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Mystery Shopper scam is bold but easy to identify

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TEMPE, AZ (CBS5) -

If you are looking to make some extra money, a Mystery Shopper job sounds like fun, but it is more likely to cause you big financial trouble instead.

There are real Mystery Shopping jobs - they're offered by legitimate agencies, who have real addresses and websites that are very transparent and easy to research. But the actual number of jobs are few - and not widely available. What is widely available online are bogus Mystery Shopper opportunities that scam needy consumers out of the little cash they have.

"I'd been searching online trying to find some extra money," David Greenlief said.

Greenlief applied for a Mystery Shopper job. A few days later a package from the company arrived in the mail. Inside was a check and a set of instructions.

"They wanted me to deposit the check into my personal account, subtracting $200 as my fee, for doing this, then taking the balance of it and sending it through Western Union," Greenlief said.

Greenlief says he only received one phone call from the company. He was told to observe the appearance of the Western Union store and the friendliness of the worker completing the transaction. Greenlief says $200 for submitting a report seemed like a piece of cake, but his years as an Maricopa County Sheriff Office Deputy made him suspicious.

"No. 1, there was no company name on the check, it was completely blank in the area where there's normally a company name," Greenlief said.

Testing a money-wiring service seemed odd, too. When he delayed, Greenlief started getting text messages and emails demanding he follow the instructions he was given.

"Saying when are you going to deposit that, let me know as soon as you do," Greenlief said.

With his years in law enforcement, Greenlief figured the check was a fake and he told the company so.

"As soon as you send me a valid form of payment, I'll be glad to keep my end of the deal, and I've never heard another word," Greenlief said.

The internet is filled with these Mystery Shopper job scams. Greenlief says these crooks are trying to take advantage of people when they're down.

"People don't have any work, and they see this as an opportunity to make some money, and in the end they're the ones who are going to end up further in debt," Greenlief said.

The scam works like this:  You deposit the check, by law your bank makes the money available to you right away, you take the cash, then two weeks later the bank finds out the check is a fake, and they tell you to bring all that cash back. By then it's too late - you've already sent money to the scammer and you owe the bank every penny.

I hear from dozens of people a year who fall for this scam - don't let it happen to you. Remember, Mystery Shopper jobs are rare and no legitimate company will every ask you to test a money-wiring service as one of your assignments.

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