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December 15, 2009

Scams from the Mailbag
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:47 PM * 65 comments

Tis the season (and the economy) for folks to be desperate for money. To their rescue the scammers and spammers who offer too-good-to-be-true jobs: high pay, easy-to-do, no experience necessary, set your own hours, minimal skills required!

Let’s look at the Cash Back fraud, recently cropping up as the Secret Shopper scam. This is on beyond the “Send twenty dollars for an instruction manual and a list of companies that use Secret Shoppers” that we used to see in newspaper classifieds, on fliers stapled to telephone poles, and on cards left lying around Laundromats.

You are hired to be a Secret Shopper! The company you’re working for sends you a check for, say, $3,000. You’re to deposit this, take $200 to use for making your Secret Purchases (you get to keep them!) and another $100 for your pay, and send the rest back to the company by wire transfer (e.g. Western Union). You’re warned that you have to make the purchases and send the money back within two days of receiving the check or you’ll have to give it all back, and you’ll never be hired again!

So you do that.

Some days later, you discover that the cashier’s check you were sent was forged, and you’re liable to your bank for the whole amount. Sucks to be you.

Remember: If someone you don’t know approaches you with a job offer that you didn’t apply for, there’s a very good chance that it’s a scam. Particularly if it involves your sending money anywhere.

Yes, there really are “Secret Shopper” positions. But the way you usually get them is by first getting hired by a legitimate business, the kind that you go to every day, that has a consumer advocacy role.

So: A couple of recent examples dredged from my spam filter.

First: Inviting the question “Why is a company located in Virginia sending e-mail from Japan?”

Received: from ( [])
for 1 recipient by (Greyware Mailman 1.5.b.20090107R)
with ESMTP ID ;
Fri, 06 Nov 2009 05:08:59 -0600
Received: from (HELO ([])
by with ESMTP; 06 Nov 2009 20:05:30 +0900
Received: from User ( [])
(authenticated bits=0)
by ( with ESMTP id nA6B41ti018860;
Fri, 6 Nov 2009 20:04:11 +0900
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Mystery/Secret Shopper Position.
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 2009 03:05:22 -0800
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2600.0000
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-Exempt-Data: No
X-Exempt-IP: No
X-Envelope-From: frontdesk[]
X-Renamed-Executables: No
X-Disabled-Scripts: No
X-Spam-Identifier: [Headers]: Missing or invalid TO address

BARE International is a National Mystery Shopper Service Provider Quality, integrity, strong work ethics are our foundation to success marketing research, mystery shopping, employee development, and strategic planning.

Our goal is to partner with companies who use the program as a means to reward and recognize those people that are doing well. We like to catch people doing things right! We are located near Columbus, Ohio and we offer assignments across the country. We use shoppers that live near the location to be evaluated. We need shoppers in every part of the country, not just Central Ohio. We encourage you, as well as your friends and family, to complete an application. We are always looking for good shoppers!

We trust that you will be a part of our shopping family for a long time. We will do our best to keep you informed of upcoming projects as well as provide you with a clear, concise, and complete understanding of the assignment.

Your identity will be kept confidential. You will be paid 10% for every survey you complete and receive a bonus that can be used for transportation costs. No commitment is required or this job, your hours will be flexible. If you are interested please send this information:
Full name
Address (No P O Box)
Telephone number
Cellular number
Again, thanks for your interest. We look forward to having a professional and personal business relationship with you very soon.
Michael Bare
3251 Old Lee Highway,Ste. 203
VA 22030

An even purer version of the Cash Back scam:
Received: from ( [])
for 1 recipient by (Greyware Mailman 1.5.b.20090107R)
with SMTP ID ;
Mon, 14 Dec 2009 15:14:16 -0600
Received: (qmail 53165 invoked from network); 14 Dec 2009 21:04:20 -0000
Received: from unknown (HELO User) (recruitment@ with login)
by with SMTP; 14 Dec 2009 21:04:12 -0000
Yahoo-Newman-Property: ymail-3
Reply-To: <>
From: “Cornerstone Gallery”
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 2009 13:04:10 -0800
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2600.0000
X-Exempt-Data: No
X-Exempt-IP: No
X-Envelope-From: recruitment[]
X-Renamed-Executables: No
X-Disabled-Scripts: No
X-Spam-Identifier: [Headers]: Missing or invalid TO address

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Anthony Adams, I am the Hiring manager of Craft-Fabrics Limited. Our company Craft-Fabrics, needs representatives in the United states. We would want to know if you would like to work online from home and get paid weekly without leaving or affecting your present job? You are not required to pay any registration fee or pay for any application form before you get employed. Instead of paying for anything you will be receiving your weekly salary as soon as you get started.

To receive and process payments from clients within your region.

Currently, due to the abundance of fabrics in the USA region, we are pitching our Resource Office there besides our Head Office thats present here in the USA.

