IntelliShop & MSPA Help Shut Down Mystery Shopper Scam Attempts
Marketers of Mystery Shopper Scam Settle with FTC; Agree to Pay $850,000
Federal Trade Commission
Note: Ron Welty, President of IntelliShop, serves on the Board of Directors for the Mystery Shopping Providers Association ("MSPA"). The MSPA was instrumental in working with the FTC on this case
An operation that lured consumers with promises that they could earn big money as trained and certified "mystery shoppers " has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle charges of deceptive marketing and contempt.
Mystery shoppers are paid to shop or dine out and then provide reports about the experience. In March 2007, the Federal Trade Commission charged eight defendants -- the three companies Mystery Shop Link, LLC; Tangent Group, LLC; Harp Marketing Services, Inc.; and five individuals -- with violating the FTC Act in connection with a nationwide mystery shopping employment scam.
According to the FTC, the defendants claimed that MysteryShopLink.com was hiring mystery shoppers in local areas nationwide. The company ran help wanted ads in newspapers, and on radio and TV. Consumers who responded to the ads reached the defendants' telemarketers, who represented that MysteryShopLink.com had large numbers of available jobs and not enough shoppers to fill them. In exchange for a $99 fee, consumers were promised enough work to earn a steady full-time or part-time income as mystery shoppers. Instead, consumers received a worthless certification and access to postings for mystery shopping jobs controlled by other companies. Consumers had to apply for these mostly low-paying jobs, and had no advantage over anyone else who found the postings elsewhere on the Internet for free. Most consumers got no jobs and earned no money.
The FTC also charged five of the eight defendants -- Mystery Shop Link, LLC, Tangent Group, LLC, and Robin Larry Murphy, Andrew Holman, and Kenneth Johnson -- with contempt. The contempt charge alleged that Murphy violated the terms of a consent judgment in a prior telemarketing fraud case involving false promises of government jobs. The 1997 consent judgment barred Murphy from making material misrepresentations of fact while telemarketing, and required him to post a $100,000 bond. In addition to seeking contempt sanctions against Murphy, the FTC also alleged that co-defendants Mystery Shop Link, LLC, Tangent Group, LLC, Andrew Holman, and Kenneth Johnson were in contempt of the previous order because they all participated in running MysteryShopLink.com despite knowing about the prior consent judgment against Murphy.
The settlements announced today were reached with two separate groups of defendants. The first includes defendants Mystery Shop Link, LLC, Tangent Group, LLC, and their principals, Robin Larry Murphy, Andrew Holman, and Kenneth Johnson. This settlement resolves both the new case filed in 2007 and the contempt action. Under the settlement, the FTC will collect the proceeds of Murphy's $100,000 bond. The settlement also includes a $17.8 million judgment, which is suspended based on the defendants' inability to pay. The full judgment will be imposed if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. This settlement prohibits all the defendants from making misrepresentations in the future. As a repeat offender, Murphy is permanently banned from telemarketing, except for non-deceptive sales to businesses of telecommunications equipment.
The second settlement includes defendants Harp Marketing Services, Inc., and its principals, Aiden Reddin and Marc Gurney. Harp Marketing was the primary outside telemarketing firm that handled consumer calls, and thus sales, for Mystery Shop Link. This settlement requires Harp and its owners to pay $750,000 in redress and prohibits them from making misrepresentations in the future. The Harp settlement also includes a suspended judgment of $6.8 million, the total amount of Mystery Shop Link sales made by Harp's telemarketers. The full amount of this judgment will be imposed if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.
Both settlements prohibit the defendants from collecting payments from Mystery Shop Link customers, and from transferring or benefitting from information about those customers. Both also contain record-keeping and reporting provisions to assist the FTC in monitoring the defendants' compliance.
The Commission vote authorizing the filing of the stipulated final orders in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, Los Angeles, was 4-0. The orders were lodged on December 2, 2008.
NOTE: These stipulated final orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by the defendants of a law violation. A stipulated final order requires approval by the court and has the force of law when signed by the judge.
Copies of the complaint and stipulated final orders are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
ABC’s Good Morning America Promotes Mystery Shopping to Consumers
ABC's Good Morning America recently profiled the mystery shopping industry as a legitimate way for consumers to earn extra money. Mystery shopping, auditing and merchandising can be fun and provide consumers and their families with extra cash, goods and services, while at the same time helping companies provide their customers with a good experience. Click here to see this story.
IntelliShop is widely recognized as a leading provider of customer experience improvement solutions and more than 150,000 consumers have placed their trust in us to be mystery shoppers, auditors and merchandisers. If you are interested in shopping for us, please click here.
IntelliShop Helps Shoppers Prevent Identity Theft
Your 5-minute guide to protecting your identity
Here are 20 steps to protect yourself from identity theft -- and seven ways to clean up things if you become a victim.
Thieves may sell your information on the black market or use it to obtain money, credit or even expensive medical procedures. Unless you're vigilant in protecting your records, you'll have to work even harder to repair the damage to your credit. The average victim spends 30 to 40 hours rectifying the problem.
Some of the e-threats to your identity are:
- Phishing. You get an e-mail that appears to be from your bank or an online service, most often PayPal or eBay, instructing you to click on a link and provide information to verify your account.
- Pharming or spoofing. Hackers redirect a legitimate Web site's traffic to an impostor site, where you'll be asked to provide confidential information.
- Smishing. This is phishing done with text messaging on your smart phone. It instructs you to visit a bogus Web site.
- Spyware. You've unknowingly downloaded illicit software when you've opened an attachment, clicked on a pop-up or downloaded a song or a game. Criminals can use spyware to record your keystrokes and obtain credit card numbers, bank-account information and passwords when you make purchases or conduct other business online. They also can access confidential information on your hard drive.
You don't need to have a computer to become a victim.
- Vishing - voice phishing. You get an automated phone message asking you to call your bank or credit card company. Even your caller ID is fooled. You call the number and are asked to punch in your account number, PIN or other personal information.
- Bank-card "skimming." Crooks use a combination of a fake ATM slot and cameras to record your account information and PIN when you use a cash machine. Your credit or debit card also can be skimmed by a dishonest store or restaurant worker armed with a portable card reader.
- Crooks will steal your wallet or go through your mail or trash.
More than half of identity theft cases involve credit card fraud. Checking accounts are the second most popular target. But some crooks have other plans:
- At least 250,000 people have been the victim of medical identity theft in the last several years. Crooks use fraudulently obtained personal information to get expensive medical procedures or dupe insurance companies into paying for procedures that were not done.
- The victims of about 5% of reported identity theft cases are children. The fraud often goes undetected for years -- until the young adult applies for credit.
20 tips to protect yourself
You can take steps to protect yourself from identity fraud:
- Keep your confidential information private. Your bank or credit card company won't call or e-mail to ask for your account information. They already have it.
- Keep an inventory of everything in your wallet and your PDA, including account numbers. Don't keep your Social Security card or any card with your Social Security number, such as an insurance card, in your wallet.
- Stop getting banking and credit card information in the mail.
- Monitor your bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized use. Crooks with your account numbers usually start small to see if you'll notice.
- Keep your vehicle registration and insurance forms in a sealed envelope in your glove box and lock it and your car when at home or away.
- If you conduct business online, use your own computer. A public computer is less secure, as is wireless Internet.
- Look for suspicious devices and don't let anyone stand nearby when you use an ATM. Take your card and receipt with you. Keep your PIN in your head, not in your wallet.
- Don't store credit card numbers and other financial information on your cell phone.
- If you're job hunting using resume Web sites, don't apply unless the employer has a verifiable address.
Protect your computer from vulnerability:
- Keep system and browser software up to date and set to the highest security level you can tolerate. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection, and keep them up to date as well. When possible use hardware firewalls, often available through your broadband connection router.
