Recently, I was contacted to become a mystery shopper for a few stores in our area. This is a business where you are paid by the store to sneak around, buy things and then write a detailed report of what you witnessed, from cleanliness to customer service. They pay for all expenses and give you an itinerary so you know exactly what the company wants.
Living in New York City stole the Midwest girl out of me. Robbed me blind of trusting others. Because of my jaded outlook, I did some research and learned this was legit. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured they contacted me because of my writing skills and charming personality. Or it could be that I had a bachelor’s degree in theater and could complete a sentence.
The initial email correspondence from the company seemed appropriate. There were no mentions of Nigerian princes wanting to marry my daughters, nor tragic tales of someone being kidnapped in Nepal and losing their travelers checks. If only I had a dollar for every email that sounds like this: “So if you please, Mrs. Stacey, wire money to my bank in my home village in Netanyahu. Blessings.”
So far, no red flags were raised, but I remained cautious.
I even spoke to friends who had heard of this company, which legitimized it more. Plus, my concrete research on Wikipedia.com. Just kidding, everyone knows that site is bogus and the “facts” can’t be trusted. I did, however, find the Mystery Shopper website and it looked trustworthy.
So when the Priority Mail envelope appeared in my mailbox, I had an extra skip in my step down the sidewalk. I was going to be making some money while shopping! Who could ask for anything better?
It wasn’t until I read the return address on the envelope that a rose color flag clouded my glasses.
Why doesn’t the company have its name on the envelope?
When I opened it up, I expected to find a packet filled with documents on fine paper, with a professional masthead. Instead, I found a piece of copy paper that was tri-folded and lacking any business sense or style.
Why wasn’t the name of the company printed on the letter either?
Still clinging onto hope for the payout, I sadly found a check that looked as if the cheap ink-jet printer I used in college a LONG time ago printed it.
Warning, warning, Will Robinson!
Now the red flag not only slapped me across the face, but also branded a new type of shame on me. I’ve been embarrassed for making mistakes. I’ve had numerous experiences where I made a fool of myself publicly. But why was this scam especially devastating?
It’s probably because I’ve felt the elderly are more prone to getting the wool pulled over their eyes. Naive and trusting grandparents of the world fall for computer scams, not me!
I’m not old, by golly! Jeepers, I’ve even embraced my age lately, by not flinching at stray gray hairs or shrieking at new wrinkles. But this scam cut the pressed-powder cake in my compact. It’s time to apply ghost white powder to my nose and some fire engine red lipstick that I scored in the bargain bin at Woolworths.
Actually with time, I’ll crank my Gloria Gaynor LP and survive this pity party — but I better catch a nap first.
Previously published in The Kansas City Star on December 12, 2015