The B.C. RCMP has declared March fraud prevention month and on that note, the Citizen is running a series of stories on the various types of fraud that can be encountered and how to protect yourself against them:
Thinking about a career as a "secret shopper?" You might want to think twice after reading what Prince George RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass has to say.
Douglass recently received a report of a local person who found a cheque in the mail for $2,500 with an accompanying letter that instructs the receiver to deposit the cheque and then send back $1,000 through a money transfer service.
The sender claims it's all in the name of being a "secret shopper" and the task is to test the services of a cheque-cashing or a money transfer company.
The letter also offers to pay $200 plus expenses for carrying through on further assignments that involve evaluating and commenting on customer service in area shops and restaurants.
The cheque is in the name of a business that actually exists. But there are telltale signs the proposal is not on the up and up - notably poor grammar in the letter, bogus email addresses and addresses that don't match the business's real location.
"It looks legitimate, they have letterhead and things like this," Douglass said. "But essentially what they do is they get [the target] to deposit the cheque and because it's some bank in Montreal, it takes awhile for the bank to find out it's not a real cheque.
"So they send their own cash back to these people because they want part of this, thinking they're going to profit, and then the cheque comes back bounced and they're out whatever they sent back."
Douglass said it's reached the point where Western Union, which provides a money transfer service, has warned customers they may be the victims of a scam before agreeing to wire the cash.
It's a variant on "cheque overpayment fraud" that involves convincing the victim to send back a portion of the cheque's amount in cash.
At its website, www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/fraud, the federal government's Competition Bureau outlines a similar scenario, except the fraudster will find someone is trying to sell a service or product online.
"They will offer you the asking price for your services or products but when you receive the cheque, it is more than the agreed amount," the Bureau says. "The 'buyer' says it's a mistake and asks you to return the balance using a money transfer service."
What should you do? Return the cheque "and simply ask the 'buyer' to send another one with the correct amount," the Bureau advises.
And as for the "secret shopper" offer, the Bureau "is unaware of any legitimate organizations using the said technique of employment. Beware when being approached to transfer money."