San Francisco, CA - Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities are out there, but so are plenty of scams. So how do consumers determine fact from fiction?

Marilyn Ackerly received an email asking her if she would like to be a secret shopper.

(Marilyn Ackerly, Fraud Victim)
“I thought oh, this would be kind of neat to do… doesn’t take a lot of time… and it wasn’t going to involve a lot of work,” Ackerly said.

She was sent money orders along with instructions on how to evaluate a store. The directions said she should deposit the money orders, make a purchase then send the remaining funds back.

Ackerly followed the directions and prepared for a second job, but there was a problem.

“They recommended that I go to another bank. Well, I really didn’t have another bank, the lady at the bank started to process things, and they said well they are fraud, they are fraudulent.” Ackerly said.

Marilyn then knew it was all a scam and found out the first money order she deposited was also fake.

“I was out all of that money - $996, plus they charged me a $12.00 fee,” Ackerly explained.

The retired teacher admits there were red flags. The first email said “Attention: Esteemed Secret Marilyn Ackerly.”

"There’s a couple problems, there were some grammar mistakes,” U.S Postal Inspector Ricky Vida said. “They used English that normally Americans wouldn’t use.”

Postal inspectors say these red flags are key to preventing fraud. Marilyn said initially she was embarrassed, but hopes that telling her story will prevent others from becoming a victim.

If you ever fear or question if you have received a counterfeit money order you can take them to a post office for evaluation.