After a report from one Vanderburgh County resident who "lost over a thousand of dollars" in a Secret Shopper scam, the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office (VCSO) is giving everyone a heads up to be on the lookout.

According to the Sheriff's Office, potential victims will receive a packet in the mail that includes a letter telling the victim they've been selected to participate in the program (see the letter here) along with a check for $1,980. The "certified check" is to be deposited or cashed immediately so you can get to work as a "Mystery Shopper." After deducting your pay for participating ($330), you're instructed to "visit any store of your choice" and make a purchase of $50 with the bonus that anything you buy is yours to keep.

The remaining money is to be used to purchase iTunes and Amazon gift cards. The purpose of which, according to the letter, is to help them "counter growing customer complaints and license expansion problems," whatever that even means. After purchasing the gift cards, you're asked to fill out a survey about your experience, then scratch off the protective layer that hides the cards code numbers, take a photo of each card, and e-mail those pictures, along with the answers to the questions to two e-mail addresses provided.

Here's how the victim gets in trouble; right off the bat, the check they cash or deposit is fraudulent. The likelihood of your bank catching right away is slim, so what happens is they try to obtain the funds from the fake company to cover their cost of giving you the money which could take up to a week according to the VCSO. Once they realize what's happened they head into your account to take their money back which leaves you high and dry. Meanwhile, the scammers are taking the numbers you photographed and draining those cards.

There are several red flags here. The first one I notice is the $50 purchase at any store of your choice. What's the point? Why not just instruct people to buy the gift cards right from the start? Secondly, in the instructions regarding the purchase of the gift cards, they ask for specific purchase amounts.

You are to purchase ITUNES cards worth $1150 and Amazon Cards worth $400 or $500...

Why would it matter how much is on the card if you're supposedly evaluating customer service?

There's also a line about receiving a $100 bonus if you complete the task within 24 hours of receiving the letter. How would this (fake) company know when you received it? The bonus is referenced again after gift card instructions quoted above, but the name "Wal-Mart" is thrown in randomly. Here's how the remainder of the line reads:

...depending on your being eligible for the bonus or not. Wal-Mart. You can buy variants/denominations of $25, $50, or a single card for $100.

Why is that there? No one's perfect, so maybe you could chalk it up to a simple typo. However, Walmart quit hyphenating their name years ago. Plus, an earlier reference to the store in the letter spells it correctly.

The point here is, if it smells like a steaming pile of garbage, it's highly likely that it is a steaming pile of garbage.

If you, or someone you know, has received a letter like this, tear it up and throw in the trash. And be sure let your relatives or friends (especially the elderly) know what's going on so they don't fall for it either. It also wouldn't hurt to the let the VCSO know too just so they can keep track of each incident. The can be reached at (812) 421-6203.

[Source: Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office]