FTC shuts down mystery shopper scam, bans defendants from selling work-at-home opportunities

ID-100128578Work-at-home opportunities are tempting, but unfortunately, the industry can be a risky one for consumers. BBB has warned about the work-at-home industry in the past.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently obtained settlements from several businesses and individuals, shutting down a business opportunity scam that tricked consumers into making recurring monthly payments for “mystery shopper” jobs. The defendants are forbidden from selling work-at-home opportunities and must surrender their assets to the FTC.

The deal is part of the FTC’s crackdown on “Last Dollar” scams, that prey on people who are out of work or under-employed.

In October 2012, the FTC filed a complaint against Shopper Systems LLC, Revenue Works LLC (also doing business as Surplus Supplier), The Veracity Group LP, EMZ Ventures LLC, Michael Moysich, Brett Brosseau and Keith R. Powell.

A federal court approved the filing of an amended complaint adding Concept Rocket LLC and Shopper Select LLC as defendants, and Georgia Farm House Land Holdings LLC, PKP Holdings, Stephanie Powell, and Sportsmen of North America LP as relief defendants who profited from the scheme but did not participate in it.

The FTC complaint charged the defendants with misleading consumers seeking to run their own business providing mystery shopping services to retailers. The defendants reportedly tricked consumers into into paying money to join programs with recurring monthly charges.

Moysich, Concept Rocket, Revenue Works, Shopper Select and Shopper Systems are banned from selling business or work-at-home opportunities, sending unauthorized text messages, and selling products or services with negative-option features. Brosseau and EMZ Ventures are banned from selling business or work-at-home opportunities and sending unauthorized text messages.

The defendants were issued a judgment of more than $40.5 million, which will be suspended when the Moysich defendants have surrendered $55,000 in frozen assets, and the Brosseau defendants have surrendered $88,000 in frozen assets and nearly $270,000 from the sale of property.

Keith R. Powell and The Veracity Group are banned from selling business or work-at-home opportunities.  They face a judgment of more than $14.8 million, which will be suspended when Powell has surrendered his assets, including more than $115,000, to the FTC, and the Veracity Group has surrendered telecommunication equipment to a court-appointed receiver for liquidation.  The full monetary judgments will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their respective financial conditions.

Before signing up for any work-at-home opportunity, BBB advises job hunters to:

  • Start with trust. Check out any company at bbb.org to view their BBB Business Review free of charge. There you will find the company’s history of complaints and contact information. For a list of accredited businesses, go to checkbbb.org.
  • Be skeptical. Beware of any offer that guarantees a lot of money for little effort and no experience. Thoroughly read the website’s terms and conditions, keeping in mind that a free trial could cost you in the end.
  • Don’t be fooled by affiliation claims. Be wary of work-at-home offers that use logos from Google, Twitter or other popular online sites. Just because Google is in the name doesn’t mean the business is affiliated with Google.
  • Check the domain. Research the website with Whois.net or a similar site for determining domain name ownership. Be cautious if the site is anonymous or individually registered.
  • Beware of unexpected offers. If you receive a job offer without filling out an application, meeting with the business or being interviewed, it is probably a scam.
  • Don’t pay up front. Being asked to make an advance payment to get on the ground floor of a big opportunity is a red flag, especially if it is a large payment or the company doesn’t provide much information about the deal. Handing your Social Security number or other personal information to suspicious sources could lead to identity theft.
  • Don’t wire money. Being asked to wire money is a red flag. Scam artists often ask you to wire payments because they know you won’t be able to get the money back.