Due to the fact that our business has spread to various parts of the world with the help of the internet, we are in need of a Payment Representative in the United States to help in cordinating and handling payments, We have abundant investors in the USA, UK and Europe but sometimes have difficulties getting their investment bids across to us, Your job will entail the cashing in of investment bids from our investors, in any form they may come (Company checks, Cashiers checks or Cash) and cashing it at your bank or any designated cashing point. Whatever the form of payment is you are to immediately deduct your weekly salary (10% of the check cashed) and forward the balance to us or any of our various vendors as you are instructed to do. Our seasoned workers set up this form of employment so it doesn’t affect your day job if you have one.

In an instance whereby you cash in an investment bid for our customer, you will be entitled to 10% of the total amount you cash. For example; if you cash an investment bid of $3000, your pay on that bid will be $300, which is subject to change depending on the number of bids that you cash.

18 years or older,
Legally capable,
Ready to work 3-4 hours per week. With PC knowledge
E-mail and internet experience (minimal)

If you are interested in our offer, and would like to work for our company kindly send an email to with the below requested details:


We will never ask you for anything more than that, no bank account number, routing number, credit card, passwords, SSN # etc. If anyone asks for those on our behalf, please do not give out this info. This is to ensure your security and non-involvement in cases of identity theft. Your job is absolutely legal as our website is open to visitors. Thanks for your anticipated action. And we hope to hear back from you.

Very Respectfully,
Andrew Gibson,
Recruiting Manager,
Cornerstone Fabrics Ltd.

Darned right, “Internet experience (minimal).” Anyone with any Internet experience is going to recognize this as a scam in about half-a-second. But (as with other spam), all they need is a response rate of 0.00001% to make a killing.
Comments on Scams from the Mailbag:
#1 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:23 PM:

Is that why secret shopper spam is sent?

#2 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:27 PM:

I saw the headline and thought you'd be writing about "Cash Gifting".

#3 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:30 PM:

There are other variants on the bad-check scheme. A couple of years ago, it was a common scam in the translation industry (by which I mean, these scammers were targeting online translation job boards) and I got one.

See, the scammer is from Africa, coming to the US on business, and needs an interpreter, right? For five days' work, they'll send you a cashier's check for, say, $5000 drawn on an African bank, and you deposit it.

But, oh no, the visitor's plans have unavoidably changed, and they're only going to be able to be there for four days - could you possibly send them back $1000 of that deposit?

Well, you've already put it in the bank, haven't you? So you send it back, of course - and a week later, when the international check posting system points out that the original check was a forgery, you're left holding the bag.

Naturally, being the spammer/scammer enthusiast I am, I recognized this scam immediately. Also because the scammer said they were coming to Bloomington, Indiana on a fact-finding mission to their hospital.

I gently drew the scammer's attention to the fact that this might be plausible for a larger city, but that cut-and-paste wasn't the best approach in this particular case. Never heard from him again, of course. (And I reported him to the job board in question.)

I'm overjoyed to discover that the secret shopper thing is the same thing. Cool!

#4 ::: R. Emrys ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:52 PM:

Remember: If someone you don’t know approaches you with a job offer that you didn’t apply for, there’s a very good chance that it’s a scam.

Actually, we've been discovering that if you send out resumes in response to Craigslist ads, you'll get a certain amount of scammers trying to pass as jobs you did apply for. The original ads sound like perfectly legitimate secretarial positions, but the responses include a song and dance about how the office is closed for repairs and the employer is out of the country, but they'll hire you sight unseen to work from home for the next month. They're often very vague about the duties involved, and talk about how important trust and confidentiality are. I don't know what the next stage of the scam looks like, as they all go straight into the spam folder. I also don't know how they vary for non-secretarial ads, as that's the only type of position my wife has been applying for.

Real employers want to meet you before they hire you. Real employers either pay minimum wage for bodies in bulk, or want specific people with specific skills. Real employers do not pay top dollar to people they haven't seen in person.

#5 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:57 PM:

R. Emrys @ 4 - actually, in translation, real employers most certainly do hire you sight unseen. (Making it all the more dangerous when they're scammers...)

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:06 PM:

Maybe it's the crappy weather. Maybe it's the incipient head cold.

But right now I'm in a mood where I'd like to see people who ran scams like this publicly disemvowelled.

That is, pinned on a platform in a public place, where people can watch as large pieces of the offenders flesh in the shape of A, E, I, O and U and maybe Y should be cut from their bodies until they stop moving.

And buckets of rock salt are provided for audience participation.

This isn't a casual or harmless deception. They're targeting their scam at desperate people trying to make ends meet. They're forging financial instruments. They're ripping people off to the tune of several month's rent, or the cost of prescriptions.

#7 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:11 PM:

I haven't actually heard of this particular scam before. Very interesting.

I think my current favorite crop are the work from home ads on corrugated plastic signs that I've seen by the road here. They say that if you're not earning $20000 per month, you should call their number for exciting prospects in real estate.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd think that someone advertising a $240k per year job could afford to have signs printed instead of badly hand-written.

