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Target mystery shopper email offering gift card is a scam: Money Matters

September 23, 2018

Target mystery shopper email offering gift card is a scam: Money Matters

Q: A few days ago, I received an email in my “junk email” folder that appeared to be from Target -- specifically from the email address “careers@target.com.” Microsoft’s Outlook allows me to view the message without actually opening the email.

Good thing because this was definitely a scam. The message offers you the opportunity to be a mistery shopper (note the incorrect spelling) at any Target store. You can purchase anything you want, then share your experience by clicking on the link in the email. As a reward, you’ll receive a $400 Target gift card! They sent me a link to a website to “sign up” for my gift card.

Just thought I’d share this with you and other consumers.

C.I., Rocky River

A: Thanks for passing this along. Target spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said the Minnesota-based retailer is going to investigate the email you received.

These sorts of “mystery shopper” scams happen all of the time. We may see more of these as the holiday shopping season approaches. In some cases, people allow their greed and giddiness over a gift card to cloud their judgment.

Think about it: A retailer isn’t going to pay someone $400 to go buy a $10 mop or whatever and then write a review of their shopping experience.

This email of course didn’t come from Target. The con-artist was impersonating Target’s email address for job inquiries. The underlying email address was different.

Interestingly, the website link you were sent has nothing to do with Target, but belongs to what appears to be a reputable but small graphic design business. It seems the company’s website was hacked and the bad guys created a new page where would-be mystery shoppers provide their information. This happens all of the time when small businesses don’t keep up their websites’ security plug-ins.

More than likely, the email you received is is an attempt to steal someone’s personal information or infect their computer with a virus. Or the would-be shopper is told she has to pay a fee to register as a mystery shopper or get a list of job opportunities. Wrong answer.

In this case, the form asks for the applicant’s mailing address, as well as his or her email and cellphone number. With some mystery shopper scams, the bad guy sends the victim a check to be deposited in the victim’s bank. The victim may be told his first assignment is to evaluate a money-wiring company such as Western Union or MoneyGram. The victim is told to wire money to a particular person, using the money from the deposited check.

Or the victim is told that some of the money is payment. The rest of the money may be to pay for merchandise from another party who is in on the caper.

It could take days or weeks for the bank to discover the check is fraudulent, and the victim is out the money.

Q: I laugh every time you tell people they shouldn’t answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. You really should be advocating for legislative change that would outlaw this activity. But no, you say I should just not answer. What if I miss a call about my husband’s medical care, my business, my real bank? Just let the answering machine answer it?

Noooo, you believe that the robo people come above my rights to have a phone, which is reliable, and be on a real do-not-call list. Get real and help the readers of this paper mobilize for a fix to a real problem.

D.Z., Rocky River

A: I tell people to try to avoid answering phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize because that’s what regulators and consumer advocates say. And it makes sense.

I do advocate for new technology and other solutions that will help ease this horrific problem. Legislative change isn’t going to cut it because, guess what, robocalls are already illegal. It’s also already illegal to place sales calls to numbers on the Do Not Call list.

How are these two existing laws working for all of us? Legitimate businesses generally adhere to them. Illegitimate ones don’t and don’t care.

The robocall problem has snowballed because internet-powered calling systems allow the bad guys to make calls from anywhere in the world, often out of the reach of U.S. regulators who try to enforce existing laws.

I encourage people not to answer unexpected calls or calls from unknown numbers because robocalls lead to $9.5 billion in fraud every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you don’t answer, you won’t get defrauded.

You probably don’t answer your phone when you’re in the shower or in church or sleeping. And yet the world goes on. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message.

I also urge consumers to use robocall blocking services or products if it’s available. Nomorobo is free for landlines and available from most major carriers.

Of course regulators are trying to combat the problem. The FTC has filed more than 100 lawsuits against more than 800 individuals and companies that have made billions of illegal robocalls or violated the Do Not Call list.

The FTC also is working with phone companies to try and fight caller ID spoofing that is often worse than a regular robocall, if a thief is impersonating the phone number of a bank or hospital or local police department or the IRS.

What’s helpful to the FTC’s efforts against robocallers is when consumers file complaints and provide phone numbers of violators, when possible. The FTC got about 500,000 complaints about robocalls last month.

Was yours one of them?

To submit a complaint to the FTC, go to complaints.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.

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