- If you use wireless Internet access, make sure that you get help from someone who understands wireless security when you set up your access point or router.
- Back up your data and store it way from your computer.
- Don't open e-mails from strangers. Malware can be hidden in embedded attachments and graphics files.
- Don't open attachments unless you know who sent them and what they contain. Never open executable attachments. Configure Windows so that the file extensions of known file types are not hidden.
- Don't click on pop-ups. Configure Windows or your Web browser to block them.
- Don't provide your credit card number online unless you are making a purchase from a Web site you trust. Reputable sites will always direct you to a secure page with an URL starting with https:// whenever you actually make purchases or are asked to provide confidential information.
- Use strong passwords: at least six characters, including at least one symbol and number, and no reference to your name or other personal information. Use a different password for every site that requires one, and change passwords regularly.
- Never send a user name, password or other confidential information via e-mail.
- Consider turning off your computer when you're not using it or at least putting it in standby mode.
- Don't keep passwords, tax returns or other financial information on your hard drive.
7 steps to clean up the mess
If you suspect your identity may be compromised, place a fraud alert with the three credit bureaus. When you place an alert, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report. After that, take advantage of the free annual reports the bureaus are required to give all consumers. Stagger your requests so that you get a report every four months.
- If you've been phished, contact the bank or company named in the fraudulent e-mail. You also may want to notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center and forward the e-mail to email@example.com.
If you are the victim of identity theft, take the following steps:
- Make an identity-theft report to the police and get a copy. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Also, contact the office of your state's attorney general; you may be able to file a report there.
- Close accounts that have been tampered with. Contact each company by phone and again by certified letter. Make sure the company notifies you in writing that the disputed charges have been erased. Document each conversation and keep all records.
- Place a seven-year fraud alert or a "freeze" on your credit reports.
- Begin the process of having the fraudulent information removed from your credit reports.
- Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. It cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, but it can help you pay the cost of reclaiming your financial identity.
- Find victim support at the Identity Theft Resource Center.
IntelliShop President elected Secretary of MSPA
Dallas, TX Ron Welty, President of IntelliShop, was elected Secretary of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association ("MSPA") at its annual conference in San Francisco; he will serve through 2009. Ron has served on MSPA's Board of Directors since 2003. When asked about his election, he said, "I am deeply honored that my colleagues on the Board have placed their faith in me to serve the association in this capacity, and I remain strongly committed to my passion of furthering MSPA and the interests of our members."
IntelliShop, located in Perrysburg, Ohio, provides mystery shopping and other customer experience measurement solutions to clients in more than 25 industries in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. IntelliShop is widely recognized and respected for providing exceptional quality and service to its clients.
The MSPA is the largest professional trade association dedicated to improving service quality using anonymous resources. With over 150 member companies worldwide, its diverse membership includes marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services. Member companies work with their clients to establish mechanisms to measure and improve levels of service.
New Service For Mystery Shoppers from IntelliShop & fixmypcnow.com
IntelliShop Partners with fixmyPCnow.com to provide 24/7 tech support to shoppers
IntelliShop and fix my pc | now! jointly announced a partnership agreement today. As a partner company, fix my pc | now! will offer discounted computer and technical support to all IntelliShop clients, shoppers and employees using their existing broadband Internet connection. Support services will be made available 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world.
"Nearly all of IntelliShop's services are being delivered online. This partnership will allow our shoppers the ability to have any technical issue identified and fixed without them ever leaving their home or office", according to Ron Welty, CEO of IntelliShop. "Virtually any computer glitch that would delay or prevent our shoppers from reporting can be fixed remotely using this service. The time and money saved over traditional computer repair options is very significant and represents our commitment to our shopping community."
"This computer repair and support service is another way IntelliShop ensures timely and accurate reporting for our clients." Ron continued with, "We'll continue to search for partnerships that will benefit both our clients and shoppers in the coming months."