#8 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:17 PM:

Yet another reason why cheques need to go the way of the steam locomotive. The other day at work someone asked me why cheques take five working days to cash. My answer: "Because the coils on a time machine don't warm up over night." Back home in Germany, I had been shown a "chequebook" kept in the same curiosity drawer as the war-money with all the zeroes on it. "Wow," I thought, "people actually used those things once!" Then I move to Ireland, and here they still do.

(Not for long, as I've recently read. They're phasing out that whole system, and good riddance.)

#9 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:34 PM:

KeithS @7, we have those same signs here, but they're all written the exact same way. I haven't stopped to look at one closely, but I'm starting to think that they're actually printed in a handwriting font. The signs here mostly advertise that a real estate investor is looking for an "apprentice." Maybe they're afraid that professional-looking signs will look more like a company than a lone investing superstar who just needs an apprentice (with no experience or skills) to help them out for $20-40K a month.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:44 PM:

Stefan, #6: Personally, I'd be just as happy with Ninja Spammer Removal: "Forward us a scam e-mail, with headers, and we'll do the rest."

KeithS, #7: Around here they are screen-printed. There are a couple of guys (we can tell it's more than one because they have phone #s from different areas) who post spam signs advertising "50 SIGNS LIKE THIS FOR $99!" Actually, it may be more than $99 by now -- it was $49 a few years ago, and has been slowly creeping up ever since.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:49 PM:

I recently received a variant of the "stranded traveller" email scam.

This email, in fact:

Am in a hurry writing you this note,Just wanted to seek your help on something very important and i hope you come to my aid. Because something very terrible is happening to me now,i need a favor from you now,I had a trip here in London.Unfortunately for me all my money got stolen on my way to the hotel where i lodged along with my bag were my passport was ,And since then i have been without any money i am even owing the hotel here.

So i have limited access to emails for now,i would have called but i don't have any access to a phone at the moment,please i need you to lend me about 1250 Pounds so i can make arrangements and return back please,i have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the matter effectively, I will return the money back to you as soon as i get home, I am so confused right now.

Best regards,

I was deeply alarmed, and called his office (in Brooklyn) at once. But nobody was in. So I emailed someone else (the editor of a journal, of which the putative sender of the email is executive editor) to warn him that our mutual friend's email account had been hacked.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:51 PM:

If I recall correctly, it was the Riccardi of Luca (the guys who put the "filthy" into "lucre") who invented checks back in the 13th century.

#13 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 07:57 PM:

Fragano @ 11 -- "deeply alarmed" because your friend would, on the evidence, have had to have been concussed as well as robbed?

#14 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 08:03 PM:

caffeine @ 9 and Lee @ 10:

I obviously haven't looked too closely at them as I was driving by at the time. It does make a kind of sick sort of sense that they would be professionally done to look unprofessional.

Fragano Ledgister @ 11:

It always amazes me, although perhaps it shouldn't, that so many of these people never bother to learn the basics of English punctuation.

#15 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 08:05 PM:

Ninja Spammer Removal

There are people who spend time combatting these kinds of scammers, but it's practically impossible to get to them in the Real World(TM) so most of the damage done is in terms of wasting their time (and thus making it harder for them to spend time on real victims). Sometimes it's possible to close down their bank accounts so that they don't have access to their own money, or their fake company websites so their (paltry) effort in (bad) web design is wasted. But it's such an easy scam to run that it's like chopping off the heads of a hydra.

NB - the cheque scam (aka overpayment scam - it also occurs when you're selling something on eBay/Craigslist/etc and someone 'accidentally' sends you a cheque for more than the price asked) is a particularly nasty one because if you fall for it, you may end up yourself liable for charges of money laundering, wire fraud, and/or passing fraudulent cheques. If you or anyone you know has received a cheque in this sort of way, then you're best off shredding it, or at least writing "FAKE cheque" in a large red marker all over it, and never having contact with the scammer again. (They may threaten you but they won't actually waste their time following through; they'll be too busy looking for more pliant victims and most of the time they're on the other side of the world.)

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 08:07 PM:

Joel Polowin #13: Oh, absolutely. Not to mention the fact that he belongs to the vanishing category of British colonial, so the mention of an "embassy" was odd, to say the least.

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 08:09 PM:

KeithS #14: Not to mention grammar and syntax. I suspect that they may have a violent opposition to any form of tax.

#18 ::: MaryArrrr ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Zeborah #15: And even if you don't face charges, you can have your account closed and be put on the ChexSystems shitlist and not be able to open an account elsewhere.

There's a guy who hangs out at a store my husband does some work for. I suspect he has some sort of cognitive problems, he's on disability. He's fallen for these scams hard. He just can't understand that the nice women who've been calling him and sending him checks are actually cheating him. (The scammers do a small legit trade and then the amounts get bigger, until the victim is left deep in the hole.) Friends have tried, cops have tried, bank officials have tried. He's outraged that he's been cut out of the banking system, but I suspect it's for his own protection at this point.

Does someone have a number for these ninjas?

