After being told by his mother that she had been selected for what seemed to be an amazing opportunity, Lompoc resident Glenn Seavy said he immediately became skeptical.
Seavy’s 86-year-old mother had received in the mail, unsolicited, an oversized envelope shipped through FedEx Express that contained a $2,620 cashier's check and instructions on how she could keep a $500 commission from that check by participating in a “secret shopper” program.
While Seavy said his mother was initially excited by the idea, he began to vet the mystery package and soon had his suspicions confirmed: The entire packet was fraudulent and posed a significant financial risk to his mother. Although he stopped the attempted scam from victimizing his mother, Seavy said he wanted to share the information publicly in the hopes that other potential targets will also be able to avoid getting ripped off.
“There’s no telling how many people might fall for this,” Seavy said.
One of the first red flags for Seavy was the fact that the shipment claimed to be from a firm named “InterShop Research Inc.,” but that name did not bring up any exact results when he did a quick online search. From there, the opportunity only seemed to get shadier.
An instruction letter included in the packet asked that the recipient “immediately” cash the $2,600 check and then — after setting aside the supposed $500 commission — evaluate the service at a local Walmart store by using no more than $100 of the money for a personal “shopping spree.”
The letter then advised the recipient to use $2,000 of the remaining funds to purchase a total of four $500 Walmart gift cards from two separate Walmart stores. This step was explained in the letter as necessary so that the recipient could evaluate the employees’ performance and “curtail the lapses” at the store.
After the cards were purchased, the letter directed the purchaser to scratch off the back of the card — thus making it valid for use — and to text or email clear photos of the scratched cards to a provided phone number or email address.
The letter was signed by a Randy Henson, who was described as the “research manager” at InterShop Research Inc.
Just to be sure, Seavy said he contacted the Nevada-based bank from which the check was issued and was promptly told by a bank representative that it was indeed fraudulent. The bank advised him to destroy the check.
After confirming that the entire situation was part of a scam, Seavy said his immediate feeling was one of relief.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, we dodged a bullet there,’” he said. “I was relieved that it was the fraud that I thought it was and we didn’t get wrapped up in it.”
Lt. Brad McVay, with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, said that scams like this one are fairly common, and that senior citizens are often targeted. He noted, however, that it is often difficult to prosecute the perpetrators.
“[These crimes] are usually impossible to investigate and have legal limitations as the victim is willingly giving the scammer what they are asking for,” he said.
The best way to combat these scams, he said, is through public information.
“Anytime a caller, email, regular mail or any other type of contact is asking you to get gift or charge cards and provide the numbers to them, it is a scam,” he said. “No legitimate business has a need for this. Illegitimate people want the gift cards as they cannot be traced back to them.”
He emphasized that scammers will not always immediately take "no" for an answer.
“They will use emotional pleas (especially after a tragic event), threats or other deceits to try and get personal information or money from the victim,” McVay said. “The only and best response is to hang up, delete or throw [away] the communication. Any type of response increases vulnerability.”
Seavy said he’s hopeful that others will benefit from his and his mother’s experience.
“It really seems like people need to be more aware,” he said.