Mystery shopper scammed $2K, man admits to fraud on phone

A London, Ont., woman who was scammed of more than $2,000 while mystery shopping gets her 'boss' to admit to fraud. She shares her story with CBC to prevent others from being duped.
A London, Ont., woman was asked to cash bogus cheques and use the money to buy pre-paid Visas. (File Photo)

It's crime prevention week in Ontario and a London woman wants to do her part to protect people from scam artists
She is out more than $2,000 after applying to become a so-called mystery shopper.

It's one of dozens of scams police say rob people of their hard earned money every day.

Chanda is the mother of a toddler.  She came to Canada six years ago from India.

Chanda is not her real name. She fears the person who hired her knows where she lives and she fears going public with her real name will put her and her family at risk.

This summer, she was looking for a job - something she'd been working at for more than year. She felt desperate when an acquaintance suggested a mystery shopper, saying Chanda would be perfect for the job.

So, she went home and applied on line.  Within hours, she received a call from a man.

"I was really surprised.  He told me, 'you are selected for a mystery shopping job,'" Chanda recalled. "I asked him,'how did you find my name?' He said, 'what do you mean?'

"I said, 'I just applied this afternoon.' He said, 'I don't know. Your name was on the top of the file. I don't  know.  My company's one of the most renowned companies in the mystery shopping world and do you know how lucky you are to get this job? Do you know how many people could die for this job? How many people want this job?'"

Chanda said the man's name was Derek and he signed her up on a trial basis at first. But, if she did a good job, it could become permanent.

Chanda gave him her address and was told she'd start receiving cheques to her home.

That's when the first red flag appeared.

"In the job interview, he actually specifically told me do not tell anybody, neither friend, nor family that you got this mystery shopping job because it is a very secretive job and if you disclose your identity then you're not going to get the job," Chanda said.

She did tell her husband. He was skeptical at first about the whole mystery shopping job. She was kind of annoyed that he wasn't happy that she was finally working.

She was sent cheques by courier to her home.  They were for $1,295 each.

Her instructions were to deposit the cheque into her account and immediately withdraw $1,000 cash to use for shopping. 

While shopping, she was to take note of the cleanliness of the store, if staff were friendly, the displays.

Chanda says, Derek would give her very specific instructions about what to do just before going into a store. 

She recalls one stop at a gas station.

"He told me to go inside and then he told me go and ask for the Vole or Vaughn Visa card. I've never heard of it before.

There's a prepaid Visa card. [I was to] ask for four. So I went there and asked the guy where is your Visa card and can I purchase four?," Chanda said. "He was so surprised and asked 'Why do you need four - each of them at $250?'

"The Derek guy told me what to tell him. He told me he's going to ask this question. You tell him you need it for family and friends."

When Chanda left... she says, she called Derek back and he instructed her to go to a quiet place and call him back and read him the numbers on the cards.  She then mailed the cards to an out of town address.

The next day, she wired money to an out-of-town address.

That's when her husband got really suspicious. Chanda had other cheques from the company so they took them to the bank and eventually showed them to police.  At first no one could tell they were bogus.  But, a keen eye finally spotted the fraud.

"My husband showed it to his financial advisor. He's a smart guy. The moment he saw the cheque he asked my husband, 'do you know who's signature is on your cheque? Justin Trudeau's father, the prime minister, his signature.'

"The famous signature was on the cheque."

Pierre Elliott Trudeau's signature was on the cheque.

Trudeau's name wasn't printed underneath, so an observer really had to know the signature. 

At that point the gig was up. Chanda reported it to police and they launched a fraud investigation. But, she didn't immediately tell Derek that she was on to him. A part of her wanted to confront him, even catch him in the act. 

Police strongly advised her to cut all ties but she did have one more call with Derek and she pretended she didn't know the cheques were bogus.

She recorded the call.

"Derek I just wanted to tell you that when I went to the bank, my account is locked and it's showing negative balance. (inaudible) yeah ... it looks like one of the cheques bounced so I'm not sure what to do right now," the recording says, in part.

At first he tried to say he would talk to his supervisor and call her back but she pressed on and this man named Derek came clean, admitting to the fraud and telling Chanda she would not get her money back.

"This is all a fraud. This is all fake," the man named Derek says on the recording.

Police say, they get reports of one scam or another almost daily. Basically they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you have any doubt, call police and ask for advice.

Chanda certainly wishes she'd done that. She says, she feels like the banks dropped the ball. Tellers and police officers didn't notice the signature, couldn't tell her the cheques were bogus.

Her family is out more than $2,000. Chanda just wants others to be aware.

"I understand it's my fault. I do understand and I accept it," she said. "But there must be something they can do about it. I don't know what they can do.

"How many innocent people are getting scammed?  And, if one more person could be aware of this story and it could be some help to somebody.  I would be very happy."