#19 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 09:43 PM:

R. Emrys @ 4: I've gotten two decent job sight unseen. In the one, they had a schedule screw-up with the manager and settled for a phone interview; in the other, they were going through a recruiting agency and the position was on the other side of the country, so they settled for a phone interview. That second job was one of the best jobs I've ever had, even though it was a contractor gig. I never met either the recruiter or the hiring manager in person until after I was hired and reported on-site for the job. (Still haven't met the recruiter--we did everything through phone calls and e-mail.)

However, here's the difference: I had my resume up on and was shopping it around to various agencies, and it was for a job that required pretty specific knowledge in embedded systems development and Linux system programming--not generic "any vaguely literate person can do this job and make $$$!", and the hiring company, once we got far enough along for them not to be all hush-hush about the fact that they were hiring, was a very well-known consumer electronics megacorp with a research center in Silicon Valley, not some unknown generically-named outfit in Nowheresville.

#20 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 10:14 PM:

We had a legitimate friend-of-a-friend needs cash now emergency.

we didn't -- and don't -- actually know the guy who needed the money. We knew a friend, who IMed me, saying that he wanted to use Western Union, if I recall correctly, but was having some trouble doing that from where he was in Canada to whatever suburb in Georgia his friend was in.

I passed this one on to Josh, saying, "Who do we know in Georgia?" He found someone near enough to be able to hand the guy money. I forget whether the reimbursement came first or afterward, via Western Union, PayPal, or what. And, I guess on the face of it, it was risky, but we knew we were talking in real time to a friend we knew.

Also, now that I think of it, he was clearly in touch with his friend, either via phone or IM, which was also an indication of Not a Scam.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 10:18 PM:

Plus, you were able to find someone who could do a face-to-face meeting. Scammers ... well, you'll find that their address is the second floor over a vacant lot.

#22 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 10:19 PM:

Your second example above looks like it could also be a money-laundering deal. You get checks/cash/whatever from various sources and pass the loot to a "legitimate" factoring company. Works fine until the cops start tracing the money and it leads straight to you ....

#23 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 10:27 PM:

I was nearly taken in once. It started with an email from a foreign student wanting to rent a room from me for a semester. But she sent USPS postal orders for 3 and a half times the amount rather than a cashiers check. She claimed it was a mistake and asked for a refund. I took the postal orders to the post office to cash them but they were confiscated because they were counterfeit. I gave the USPS the UPS mailer they were sent from, and they said they would investigate, but I never heard anything back. She also sent a check drawn on a small Midwestern bank the next day. That was also counterfeit. I contacted the bank and sent it back to them, again with the UPS mailer information.

I tend not to just deposit things into my bank account, partly because my bank (actually a credit union) is 400 miles away from where I currently live. That and I am naturally suspicious.

#24 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 10:57 PM:

I got an actual honest to goodness paper pyramid scam letter in the us mail yesterday. I recognized some of the wording from the Make Money Fast thing that was around the net in the late 80's early 90's.

It was so strange that I just had to read it and revel in the strangeness of it. And then I used it as kindling, so it wasn't completely worthless.

#25 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:09 PM:

Remember chain letters? I've not seen one in years.

I always wondered how chain letters knew about what had happened to people after they were sent on. "Joe and Mary Smith sent this chain letter on, and three days later they won the lottery!" Umm, how did that fact get into the letter?

#26 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:13 PM:

When I was looking for work, I ended up at a pitch for one of those multi-level-marketing groups. They're legal; you actually do purchase product and resell it. However, they are definitely skirting the lines, since the way you really make money at those things is by recruiting more people. Sorry, not interested. (And really, don't want to do that sort of thing to my friends! At least if you're in Mary Kay*, you might have some people who really like those products.)

*My sister-in-law gave me a lovely makeup kit for my wedding. Two uses later I developed a contact allergy. I actually have no allergies with department store cheapies now.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:18 PM:

Cally, #25: I think the USPS got heavily into prosecuting chain-letter fraud for a while, and that discouraged most of them. The ones that don't ask for money have now moved to e-mail; I have one friend who's terminally clueless about the sort that say something like "Forward this e-mail to 10 strong women who you know, and $GOODTHINGS will happen for you!" and sends them to me. Needless to say, I delete them -- but at least they're only wasting electrons, not paper and stamps.

#28 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:48 PM:

Wow, perfect timing - I was just getting set to post this with a note to Teresa on the open thread:

It's a technical report from the Computer Dept at Cambridge, with an analysis and taxonomy of cons and scams, some of their underlying principles, and how they apply to computer security and security system design. (The last bit is a little hand-wavey, but they have some important ideas.) One of the authors is a co-presenter of a UK show, 'The Big Hustle' which apparently demonstrates a different con game (and how you get taken by it) in each episode.

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:52 PM:

B. Durbin: They may not be technically illegal, but they are certainly scams, in the classic form of the pyramid scheme. I've been to one of their recruiting meetings, and there was cult-level psychological manipulation going on. I actually asked what proportion of the recruits had actually made over $X,000, whatever it was. The response was classic: "shocked" pause, hearty laugh, "why would anyone want to know that?" Then the friend who brought me was asked not to bring me back, because I had a "bad attitude".

