our readers should beware of.

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