By Christina Hager

HOLLISTON (CBS) – Imagine getting paid to shop? Lisa Zais made extra cash checking up on companies as a mystery shopper years ago, so when she heard from someone saying he was a manager at one of her favorite stores, Whole Foods, she went for it.

She read one of the texts out loud to WBZ’s I-Team. “You will get $400 for each endeavor.”

Weeks after she replied, she got a package in the mail. “And there was a check for $2,450.”

The check was from California Bear Credit Union. “Checked them out online. It was a real bank,” said Zais. “I took out cash, which was mistake number one.”

Lisa Zais shows a series of texts with the scammer. (WBZ-TV)

If she did it fast, the texter wrote, she’d get a $150 bonus. Her first assignment was to buy a bunch of eBay gift cards. “I knocked it out, went to two CVS’s, Walgreens,” said Zais.

Then the texter told her to scratch them. “They just had me text all these numbers to them.”

By the next assignment, she was suspicious. “They said go buy checks at OfficeMax.”

She did, then texted back. “I wrote, ‘Want to make sure this is legitimate. You can’t blame me.’… I was up all night. I called the bank first thing in the morning, and you know, fraud.”

Lisa was out nearly $2,500.

The police report says, “the balance on each card she purchased had been used.” The return address on the envelope the check arrived in goes back to the Mission District of San Francisco. When the I-Team called, emailed and texted, there was no response.

Lisa Zais, of Holliston, said a secret shopper scam cost her $2,500. (WBZ-TV)

“Gift cards can be great at Christmas but evil when they’re connected to a scam,” said consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky, who does mystery shopping on a regular basis. He said the biggest red flag should have been the check.

“A check in advance is highly, highly unusual,” he said. “It’s just not the way these companies work.” He said they always do business by email, and a series of texts like Zais got would be highly unusual.

“A lesson learned,” said Zais. “Hopefully by me talking about this with you today, that it will save someone else.”

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has had a half dozen complaints about secret shopper scams. The Federal Trade Commission said in its first nine months of 2019, it heard from nearly 19,000 people nationwide who say they were ripped off by scammers offering jobs.

Christina Hager

  1. Mystery shopper scams are very popular because they work. You may even get provisional credit for the counterfeit check when you first deposit it, but once the check bounces, the credit is removed from your account and the money you sent to the scammers is gone forever.Check out for more information about mystery shoppers.

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