They prey on the desperate, even more than the ignorant -- the victims want to believe. I've lost a couple of friends (including the one I mentioned) by trying to tell them they were being scammed.

#30 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:52 PM:

MaryArrrr@18 Some of the ninjas hang out at There's an area to pass along scam emails ( > forums > surplus letters ) but mostly it's a DIY sport, complete with important safety, legal, and ethical rules to keep the innocent and the ninjas safe while maximally confusing and de-educating the scammer (plus less important community rules about the qualifications for certain .sigfile badges).

I've taken part myself - managed to cause the closing of a couple of websites and a bundle of bank accounts, plus waste a lot of scammer time - but it got a bit addictive so for the sake of everything else in my life I had to break it off. Most of a year later I still every now and then get an email to my fake identity asking me where I am and why I haven't sent the money yet, so it's nice to know I'm still wasting scammers' time.

#31 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:54 PM:

Lee, the USPS outlawed money chain letters after the first one in 1935 nearly overloaded them. Luck chain letters are older. Interesting article here.

#32 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 12:00 AM:

I keep wanting to automate the 419 ninja thing. Sigh. So many fun things to do, so little time.

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 01:21 AM:

Odd coincidence. In this evening's e-mail:

Hello, my name is Derek Lindsay, and I am the Director of My-Data-Source INC. I would personally like to invite you to become part of our team doing work-at-home data entry. We have guided thousands of team members to success using our new type of data-entry job called Global Data Entry. Some members are currently making $300 - $2000 and more per day, using our program and guidance.

#34 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 01:56 AM:

I wish I could get a work-at-home job doing internet research for people.

#35 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 02:03 AM:

Earl, I've been trying to do that for ten years. It worked for about six, but I only had one client. When it went belly-up, so did my income.

Finding customers is hard. "With Google Alerts, why do we need you?"

#36 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 05:47 AM:

In an article in the New Yorker called The Perfect Mark, about a psychotherapist who fell for a 419 scam, a sentence sums it up neatly: Every swindle is driven by a desire for easy money; it's the one thing the swindler and the swindled have in common.

That should be expanded to "quick results", though, to cover other scams. Do all writers who fall for vanity presses expect to be bestsellers? I get the impression that most just want to say that they're real published authors. Same with the secret shoppers in the OP, the interpreting job, the multi-level marketers, the foreign student renting a room: the marks are either perfectly willing to do the work involved (and it's not necessarily easy work), or have advertised a specific need and have no reason to doubt the responses they get.

Greed for money is hardly the only driving force here. Pride (in the form of "I'm too smart to be scammed, so I'm not being scammed") plays a big part. In the wrong place and time and circumstances, this could totally happen to me.

#37 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 08:08 AM:

My earliest education in scams came from "Saint" books written by Leslie Charteris. Unfortunately the modern ones don't seem to provide such possibilities for entertaining revenge fantasies.

#38 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 08:26 AM:

I haven't seen many money scams recently, but what's been cropping up in my inbox is variations of "we're upgrading our mail servers and to keep your access you need to send us your user name and password".

All of them in hilariously bad machine-translated Norwegian and from strange email addresses.

#39 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 08:48 AM:

#37: There's one going around Facebook. It's "Facebook is planning to remove inactive accounts to save server space, so you must reregister now." And then the usual name, password, repost this everywhere, etc.

A friend of mine fell for this (that is, real friend, not Facebook "friend"). Fortunately she got warned off almost immediately and no lasting damage was done.

#40 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 08:52 AM:

(Agh, apostrophe key is sticking again. At least I didn't misspell "Nielsyn Haeden" :-) )

#41 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 09:12 AM:

The other day at work someone asked me why cheques take five working days to cash. My answer:"Because the coils on a time machine don't warm up over night."

Well, that shouldn't matter; you have, after all, got a time machine.

But good answer. There's exactly one organisation that I still have to write cheques to regularly. I've been through most of a chequebook without writing any cheques to anyone else.

#42 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 09:23 AM:

And if you really need a "anyone can do this job", at least for 2010, then Census is hiring. Really.

#43 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 09:47 AM:

Some organizations I still like to write checks to, because the alternatives are even worse. Direct debit? Nuh-uh.

#44 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 10:08 AM:

In the world of music, we regularly see the overpayment by check/money order/wire transfer scam. I receive requests to teach daily harp lessons to one or more visiting children (usually teen-age beginners) for 4 (or sometimes 12) weeks. Some sort of weird travel and housing arrangement is often involved. The same overpayment scam in relation to purchasing or renting musical instruments is sometimes part of the music lesson scam, or independent.

#45 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 10:10 AM:

Daniel Klein #8: EuroCheques used to be guaranteed by the bank up to 400 DM (or similar amounts in other countries that used them). If the cheque wasn't covered, the bank was left holding the bag. Which meant a) that unless someone knew you well and trusted you, they wouldn't accept cheques for a higher sum, and b) that if you faked a cheque, you didn't have Joe Shmoe after your hide, but the bank.

