Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Job Scam #2: Mystery Shopper/MoneyGram

I received 5000+ hits on this blog because I posted about my nanny scam experience (see: this blog post). It was linked by the NY Times, which was obviously the source of most of my traffic. Yay for me. In another round of job applications, I was subject to another scam. Here is my story.

I was applying to jobs for which I seemed qualified that were part-time and clerical/administratively-oriented, in an attempt to get out of retail hell. My standard application - a response to a craigslist ad - included a brief cover letter explaining that I am a graduate student seeking part-time employment and my attached resume (which, as all resumes do, has my phone number and address). I received a few responses (even 2 interviews) and this very interesting email:

From: assignments@evaluationsservice.com
Sent: January 29

We get hired to go to other peoples companies and act like customers in order to know how the staffs are handling their services in relation to their customers. Once we have a contract to do so, you would be directed to the company or outlet, and you would be given the funds you need to do the job(either purchase products or required services), after which you would write a comment on the staffs activities and give a detailed record of your experience.

Most companies employ our assistance when people give complains about their services, or when they feel there are needs for them to improve their customer service. your Identity would be kept confidential stored in our data as the job state (secret customer) you would be paid $200 for every duty you carry out, and bonus on your transportation allowance, and funds would be given to you as well as compensation when necessary, if you have to dine as part of the duty Your job will be to evaluate and comment on customer service in a wide variety of shops, stores, restaurant and services in your area.

You will write a report about the customer services, you will send your report back to us via Email, you will have to use the following pointers to prepare your report as listed below:

1) How long it took you to get services.
2) Ambiance/Outlook of the Shop/Outlet
3) Smartness of the attendant
4) Customer service professionalism
5) Reaction of personnel under pressure
6) Information that you think would be helpful
7) Your comments and impressions.

No commitment is made on this job, and you would have flexible hours as it suits you. If you are interested, do send in these information:


So we can look at your distance from the locations which you have to put your service into, and your address would also be needed for your payments.

Yours Sincerely
Walter Collins

There are no alternations to that email. Besides the fact that there is no greeting, the entire thing sounds sketchy. But... since they weren't asking for any information that wasn't already on my resume, besides my age, I figured I'd bite.

I responded with this sentence opening my email: "I am interested, though I have heard mixed things about "mystery shopper" companies."

I received this in response:

From: assignments@evaluationsservice.com
Sent: February 18

Hello ,
         Sorry for the late response, you have been Accepted as one of our Conducting Agent. You will be evaluatinMoneyGram which is at Wal-Mart Stores in your neighborhood, kindly check out for one Wal-Mart store you will like to evaluate , make sure the store you will chose is close to your area as much as possible, you will have to send the name and address of the walmart, Please note that you are to act Cool, Calm and Confident through out the period which you will be carrying out your survey at the store, in order not to arouse any suspicion. you will be shopping at Wal-Mart stores and also make a transaction at MoneyGram which is at Wal-Mart as well , you will write a report about the customer services , you will send your report back to us via Email, you will have to use the following pointers to prepare your report :

1) How long it took you to get services.
2)Ambiance/Outlook  of the Shop/Outlet
3) Smartness of the attendant
4)Customer service professionalism
5)Reaction of personnel under pressure
6)Information that you think would be helpful
7)Your comments and impre ssions.

Payments will be mailed out to you, which you will expend in carrying out all that will be required of you including your compensation and Transportation fee. All Other Instructions will be sent out to you as soon as Evaluation commences.

Please reply this Email and give us the name and address of the Wal-mart you will be evaluating so that we can mail out the payment as soon as possible.

Thank you
Walter Collins

An even sketchier-sounding email... and the fact that they wanted me to evaluate a Wal-Mart was sketchiest of all. This blog is mostly devoted to the fact that I live in NYC, and if you follow the Wal-Mart happenings, you know that they have tried to open a location here but never succeeded. So... there's not one here. Since I had to respond with a Wal-Mart location, I did... the Wal-Mart from hometown, a small town in Texas. I didn't write anything in the email beside the address.

I received this response: 

From: assignments@evaluationsservice.com
Sent: February 27

Top of the days to you. The Pay check for your first MoneyGram evaluation assignment as been mailed and it will be delivered to you today via Fedex. .. . The Tracking No. for the package is ( 802276620952 ) you can confirm it at www . fedex . com to make sure..

So, once you got the check I want you to go ahead deposit the check at your bank so that the fund can be released to you within 24hrs as the issuer bank instructed, then deduct your payment which is $200 Please remember that you are to act Cool, Calm and Confident throughout the period in which you will be carrying out the survey... You will proceed to any Wal-mart store in your Neighborhood and send Funds to another Secret Customer via MoneyGram In order not to arouse any suspicion. After which you will write a report and send back to us via Email using the following pointers:

1) How long it took you to get services.
2) Ambiance/Outlook of the Shop/Outlet
3) Smartness of the attendant
4) Customer service professionalism
5) Reaction of personnel under pressure
6) Information that you think would be helpful
7) Your comments and impressions.
8) The address and location of the outlet you evaluate

Here is the information for the new secret customer you are to send
the money to:

Thomas Yrlas
1700 Washington Ave
Port Huron, MI 48060

Once you completed the assignment you need to get back to me with the MoneyGram details such as;

Sender Name and Address
Amount sent (After deducting Transfer Charges)
Reference Number (Money transfer Code)
Detailed Survey Report in English

*Notice : You are to take cash to the MoneyGram 
*Notice : You must make sure you complete this first assignment asap, this can be done after 2hr you received the check.
*Notice : You are to deduct any charges for the wiring MoneyGram from the rest money you're sending .

