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The “mystery shopper” scam, step by step:

1. “Fred” is somewhere overseas. He contacts us, offering a mystery shopping job.

2. “Jan” accepts.

3. A check is stolen from Kohr Royer Griffith Inc., a real estate company in Columbus, Ohio and reproduced. It’s made out to Jan Brady and mailed via UPS from a conspirator in the United States.

4. The sender’s name on the package is Willie Samuels of Kokomo, Ind., who reports that his identity was stolen and used to mail about $800 worth of UPS envelopes. (UPS later removes the charges, as Samuels also is a victim.)

5. Kohr Royer Griffith discovers its bank account was used in the scam. Five victims have already deposited the fraudulent checks in their own accounts and presumably wired money to the scammers.

6. If Jan had fallen for the scam, she would have deposited the check and the funds would have become available immediately, though the check would not have “cleared.” Like the other victims, Jan essentially would be using her own money to fund the wire transfer.

7. Jan is supposed to wire the money to a woman in Hartford, Conn. That person likely was in on the scam, experts say.

Updated: July 29, 2012 9:12PM

Dear Readers: When we got an e-mail offering an easy job as a “mystery shopper,” we jumped at the chance to expose the con.

The scam begins with an e-mail from a Mr. Fred Nickolas of “EBay Secret Shopper LLC.”

In his initial e-mail to The Fixer, Fred says his “premier mystery shopping company” pays $400 a week to evaluate various businesses. We apply, using the Chicago Sun-Times e-mail address of and the name “Jan Brady” (think Brady bunch).

The same day, Fred e-mails us back. We got the job! Fred tells Jan her first assignment is to evaluate Western Union at her local Walmart. He’ll send her a $1,950 check, which she is to deposit in her own bank account. She’ll keep $400, then wire the remaining $1,550 to a fellow employee in Connecticut.

What follows is our exchange (the actual e-mails are edited for space).

From: Fred Nickolas

ATTN : Jan Brady, This package have been addressed to you per your interest in working as a secret shopper, we are EBay Secret Shopper® LLC and our work operation is according to the better business bureau, your duty as a Mystery shopper for Fred Nickolas commence with this first assignment, you have to adhere to the instructions attached to this funds.

Speedy processing of this assignment is very important for the release of subsequent task in this company, your first assignment is sponsored by Western Union Money Transfer And WAL-MART In collaboration with our integrated payment system


Good Luck and stay bless, Fred Nickolas

Jan replies: Dear Fred, I am so excited! This job is coming at the perfect time, as my brother Greg’s old beater car just broke down and my sister Marcia’s nose was badly damaged by a football and she may need help.

Enthusiastically, Jan Brady

Jan needs to stall, so she e-mails Fred that she had to leave town to pick up Cousin Oliver, “who will be staying with the Brady family for 11/2 seasons while his parents are away.”

The $1,950 check arrives, made out to Jan Brady in care of S. Zimmermann. It’s realistic; it bears the name of Kohr Royer Griffith Inc., a real estate company in Ohio.

The package was mailed via UPS with a sender’s name of Willie Samuels in Kokomo, Ind. We tracked down Samuels and he told The Fixer that some time ago, he had almost fallen for a different online scam. We’re guessing his scammer got his personal information because Samuels told us he received a bill of about $800 from UPS for packages that were sent out using his name. (UPS later waived the bill.)

The Fixer also talked to Steve Hess, a vice president at the real estate company whose name was on the check. Hess said they’d gotten calls from three people who almost fell for the scam and their bank told them that five others had deposited their checks and become victims. Hess’ company didn’t lose any money, but they’ve had to sign up for costly check protection — not to mention wasting work hours dealing with it.

The Fixer showed the check to Tom Brady (no relation to Jan), the postal inspector-in-charge for Chicago, and to Jack Buscemi, vice president of security at West Suburban Bank. The check has real routing numbers, and Brady and Buscemi both said it would be accepted at any bank. Under federal law, funds would be made available the next day, though it could take weeks for both banks to catch the fraud. By then, Jan could have already wired money to the scammer’s accomplice.

Meanwhile, Fred is getting nervous:

From: Fred Nickolas

Hello Jan Brady, Hope all is going on well concerning your first assignment kindly get it done first thing this morning due to the fact that the payment department have been awaiting your report. Warm Regards. Fred Nickolas

Jan replies, but the news is not good: Good morning, Fred! I took the check to the Sherman Oaks Bank and tried to deposit it. The bank manager said the check should go through by tomorrow, but first they need to make sure it is not fraudulent. Then I went to the Walmart to send the Western Union transfer. People began questioning why I wanted to send a money order to Hartford, Conn. Then they starts telling me there have been all sorts of problems with people getting scammed by mystery shopping jobs.

That is my report. I will keep the $400 once your check clears. But where should I send the $1,550? I don’t want to you think I am a thief!

Sincerely, Jan Brady

Now Fred is getting really worried:

From: Fred NickolasSent: Tue 1

0 /4/20 11 6:29 AM

Hello Jan Brady, I want to let you know that our company is registered by the appropriate authorities of the United Kingdom, Republic Of Ireland & The United States of America and we do not engage in illegal operation neither do we engage in fraudulent activities. Go ahead and process the payment. Thanks and God Bless. Hiring Manager Fred Nickolas

Suffice it to say, we never heard back from Fred (and obviously, we never attempted to cash the bogus check).

Online scams such as this make millions for the scammers, who work in sophisticated overseas crime networks.

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