Supports Bruce Schneier's point that only if you put the risk on the people with the power to mititage it, risk will get mitigated.

I'm also pretty sure that the same scam could be run with money transfers.

#46 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 10:27 AM:


My earliest education in scams came from "Saint" books written by Leslie Charteris.

Ever read the short where a truly vile vanity press came to Simon Templar's attention? It's quite interesting and never came to mind when reading about Publish America or Atlanta Nights. It certainly never came to mind when it became clear from Atlanta Nights that it was possible for portions of manuscripts submitted to some publishers to go from files to finished book without being seen by a copyeditor or legal staff. It also never brought to mind the differences between libel law in the UK and in the USA and what might happen if a mythical "Publish UK" came into being. No, not at all.

My apologies if you can tell my favorite speech in all of Shakespeare's plays...

#47 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 10:30 AM:

(a) There are also those who are mining the job boards to hawk "franchise" opportunities

(b) I used to be an Amway distributer -- but I focused on selling product, not "selling the dream." I once had a "discussion" with someone also in Amway who simply did not understand that when he was concentrating "selling the dream" he was in the midst of a snare and a delusion. I used to do pretty well at it -- it kept the rent paid and food on the table during some long stretches of unemployment. But I really don't like sales (I like people, but not selling)

(c) In re Craigslist ads, we had an apt for rent, and put the ad into Craigslist, but the address listed said was "in the area of ...." with a mapquest marker to the landmark (the parking lot for a local municipal pond)and the\re were still people who didn't "get it" that the address to show the area was not the address of the aprtment for rent. The most surreal of that episode were the people who showed up drunk as skunks and were surprised that I didn't immedatiatly rent to them, and didn't understand why proof of income was important...

But yes, most of these scammers are preying on desperate people. It's not a matter of someone trying to make a quick and mutually dishonest buck (the usual "prey" of the con-man) but people who really are willing to work and want to be productive.

These scammers are theives, pure and simple, with no intention of ever giving value for money.

We had one set of tenants like that, and they have poisoned the well for all that come after them.

#48 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 11:48 AM:

...if a mythical "Publish UK" came into being.

There was a PublishBritannica for a while, run by the same clowns out of Frederick, MD. It died after a lawsuit from the Encyclopedia Britannica people.

#49 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 11:54 AM:

I was invited, sight unseen, to be a "secret shopper" (no investment necessary), and being very poor at the time, I accepted the offer. Unfortunately, I was invited because they wanted people in my demographic category, and as it turns out, they don't actually need people in my demographic category.

From time to time I receive alerts to upcoming jobs, but they always call for people who are not me. I suspect the company is more broad-minded than their customers, who probably think people my age are too feeble to be able to shop. Oh well.

Fortunately, I found a more or less regular job with an organization that doesn't care how old I am, as long as I do what they want me to do.

#50 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 12:05 PM:

Over the last few days, I've been pushing myself to do more job applications, get my resume out to more recruiters, etc. And so I just got my third "invitation" to consider a career change to financial counselling, based on my resume being added to someone's sysetm. "[...] Although your background and experience is somewhat different than you might think is appropriate for the financial planning business, our Division Director is interested in speaking with you about this opportunity."

I did a bit of digging on "Investors Group" the last time one of their "recruiters" contacted me. The gist of the system is that one invests several months and lots of money in their training, in order to become one of their "independent consultants" -- with no commitment on their part, no benefits other than being able to join their group insurance plan, commission-only. They don't tell you that up front, of course, only after you've been through several screening interviews.

#51 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 01:27 PM:

WHOIS says the second originated from an IP PI-assigned by to, which is a British hosting company. Specifically, there's an RWHOIS referral to, but traceroute puts the server in Chicago like is meant to be. Also, they both have the same abuse phone number - 001 312 913 9304. FDCServers seems to be a real hosting company (as does the other) so you might well drop them a line; a compromised, or just hired under false pretences, box in the data centre that's advertising the best deal on bandwidth on the planet could generate significant amounts of spam.

The first one, you'll note, originated with a dynamic-looking address for a RoadRunner business customer in New York State. Traceroute goes deep into RR's network and hits a wall at ( UBR is probably Unified Broadband Router, the cableguy equivalent of the bellheads' BRAS. I would think that means it's a fuxxored PC somewhere.

#52 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 01:49 PM:

I've been a secret shopper for years, but I actually got taken in by one of those "Become a Secret Shopper for ----" pop-up ads once. I went all the way to the point where they want you to commit to buying assorted junk "for examination" before I woke up and hit the Back button, but they sold my contact info anyway. D'oh!

