Selected Article
Title Fremont woman warns of ‘secret' shopping scam
Date Published 06/17/2004
Author Beverly J. Lydick
Publication Freemont Tribune

Do you get up each morning and commute to work?

Do you hate your job?

Do you hate your co-workers and your boss?

Do you need more free time?

If you answered "yes" to all of the above, maybe it's time you looked for new employment.

But whatever you do, says Ruth Elofson of Fremont, don't even think about working for a couple of brothers with a post office box in Ontario, Calif.

Elofson, a senior employment program staff member with the AARP, said mailings originating from Ontario and offering employment as "mystery shoppers" are finding their way into Midwestern mailboxes — including hers.

The "getnrich-quick" scheme is just one of 75 scams being offered by two brothers who have set up shop in the California city of 60,000, she says.

Elofson started her investigation this spring after receiving two identical invitations to become a member of the "American Secret Shopper Association."

For a fee, participants would receive a "starter kit" with information on accepting shopping assignments, purchasing items and filling out paperwork detailing the service they received or the way in which the item was displayed. According to the multi-page spiel, shoppers would be reimbursed for and could keep the items and also be paid for their time.

Legitimate "mystery" or undercover shoppers are used by corporations to monitor the management of their retail stores, Elofson said Wednesday. But these "get-rich-quick" offers, she added, amount to nothing more than fraud.

A spokesperson with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce verified Wednesday that no license has been issued to the two brothers operating out of that city under various names, including Star Publishing and McDowell Publishing, and that several complaints had been logged with their office.

"They're targeting the East Coast and the Midwest," the spokesperson said. "They offer a book of leads, but most people don't ever receive the book or a refund."

The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau rated both Star and McDowell "unsatisfactory" based on a pattern of complaint allegations.

LABBB's report states:

"We asked this company for substantiation of claims that buyers save $5,000 the first year and up to 98 percent on everything purchased. Also, we asked for a list of those who successfully benefited from the publications. The company responded by pointing out that a person who does not save $5,000 in one year can return the book for a full refund, including postage and handling charges. The company did not provide any evidence that their claims were true. Instead, they responded by directing our attention to their guarantee.

"The company has a pattern of complaints alleging product was never delivered or refunds were not issued when merchandise was returned. Other complaints allege dissatisfaction with the materials received. Complainants allege the reports did not reflect the claims the company made or the publications were not as represented.

"The company responded to complaints by providing refunds or shipping the merchandise. A few complaints remain unanswered."

Elofson advises anyone receiving mail from the two aforementioned "companies" or from those in a list accompanying this story, to contact the post office.

"People need to know about this," she says. "It's wrong, and it really makes me mad."

Ruth Elofson suggests anyone receiving mail from "companies" on this list should contact their local post office.

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