I will be looking forward to read from you soon .


How funny that the English gets worse as the emails progress. The tracking number is not a FedEx number, by the way - not enough digits, I believe. And did I mention that the Wal-Mart address I sent him was in Texas? I didn't respond to this email, and I thought that would be the end of the whole thing.

Then, I received a text from (872) 216-6879. This is transcribed verbatim:

Good morning Walter Collins i'm contacting you concerning the wal-mart assignment. The check for your first assignment has been delivered to your address and i have also emailed you with the instruction, kindly check because the assignment need to be carried out today

That's odd. I replied with, "Do not text me. This is spam."

The response? "This not spam"

So I responded (I learned this line from a manager in my past, who used it on callers with non-American accents): "Your number has been blocked. If I received any more attempted texts from this number, I will be reporting it to the authorities to begin an investigation. Do not contact me."

I did not receive any more texts or email.

And, for the record, I had not received anything from FedEx. In case you're not familiar with this particular scam, that's how it works. They say they've FedEx'd you a package and that you MUST carry out the assignment TODAY, even if you haven't received the money. So, if you fall for it, you transfer the $200 and then you never get reimbursed.

I hope this helps any potential scammed people out there. If you're doing a search for (872) 216-6879, Walter Collins, or assignments@evaluationsservice.com, please know that they are associated with the MoneyGram scam.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cost of (Grocery) Food in NYC

Living in NYC has been quite the experience for me, coming from a small town in Texas. Of all the things I knew would be different when I moved here (laundry, transportation, getting to school in another state, going to the library, walking everywhere, having to go up 5 flights of stairs to get home, etc), I guess I never really thought about grocery shopping that much.

I mean, in Texas, it was pretty simple - there is HEB and Wal-Mart. Take your pick. Sure, there was a farmer's market every Tuesday and Saturday, and Austin has a Whole Food's, and there's a specialty "health food" store, but 98.5% of grocery shopping was done at HEB, and I was 100% ok with that. The produce section was 1/4 of the store, the meat and dairy took up the entire back wall (and the beef was quite expansive), and the aisles, stacked high with variety, were wide and inviting.

I had visited a friend in Brooklyn before moving here. I knew his local grocery store had narrow aisles and no meat section. I guess I expected my new neighborhood - Sugar Hill, a subsection of Harlem - to be different? It's not, really. Our "local"-ist place, Food Town, has 4 aisles: produce/meat, cereal/homegoods, canned goods/spices/pasta/coffee/tea, and frozen/beverages. Dairy is along the back wall, and that's all there is to it, besides the tiny deli/prepared foods counter and the 2"x2" fresh bread box. It's a sad and depressing place, but it is INCREDIBLY conveniently located store, being between my subway station and apartment; I pass it at least twice a day. It's great for picking something up on the way home, and it's all we've been using for the past 6 months (aside from PathMark, which is a joke not even worth mentioning, though you can read about it here, where it is named THE worst grocery store in America).

Today, I went on a grocery store crawl. I found amazing variety of oases dotting the Upper West Side along Broadway. Rather than ramble on about their amazingness, I'm posting links to their websites and the tally of my receipts. I can't wait to go grocery shopping again.

Garden of Eden Gourmet Market and Specialty Foods (my second favorite of all visited today)
Simple Margarita Mix: $7.99
Carrots (1.79lbs@$0.79/lb): $1.41
Pint o' Blueberries: $2.99
String Beans (1.10lbs@$2.99/lb): $3.29
Eggplant (1.30lbs@$1.99/lb): $2.59
TOTAL: $18.98

Westside Market NYC (my favorite of all today)
3 Progresso soups, on sale: $2.00 each
Pork Loin Filets, 4, boneless: $5.80
Ground Pork (almost a pound): $3.91
Beef Chuck Roast (almost 3 pounds): $12.52
Kosher Dill Pickles (made locally): $2.99
Assorted Cheese Bits: $4.09
TOTAL: $35.31

NY Mild Cheddar (about half a pound): $5.13

Fairway Market (the most similar to HEB in Texas)
5 chorizo links: $4.69 (way more expensive at Food Town - same package!!)
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes: $1.67 each
1 large can of peeled tomatoes: $1.50
2 cans of refried black beans: $1.59 each
2 cans of tomato paste: $0.89 each
Sugar Snap Peas (1.52lbs@$2.99/lb): $4.54
TOTAL: $19.03

I think I'll stick to Trader Joe's for staples like peanut butter, cereal, and frozen vegetables. Food Town is fine for chicken/poultry, eggs, milk, non-specialty bread, and things I don't want to lug 80 blocks home. As for the other places - I'm so excited to have new stores to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, gourmet items, and beef products!!