In my experience, secret shopping is a way to wring a little extra money out of your day, now and then, under certain circumstances. When I'm sitting over a cheap fast food meal with a book, enjoying some alone time, I'm also doing a shop; when I go home and nurse my little one, I'm also sitting by the computer, entering results with one hand. The pay, IME, works out to about as much as a grocery store checker makes per hour, but the hours are very flexible. It's definitely not a way to get rich, though. The most dedicated secret shopper I know of lived in a very pedestrian-friendly city and had contracts with assorted coffee chains, fast food joints, etc., so that he could hit at least one outlet after his college classes every day. He got free food and coffee and cleared $200-$300 per month. For a college student, this was great; for anybody else, better than nothing.

OTOH, for anybody who's hurting financially right now, secret shopping is definitely better than nothing. You need to be able to get to a shop location without spending more than you can afford, since some companies reimburse for transportation and parking and some don't. You also need reliable Web access for most shops.

If you see an ad for secret shopping, the best thing to do, IMO, is Google the company name. A writeup on a business site = good; a writeup on a site dedicated to outing scams = bad. In any case, the company should always pay you, not vice versa!

I've worked for the following with good results. I'll leave the links out to avoid activating the spam alarm.

Second to None: Starbucks, also some mail carrier I can't recall because we don't have an outlet here. Pays $9 plus reimbursement for coffee. You must have a credit card.

GAPbuster: McDonald's, and a couple other companies we don't have here. Pays $10 plus reimbursement for meals, parking, etc. You must pay in cash.

Maritz Research: USPS. Yes, the Post Office uses secret shoppers. The company sends you a box of typing paper and you forward it to a specified address. Pays $14.50 plus reimbursement for postage. Must pay in cash.

IBM: IBM has been running a mail drop program for the Postal Service for years. You dump a bunch of preaddressed, pre-stamped letters into a specified mailbox at a specified time and report on the condition of the box, etc. This is the easiest secret shopping job I've ever done. Drop the letters, call an 800 number within 15 minutes, return a short form in the mail by that Friday (postage paid), and you make $15 per drop--with a ceiling number of drops per week that's somewhere higher than I could possibly do in my small town. If you're out and about frequently and you have a cell phone, this might be a good fit for you. Unfortunately, unlike the ones listed above, they don't seem to advertise by the usual channels; instead, they send out mass mailings looking for new droppers.

#53 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 03:32 PM:

On a vaguely related topic, I got a "happy birthday" message yesterday on LJ. I saw the notification in my inbox. My heart sunk a couple of inches when I didn't recognize the name. Sure enough, it was attached to an ancient post that had gotten a lot of comments.

Comment spam. For my birthday. Thrillsville.

#54 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 03:34 PM:

@36 Only some rely on greed or pride. The overpayment scam actually relies on the victim being *honest and ungreedy* enough to return the 'overpaid' money. Charity scams appeal at least partly to altruism; dying-man scams and "help me escape my evil relatives to get a better life in your country" scams appeal at least partly to pity. Job scams appeal to people who've lost their jobs and need to feed their family.

The only thing they all rely on is the investment principle: the more time and money you've put into something, the more convinced you'll be that it's the real deal, and that's just human psychology.

#55 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 03:38 PM:

The different classes of checks aren't well understood by most people (including me). Especially "certified" vs. "cashier's". And then I've been offered "bank checks", no idea what those pretend to mean.

However, I hope I could get a definite answer from a teller when presenting a check for deposit. I know checks take time to clear, the amount varying, and that until it has cleared (at least) the money isn't safe.

Paypal used to be the solution to paying debts to friends without using checks (or cash; I'm not much in to carrying and using cash), but now I pay a percentage on each transaction, so a check is a much better alternative.

#56 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Ooh, another one just came in, based on my resume appearing on a different site. "Medium Group Inc." is looking for agents, salary + commission, for "escrow services for buyers and sellers". Based on a quick google search, they appear to be doing money laundering.

#57 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 04:39 PM:

One of the more noxious types of emails you get these days when you post your resume on job-hunting sites consists of lists of "job opportunities" put together by oh-so-helpful "recruiters." Each one has a link with a very long redirect URL, so I haven't clicked on one to see where it goes. Those get marked as spam.

Don't get me started on some of the incredibly badly written emails I've seen from real recruiters. At least they don't try to send you to malware/spam sites.

#58 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 05:04 PM:

KeithS @ 7, my favorite was the sign for some work-at-home deal that offered lots of money and then said "Don't believe? Don't call."

"No problem," I said.

David Dyer-Bennett @ 55: People have been arrested for attempting to deposit checks that turned out to be fraudulent (see article, and Consumerist article). In the first case, the victim of the scam showed the check to the teller and asked if it was legit. He was told yes. When he endorsed and deposited it, it tripped a fraud alert and he was arrested and jailed. In the second case, the scam victim just attempted to cash the check, and was arrested and jailed. In the first case, charges were eventually dropped; in the second case, I can't find information about what eventually happened with the charges.

IANAL, but it looks like at least in the U.S., you could get in legal trouble for attempting to deposit a fake check even if you didn't know it was fake. Asking a bank teller if the check is legit doesn't accomplish much. You're still responsible if it turns out to be fake.

#59 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 06:58 PM:

So, what's the stop a less scrupulous individual from, say, pulling the following scam of their own:

1) Accepting the $3k check from the original scammer.

