Jonathan Akinola, Secret Shopper Scams: Everyone's Warning About Them

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What gig could be better than a "secret shopper"? Go spend someone else's money and get back at the useless sales staff who don't immediately bow to your every whim. (This is assuming, of course, that the entire idea of shopping doesn't sound like the freshest kind of hell to begin with.)

Best be wary of signing up for the job, however.

The U.S. Attorney's office today announced an eight count indictment against Jonathan Akinola of Houston for fraud in connection with a secret-shopper scam and a Craigslist scheme.

At just about the same time, New Braunfels police were warning residents not to fall for a secret-shopper scam from Canada.

Akinola, prosecutors say, would inform people they had been chosen as secret shoppers and then give them a check to deposit immeidately. Too slow and it was no go.

They were then to evaluate a Western Union location by wiring some portion of the check to him.

When, in a few days, the bank learned the check was bogus, the "secret shopper" was on the hook for the cash.

Akinola also ran a Craigslist scam, authorities say, where he ostensibly sold crap that was never delivered.

He was a busy boy, prosecutors say:

The indictment alleges that, during the course of the conspiracy, Akinola recorded false identification and Social Security number identification for at least 174 transactions totaling more than $350,000. The indictment seeks forfeiture of all proceeds derived from or facilitating the alleged violations including, but not limited to, a money judgment in the amount of $382,523.

New Braunfels police also put out a warning today, saying a resident had been victimized by a secret-shopper scam similar to Akinola's alleged one.

Their description of the scheme:

The correspondence packet will generally include a letter stating that the recipient has been selected to become an employee of the company and can make money by working from home. The packet will include a cashier's check for a large amount of money, typically a few thousand dollars, and an assignment to make several purchases at certain retail stores. The "assignment" explains that the "shopper" is to cash the enclosed check and keep a few hundred dollars as payment for his/her services. The "shopper" is then to make several purchases typically in the amount of $100.00 each at the listed retail stores.

The "shopper" is also instructed to purchase several Money Grams in specified amounts with the remaining amount of the check, less the cost of the wire transfer. The correspondence will typically include a Canadian or European address of where to send the Money Grams. The letter will typically stress that the "shopper" complete the task within two days or he/she will not be paid and will not be hired again. The packet will also typically include a customer service review form that the "shopper" is instructed to fill out after visiting each retail store. This form gives the appearance that the assignment is valid and is of value to the con artist.

The pressure to cash the check and ship the monies within two days is meant to keep the "shopper" from discovering that the check is either counterfeit or that a "stop payment" has been placed on the check by the account holder until it is too late

So, to sum up -- secret shopping: Be careful out there.

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