‘Secret shopper’ scam hits the Piedmont; teen almost falls victim

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – It’s a teenager’s dream: Shopping and cold hard cash.

“I'm 17 years old and I have over $1,000 in my hand,” said Amber Garcia. “I was so happy.”

Last month, the Greensboro high school senior was flying high after being offered a secret shopper job by email.

No social security number required; just name, address and birthday.

“I opened up the envelop and there was a letter inside of it,” said Garcia. “It had my assignment.”

Also inside was a $1,550 cashier’s check.

“So naturally I was like, ‘Oh my Gosh. What am I going to do with all of this money?’” said Garcia.

After cashing the check, no problems, Garcia was to keep $200 as payment then go to Wal-Mart, spend $20, evaluate the customer service and report back.

“Just fill this [form] out and you'll be good,” said Garcia.

But that wasn’t it.

“We never heard of MoneyGram and they wanted us to wire $1,330 to them,” said Garcia. “They said the MoneyGram service had been reported for slow business, lost money,” said Garcia.

Her boss wanted to see how long it would take to receive the remaining money from the cashier's check.

“At least that’s what I thought,” said Garcia.

It wasn’t until Amber and her mother began filling out the paperwork inside MoneyGram, and saw a fraud warning, that it all clicked; she was being used as a pawn.

“It said, whoa! This could be fraud if you're assigned to do this as a mystery shopper. That is what caught us and we're like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Garcia.

The Federal Trade Commission says don’t be fooled by the secret shopper scam.

“I was like, OK, we can’t do this!” said Garcia. “We have to back out.”

The check Amber cashed was fraudulent.

The FTC says it may take weeks for a bank to uncover a fake check, but once it is discovered, the person who cashed the check is on the hook.

“It makes me mad, like what goes through their mind?” said Garcia. “I understand it`s greed, like you want that money but you can work for it. We work for it. You don`t have to use other people.”

Greensboro police tell FOX8 that Garcia could only be charged with a crime if she cashed the check knowing it was a scam. Her mother says they didn’t have to fill out a police report since no cash was wired.

A spokeswoman for MoneyGram says it’s a fairly common scam and that money should never be wired to strangers.

Amber says she’s since returned all of the cash to the bank and turned over what little information she had about the con-artists to authorities.

We were unable to get in touch with those who mailed Amber the cashier’s check and secret shopper instructions from Pennsylvania . No phone number was provided.

Garcia says her family’s close call should serve as a warning to others.

“If it sounds too good to be true,” said Garcia. “Then it definitely is.”

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