A text and offer of easy money lures victims into secret shopper scams

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ellen Sakoloff says she might have been feeling bored when she got a text message supposedly from Whole Foods. The text came with the chain's logo.

Sakoloff frequents the organic food grocer up to two times a week. So she clicked on the link.

It asked her for some basic information and said she could earn up to $400 by being a secret shopper.

"No credit card. No bank information. Nothing. So I just filled it out and sent it," Sakoloff recalls.

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Sid Patel is Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. He say Sakoloff is being set up for the secret shopper scam.

"When we get that opportunity for the big win, that free money. It is a little bit of greed, but it's also vulnerability," Patel said.

Soon after replying, Sakoloff received a FedEx envelope with two items.

"What was inside the envelope was this flimsy little piece of paper and this nice little check here. The check is for $1,050.52," she said.

The letter asked Sakoloff to deposit the check and use the money to purchase some $500 in Nike gift cards from any store that sold them.

She was told to evaluate the store she purchased them from, and then scratch off the back of each gift card and send images of the front and back.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God. What is this?' You know immediately I thought this is not real. This is ridiculous," Sakoloff said.

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Unfortunately many have fallen for it. The FBI received 705 complaints about this last year, with losses totaling $764,000.

"Whenever they're giving you a check and want money back from that check, that's a scam," he warned.

The check you deposit will bounce -- but not before you made your purchase and sent your purchase to the scammer.

Sakoloff can't help but think how she almost fell for it.

"The amount of money they were offering sounded like a lot of money to do a survey," Sakoloff said.

If you've been victimized or know of any scams, please contact the FBI through this online portal or call the San Francisco division of the FBI at 415-553-7400.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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