If You Get This Offer From Walmart, It's a Scam, Retailer Warns
Shoppers who have been targeted are warning about how real the scheme appears.
Retailers strive to maintain a line of open communication with shoppers, whether they're sending promotional flyers by mail or providing order information via text. But while this constant contact may help companies maintain a loyal customer base, it can also cause major problems when scammers seek to exploit it. Now, one of the country's largest and most popular retailers has had to speak out against a new scam using its name to target shoppers. Read on to find out why Walmart is warning you to watch out for one type of message right now.
READ THIS NEXT: 5 Warnings to Shoppers From Ex-Walmart Employees.
Phishing scams using retailers are on the rise.
Criminals use phishing schemes to trick you into giving them your private information by fraudulently posing as a "legitimate business," according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The 2022 ThreatLabz Phishing Report from the security company Zscaler indicated that there was a 29 percent increase in phishing attacks overall last year compared to the year prior.
But the retail sector experienced the largest rise in these scams. According to the report, retail and wholesale businesses saw an increase of more than 400 percent in phishing attempts. "The report found that phishing attacks lure victims by posing as top brands," Security Magazine explained.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that one of the biggest-name retail companies, Walmart, is finding itself at the center of a new scam.
Walmart shoppers are being targeted.
Shoppers in several parts of the U.S. have recently reported similar stories about scammers using Walmart's name. The latest incident comes from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a resident named Linda De Simone told BRProud.com that she had received a letter supposedly from Walmart, recruiting her for a secret shopper opportunity with the retailer. She also received two checks—one on Oct. 1 and the other on Oct. 8—with instructions telling her what to do with the checks as a secret shopper.
This is nearly the same thing that happened last month to Bianca Baluyut, a resident of Elk Grove, California. On Sept. 16, ABC10 reported that Baluyut had also received a check and a letter with secret shopper instructions for her next trip to Walmart. But the Elk Grove resident said she received a phone call the next day from a person claiming to be a Walmart associate as well. "I'm thinking … Walmart has my information. I do grocery pickups, maybe it really is from them," she told the news outlet.
Walmart has confirmed this is a scam.
Walmart lists secret shopping, also referred to as mystery shopping, as a common scam on its Fraud Alerts webpage, explaining that it does not use this type of service. "Unfortunately, bad actors occasionally take advantage of Walmart's reputation to carry out these kinds of scams," a spokesperson for the company told ABC10. "Walmart never solicits mystery or secret shoppers via email, mail or any other public means."
De Simone said her letter instructed her to deposit the mailed checks worth a total of over $4,000 into her bank account and then buy eight $500 Walmart Visa gift cards. "I wish this were real but I know it would drain me and my bank account if I followed through," she told BRProud.com. Baluyut, on the other hand, received a check for $3,345 and was instructed to deposit the money into her bank then go to Walmart and take out three money orders, according to ABC10.
"The problem is that the check is fake, so when it bounces (is returned to your account by your bank as 'insufficient funds' or a 'drawn on a closed account')—which occurs after the money is wired—the consumer is accountable (in some cases, criminally) to the bank for the entire amount of the fake check, plus additional penalty fees," Walmart warns on its website. According to the retailer, some shoppers are even tricked into giving their personal bank account information, which can make them a victim of identity theft.
Here's how to avoid the secret shopper scam.
While you can be targeted with the secret shopper scam through email or text, De Simone told BRProud.com that her letter arrived in a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Priority Mail envelope. Baluyut told ABC10 she received an envelope via UPS-certified mail. "It looks very real and I kind of thought like, wow, why me?" she said.
Fortunately, both shoppers were able to avoid falling victim to the scam. Walmart lists signs of fraud associated with the secret shopper scam on its website that you can use to help protect yourself as well. According to the retailer, these communications are "often associated with fictional departments or branding initiative with letters or emails coming from addresses that appear to be 'Wal-Mart' or an address such as '[email protected]'"
At the same time, Walmart requires any potential hire to complete a hiring process first which includes legal paperwork and drug testing—and these secret shopper scams don't follow that same requirement. "Never deposit a check you receive in the mail from a 'mystery shopping' company. No legitimate business will pay in advance and ask you to send back a portion of the money," the company advises. "Remember, if it sounds too good to believe, it is!"