A Memphis woman reported to BBB this week that she had received an offer to be a secret shopper at Walmart. That in and of itself isn’t unusual. Employment scams ranked as the number one riskiest scam in BBB’s 2019 Risk Report and secret shopper job offers are quite common. However, this one had a COVID-19 twist.
The letter that arrived in Pat Woods’s mailbox via USPS Express Mail was accompanied by a check for $1980. The envelope also contained an instruction letter and an evaluation form. The letter offered work as a secret shopper to “support the COVID-19 supply chain.” PMA Auditoria, the company offering the position, said they were understaffed due to government-imposed lockdowns.
Woods was instructed to deposit the check after verifying it on verifycheckatpma.org, a phony website that was created just a few months ago and is registered in Nigeria.
After depositing the check and withdrawing the funds, Woods was instructed to go to two different Walmart stores and assess each of them on the wearing of masks by staff and how many essential items were out of stock. She was then to purchase two $400 Walmart gift cards at each store and send pictures of them to her “supervisor.”
The instructions went on to say that she should keep the cards in a safe place to use for her second assignment, which she would receive if she successfully completed her first. She was to keep the remaining $380 for her wages.
Woods said she was excited upon receiving the check, but was concerned that it might be a scam, so she contacted BBB, who told her it was. Fortunately, she didn’t fall for it. In reality, the check would have eventually bounced and Woods would be responsible for paying the bank back any funds she had withdrawn.
“We see mystery shopper scams all the time, but this one upped the ante by tying it to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Randy Hutchinson, BBB of the Mid-South president and CEO. “Crooks latch onto anything in the headlines to make their scams more believable and the headlines are nothing but coronavirus these days.”
The letter was rife with grammatical errors and overly-flowery language, which is often a red flag in these kinds of scams. It ended with a personal message from the “CEO” which said:
“With you on our team we hope to conquer the great enemy CORONA VIRUS together.”
Although this offer used “COVID-19 supply chain support,” “global epidemic,” and “lock down” in its verbiage, the scammers are simply trying to take advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding this crisis.
Better Business Bureau urges you to check out any unsolicited offer of employment, especially those related to COVID-19, at bbb.org.
Consumers should be aware of coronavirus-related scams that are emerging and changing daily. Visit bbb.org/coronavirus for up to date information on scams and fraud.
If you spot a scam, please report it to the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org/scamtracker. We’re doing our best to keep you informed. Your report will help.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2018, people turned to BBB more than 173 million times for BBB Business Profiles on nearly 5.4 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving the Mid-South, which was founded in 1948 and serves 28 counties in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas.