There is no way of properly putting into words how embarrassed I am that I fell for a scam. In fact, even saying “I’m embarrassed“ would be one of the biggest understatements of 2019.
I am gutted. I am mortified. I feel ashamed, violated, and broken. Honestly the only reason I am sharing this publicly is to get the word out as much as I can so hopefully no one else falls for it. (Read about the scam I fell for below, and the scary facts I learned about banks clearing unverified checks.)
What’s ironic is a month ago, a friend of mine shared a story with me about how he was the victim of a scam. It involved a call supposedly from Tampa Electric about his business’ account being very overdue (even though his account was set up to autopay). And if he didn’t pay that day, the electricity would be shut off. So he paid. And later found out it wasn’t TECO, and he was now just another scam statistic.
When he told me this, I couldn’t understand how he could fall for it.
And now I sit here not understanding how I fell victim.
The scam I fell for all started with what seemed like a legit message on LinkedIn; an offer to make some extra PT money by being in a secret shopper program.
(LinkedIn message I received)
I know, I was skeptical too. But Secret Shopper programs do exist, so it’s kinda possible.
I decided to check out the link, expecting it to be an obvious scam. You know like those emails with typos all over or words left out, OBVIOUS scams.
But it wasn’t. The website looked completely legit.
(Screenshot of scam website)
I decided to go through with it and fill out the little bit of information requested, since it wasn’t anything private or crazy like my SSN or bank account numbers or DOB.
I was still on the skeptical side, completely expecting to get an email like mentioned above. An OBVIOUS scam.
But I didn’t.
The email I got was from Karen at SVYRSH Services, and read:
Your assignment check was posted through USPS Priority Mail and should be delivered latest by Thursday, 5th of December. Attached is your assignment guideline and feedback form. Your commission for this assignment is also stated in the assignment document. Kindly confirm receiving this email.
The assignment guidelines were to deposit the check when I received it. Once it cleared, I was to take out my commission fee. Then use the rest of the money to go to any of the stores listed and purchase gift cards, making note of the customer service and everything about the store and my experience.
I was then to fill out the form attached listing what store location I went to, and put feedback on my experience, including what the store could do better.
STILL skeptical about it, but that’s how a secret shopper program works, so ok, I’m listening.
The next day I received an overnighted check.
NOW THIS IS GETTING VERY REAL...
I deposited the check to my bank Capital One thru mobile deposit, and waited for the notification that it was a fraudulent check.
But that notification never came.
In fact, the next day all the money was made available by Capital One... not even a “you can use XXX amount of the deposit now, then the rest a few days later.”
ALL the money was available.
That means this HAS to be legit, right? I mean Capital One wouldn’t clear the check and make the money available to use if it was a scam, RIGHT?
And I’ll tell you the scary facts I learned about banks clearing unverified checks in a sec. But on with the scam...
I proceeded to go buy the gift cards, making notes of my experience. Even had a few more email communications with “Karen” about the assignment, and got cognizant and coherent replies every single time.
So it continued...
Now I was to take pics of the fronts and backs of the gift cards, with the codes displayed, and email them back with my assignment feedback attached. I was also to hold onto the gift cards because they would be used in the next assignment.
K, done. Assignment complete.
This was on a Friday.
Monday morning, my life would unravel.
(This was the check that was cleared by Capital One)
On my way to work that Monday morning, I got emails from Capital One of insufficient funds in my account. And a second email saying there was suspicious activity, and my account was being frozen.
When I logged into my account, I saw that the check had been returned for some reason, the gift card purchase amounts were now owed, and my account was locked.
My head started swirling, and here’s where my mind started getting blown.
I immediately contacted the fraud department of Capital One on one line, and on the other line contacted the fraud department of Target to report the gift cards so hopefully they could be stopped.
Capital One informed me that it looked like I was the victim of fraud. And because I willingly deposited the check and made the gift card purchases, that I was completely responsible for the money, and my accounts would be closed and I couldn’t bank with them anymore.
Side note: I have been with this bank for 10 years, with no prior issues or bounced checks.
When I brought up the fact that the only reason I had gone through with it was because they had cleared the check and made all the funds available, they informed me that:
”As a courtesy to our outstanding customers, checks are cleared on an expedited basis and funds are made available, even though the check itself hasn’t been completely verified with the issuing bank. Also, checks can be pulled back up to three years after deposit.”
Banks clear a check prior to completely verifying it with the issuing bank? How does that make any sense?? And someone can pull a check back from you for any reason for up to three years, even though it’s been cleared? Jesus.
According to Capital One, “If we didn’t clear checks and make the funds available, we wouldn’t have any customers since everyone wants their money fast. It’s a courtesy we provide.”
I thanked them for that “courtesy” that has now left me in this position, asked them where in their policies it states that checks are cleared and funds made available as a courtesy even though they’re not verified (to which I was told nowhere, it was just a courtesy), and I escalated the fraud case.
PS: was on hold with the fraud department of Target for 45 minutes because they’re “so busy this time of year, and the number of employees in that department is minimal.”
Here’s another fun fact I learned after calling The American National Bank of Texas, the issuing bank, to find out more information:
There’s no running list of known fraudulent accounts that all banks should crosscheck against. Because it would take too long (their words, not mine) to make the funds available.
Maybe it’s just me, but I would sure as hell be willing to wait an extra day or two to get my money, knowing they had completely verified it. But I guess I’m in the minority.
Come to find out, this scam has been known for FIVE YEARS by The American National Bank of Texas; the customer service rep knew exactly what it was the second I mentioned the name of the business on the check. It started when a check from that company was stolen years ago and reproduced. And the bank account on the check doesn’t even exist anymore.
I have filed an escalated fraud report with Capital One... which has been closed.
I have filed a fraud report with Target, hoping they could somehow trace where the cards were used... they are still working on the case.
I filed a police report with the Hillsborough County Sheriffs office... which has been marked inactive and closed.
I filed a report with the FBI Internet Fraud division... and have heard nothing.
So here I sit. Just another scam statistic.
I am mortified and broken.
Believe me, I am in no way shirking my responsibility. I should have never fallen for this. I thought I was smarter than that. But turns out I’m a COMPLETE IDIOT who thought that maybe this time, “it’s too good to be true” wasn’t the case.
I will tell you this...
I am beyond mind-numbed learning that banks don’t look out for their customers more.
I am beyond floored that banks don’t 100% verify deposited checks with the issuing bank prior to making all the funds available.
I am beyond dumbfounded that there isn’t a nationwide list shared between all banks of known fraudulent accounts, that is digitally crosschecked the second a check is deposited. So if there is another instance of a scam that’s been going on FOR FIVE YEARS with the same known account and business name, that it would be shut down instantly.
I am beyond thankful that this didn’t involve the bank account I set up for Tucker’s cancer fund. I honestly would not have been able to live with myself, and don’t think I would’ve ever come back from that.
But I will come back from this, just like I have with everything else 2019 viciously threw at me.
Man I hope things change soon.
Until then, all I can do is try to spread the word as much as I can of my complete and utter stupidity, and pray it helps someone not fall victim to this scam like I did.
Thanks for reading.