Work-from-home, merchandise schemes popping up during pandemic

With Fraud Prevention Month ending, Manitobans are being reminded to stay on high alert to the mystery shopper and merchandise schemes that have been popping up during the pandemic.

Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said they are seeing an increase in work-from-home schemes right now.

He noted that, in particular, one of the common schemes they’ve been seeing is the mystery shopper scheme.

Though legitimate mystery opportunities positions do exist, Thomson explained this scheme starts with a victim being hired to test various services and products. He said the victim will be sent a counterfeit cheque, and directed to deposit it at a bank and send the money back via a money-service business or a bitcoin ATM.

“So essentially you cash that cheque, you go and send some money back to the fraudsters … and a month later when the cheque comes back counterfeit you’re going to owe that money back to the bank,” Thomson said.

Thomson added that some of the other job-related schemes include the financial agent job scheme and the clerical admin assistant job scheme. He said these are similar to the mystery shopping scheme in that the victim will receive a payment and then be asked to send money back.

“That’s the key indicator of fraud with job scams is that they’re going to send you money and you’re going to have to send it back to them,” he said.

Thomson said merchandise fraud has also been prominent during the pandemic, because people are staying home more and relying on online shopping.

He said the best way to avoid this type of fraud is to “recognize, reject, report.”

“It’s really about doing your due diligence,” Thomson said. “It’s about researching sellers, using secure payment methods.”

He said it’s important for shoppers to know the true market value of what they are purchasing and beware of offers that seem too good to be true.

Thomson noted that when it comes to merchandise fraud there’s typically also a sense of urgency and high-pressure sales tactics.

“They’re trying to get people to react to their demands or their requests,” he said.

“Whether it’s playing on emotions, such as extortion scams with fear or romance scams with love, and again creating that urgent situation.”

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagace.