Lost Arts studio

A lot of the fiber arts I enjoy are things like tatting, netmaking, chair caning, and even weaving, where people will come up to me when I demonstrate and solemnly tell me, "That's a lost art."

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Location: SW Outer Nowhere, Michigan, United States

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a chicken. (With apologies to Peter Steiner.)

22 November 2008

Lies, Spam Lies, and Statistics

(Don't be scared: I'll just mention that I loved my intro. Stat.s class back in college, so the math-averse can heave a sigh of relief and read on to the rest of the post.)

I guess this post goes under
Public Service Announcement.

I don't do very much any more, but I used to do a little mystery-shopping. There is a lot of misunderstanding about mystery shopping, and lately there seem to be more scams surrounding it.

The old scam I used to see a lot was a spam email showing a model using an expensive laptop, drinking coffee, with ad copy that claimed you could Make! $75! To 100! An Hour! doing mystery shops or online surveys. All you had to do was send them $29.95 and they would set you up! Yay!

The scam part was that they'd send you a list of companies for your thirty bucks, each of which you would have to apply to separately. And all of these were companies where you could apply for free without spending the $29.95. (A real site, where I have learned about real companies, is Volition. No, they haven't paid me to link to them.)

The other part of the scam is that there aren't a lot of mystery shops that pay anything like $75 an hour. Usually it's $5 here, maybe $20 there. If you have to make a purchase, sometimes it's reimbursed up to a set amount. So you might get your fast food paid for, but you'd have to pay for it yourself up front and submit your receipt.

If you lived in an urban area, which I don't, it might be possible to drive around and do shops all day, submit reports all night, and make over minimum wage. In a rural area, it was a lot of driving for not a lot of compensation.

Another thing about mystery shopping is that you are not usually considered an employee of the company. You are an independent contractor. This means filing as self-employed in order to report this income, and paying the taxes yourself that an employer would withhold from your paycheck.

A new scam to me* was a variation on advance-fee fraud:

Out of the blue, a company sends you a check for a large amount of money (thousands!), and a list of local businesses where you are supposed to spend money ($75-100 at each place). The idea is that you deposit this "check" (which will eventually bounce) and then do "shops" at these businesses. Usually one of these fake shops involves wiring money or sending a moneygram somewhere - that's where the scammers make their money.

So you end up sending some of your real money to them, bouncing a check with all the associated fees and penalties your bank charges you, and spending hundreds of dollars against the fake check.

As somebody who has done real mystery shopping, this really peeves me. I hate to see people ripped off, and I hate to see a real industry getting a black eye from lowlife ripoff artists.

It goes back to things we (should have) learned as kids:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If they send you money up front, it's probably counterfeit.
If they are paying more than they should, something is fishy.

*You can read the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) article about these scams here. The article includes places to report this scam.


Blogger Rose Red said...

They are good lessons! It always surprises me when I hear that people get caught by the Nigerian email scams (do you guys get those in the US? Some "official" in Nigeria emails you asking for help in getting a ridiculous sum of money -eg $20billion US - out of Nigeria, and you have to send them a much smaller sum of money and your bank details). It's kinda nice to think that people are so trusting of strangers, but still!!

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

The check Alison got went in the shredder. The envelope had a Canadian stamp, just like the FTC article mentions:
"Then, the consumer is told to take the cash to the money transfer service specified, and typically, send the transfer to a person in a Canadian city."


10:03 PM  
Blogger Lona said...

TANSTAAFL--There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I got two of those letters in the same day with two checks for $7,500 or some ridiculous sum. I hope no one falls for it...but in these hard times, some might be desperate enough to believe.

Thanks for the P.S.A.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Roxie said...

Excellent reminders. And with the economy the way it is, everyone is looking to make a little extra. We must remember that there is no free lunch, and you get what you pay for. All these things are cliche, because they bear repeating.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Knitting Linguist said...

Ah, yes, the Too Good To Be True life lesson. Or, as Robert Heinlein said, TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). I taught my kids that one ages ago; they still forget, though!

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Sharron said...

I think Fox t.v. is doing a special on work-at-home ripoffs tonite with the editor of Ripoff Report, and they're talking about secret shopping scams. maybe it already happened? These seem to be getting more common with all the layoffs!

3:37 PM  

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