2) Cashing it at a payday loan check-cashing place (something of a scam in itself, no?.

3) Walking away with cash and letting them deal with the problem when they try to cash the check.

Or am I grossly misunderstanding the way some of this works?

#60 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 07:23 PM:

@55 The money isn't even safe when the cheque's supposedly "cleared". IIRC there's some regulation or law that banks have to clear cheques (ie make the money available to you) within 5 working days or some such; but if the cheque has come from somewhere obscure or overseas then it can take longer for the bank to discover it's invalid. And then you're liable for repaying the money to the bank.

#61 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 08:10 PM:

#59 Jason

First, it's seriously illegal.

Second, you'd have to create a bunch of high-quality fake ID for yourself, and get a post box in that name for them to send the check to, also illegal.

Third, the P*yd*y L**n people have probably already though of, have safeguards against, and have guys named Luigi to break the kneecaps of, people passing them bad checks.

Fourth, if you wanted to do that, wouldn't it be simpler to just print off a phony check on your laser printer and cut out an entire step of the process?

#62 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2009, 09:08 PM:

Pendrift @36 -- not all scams work on the basis of trying to make easy money. There's a whole class that are based on preying on kindly people ("Help I'm stranded in a foreign country and I need you to send me $1250 so I can get my stuff out of hock" from a forged e-address of a friend, for esample). Claiming that all scams are about greed is a subtle form of blaming the victim -- many, indeed, are about greed, but not all. (And as Zeborah @54 points out, the overpayment scams aren't greed-based at all,)

#63 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2009, 03:04 AM:

Jenny @ 52: "In my experience, secret shopping is a way to wring a little extra money out of your day, now and then, under certain circumstances."

Exactly. My spouse has been doing "secret shopper" gigs for the last decade or more, as a contractor for a variety of firms. Representative examples range from buying a hamburger combo at a designated outlet of a certain well-known chain which uses a "golden arches" logo (reimbursement typically cost plus USD 5 or so), to the kind of establishment where dinner for two (including bottle of wine) typically costs upwards of USD 100, and the maximum reimbursement is closer to USD 70 or 80.

Another example: This Friday, she and I are going to see the first showing of Avatar. For reporting on a whole bunch of very specific details about the theater's displays, pre-feature trailers, etc, she gets reimbursed for the cost of her ticket, plus an additional USD 10 or so. (My ticket isn't covered; this is officially a solo gig.) Net cost for the two of us: approximately zero, for a film we would have made a point of seeing anyway.

In most cases, over the long run, it's NOT a way to actually make any meaningful amount of money. This can, however, be a great way of getting reimbursed (anywhere from slightly-more-than to almost-as-much-as) for the kind of expenditures you either: (a) would make anyway, or (b) enjoy, but couldn't afford without this kind of help. Also, if you keep track of (deductible) mileage and other expenses, and are careful about distinguishing expense reimbursement from other payment for your services, it's possible to get paid/reimbursed at a gross yearly level that is much higher than the net taxable addition to your reportable income.

#64 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2009, 02:03 PM:

@Leroy F. Berven #63: Yes. I know of only three secret shopping gigs, out of hundreds, that are simply work-for-pay instead of something-nice-for-cheap-or-possibly-free-plus-a-few-bucks; they come with restrictions on how often you can do them in order to preserve your anonymity, so the ceiling profit on any of them is probably a few hundred dollars US per month. The first two are the USPS contracts I already have; either you mail a dummy package and receive reimbursement plus pay, or you drop a bunch of envelopes in a mailbox at no cost to yourself and receive pay plus reimbursement for reporting expenses if any. The third is a gig for a grocery store chain. Somebody whose judgment I trust recommended it to me (she was moving), but it involved flying to the mainland for training, which wasn't feasible at the time. Basically you just go shopping as usual, except that you do your weekly shopping run on a certain date between certain hours and visit a certain department in the store to assess staff performance. You pay for your own groceries, but you also get paid by the hour. If anybody's interested, the store chain is Safeway and the secret shoppers are hired as employees, not contractors. The quality assessment division is operated under a separate name that I don't recall, but Google should help.

OTOH, if you know of somebody who is living so close to the bone that they can't have protein every day, suggest secret shopping for GAPbuster or some other outfit that contracts with greasy meaty food vendors. Eating in provides a free burger and fries and a Hi-C, provided that the shopper can scrape up the cash up front, while a drive-through job can yield (for example) one of those Angus burgers with a third of a pound of beef, a slice of cheese, and a bunch of mushrooms in it. Again, though, you have to have the cash and be able to wait six weeks to get it back along with your pay. And you have to live close enough to the location to make shopping there feasible. I think the ideal location for somebody who is looking for free food would be within walking distance of one of those shopping complexes that has a ton of franchises dotted around a sea of parking, or else a large enclosed mall.

#65 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Forgot to add that it's possible to parlay a one-time $10 loan or windfall into a free meal every week, in the right shopping area.

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