Savvy student recognizes mystery shopper scam

Kansas University freshman Luke Hothan, Ozawkie, displays a fake check he received before taking part in what he believed to be a “mystery shopper scam.” Before Hothan attempted to deposit the check, he did some investigating and found that the bank account the check was drawn on did not exist.

Kansas University freshman Luke Hothan, Ozawkie, displays a fake check he received before taking part in what he believed to be a “mystery shopper scam.” Before Hothan attempted to deposit the check, he did some investigating and found that the bank account the check was drawn on did not exist.

March 3, 2009


KU student catches 'mystery shopper' scam

A KU student recently became suspicious of an email asking him to become a mystery shopper to evaluate Wal-Mart. Enlarge video

Lucas Hothan thought he’d make a few easy dollars working as a mystery shopper.

So last month after receiving what appeared to be a legitimate e-mail from a “student research” organization offering an opportunity to be a mystery shopper, the Kansas University student signed up.

“I was pretty broke as it was, so I thought it would be a good idea,” said Hothan, an Ozawkie freshman. “I thought maybe I’d get $30.”

He was stunned when a package containing a check for $2,850 was delivered to him. He also received e-mailed instructions to evaluate two Lawrence businesses, Wal-Mart, 3300 Iowa, and Western Union, 1015 W. 23rd St. He was to deposit the check, spend $50 at Wal-Mart, keep $250 as his pay and wire the remainder of the money via Western Union to somebody in California.

“That was pretty ridiculous,” Hothan said.

Hothan became his own detective and started making some inquiries. He did an Internet search of the name on the check and came up with nothing. The check was on an account with a bank in California. He called it and was told that account was inactive.

Next he called a phone number he had for the man who signed the check. He got a business in San Francisco and was told nobody by that name worked there.

“They had never heard of him,” Hothan said. “They were as clueless as I was.”

Hothan was relieved that he didn’t try to cash or deposit the check in his Lawrence bank.

“I’m pretty sure that by the time the bank found out the check was bad it would have been on me,” Hothan said. “I’m short of money as it is. I don’t need to owe a bank $3,000.”

Mystery shopper scams are common, according the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. While there are legitimate organizations that employ “secret shoppers” there also are a number of phony advertisements trying to scam people out of money, according to Attorney General Steve Six.

This week is National Consumer Protection Week and Six’s office is holding nine events throughout the state to raise awareness on consumer issues. A consumer workshop for Kansas high school students is being conducted starting at 8:30 a.m. today in the KU Union’s Woodruff Auditorium.

On Thursday, a shred-a-thon will be held at Lawrence’s Wal-Mart from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Personal documents with sensitive information can be taken for shredding.


Adrienne Sanders 9 years, 2 months ago

I'm really glad to see a story about someone catching a scam instead of being caught by it!

hawklet21 9 years, 2 months ago

Me too, dulcinea! This is a better story than all of the "oh, poor me, I got scammed" stories and letters. Way to take action!

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 2 months ago

But the scams will continue because so many will just gleefully deposit the check thinking that sometimes you DO get something for nothing! [eyes rolling]

Chris Ogle 9 years, 2 months ago

Heck, if he just wanted 30 bucks, he could work a day at Walmart.

K_dub 9 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad that he was smart enough not to fall for it.

Last week a friend of mine was trying to sell a piece of furniture, she got an email from a guy claiming to be on vacation, but wanted the piece of furniture [priced at $175] to be ready for delivery when he returned.

He said he would send my friend a check for the amount, but on the morning she was supposed to get it, he emailed her and said that his secretary made a mistake and accidentally sent my friend a check for $2600 [he said it was meant to be for the movers]. He asked her to keep out $175 for the furniture and an extra $50 for her trouble and send him a money order or whatever for the balance.

Thankfully she did NOT do it. These people are out there preying on desperate and unsuspecting people. It's horrible!

I'm glad she was smart enough not to fall for this often-tried scam.

LogicMan 9 years, 2 months ago

Just another variation of the Nigerian e-mail scams, IMHO.

sourpuss 9 years, 2 months ago

Boy, Wal-Mart must be desperate for customers, needing to lure them in with "free" services. Kudos to this guy for not falling for a scam.

Tim Quest 9 years, 2 months ago

Wow, look at Sherlock frickin' Holmes. Anyone with internet access, 30 seconds of spare time, and a modicum of common sense could tell you that these check scams are both obvious and common.

1029 9 years, 2 months ago

$30? This guy sounds like a perfect candidate for the job of "plasma donor".

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 2 months ago

Did_I_say_that = not caught up to 2005 on pop culture references.

Bob Forer 9 years, 2 months ago

What was so "savvy" about the student's "realization" that it was fraudulent. This is one of the oldest scams around. Typically, someone will purchase an item offered for sale on ebay or some other e-store, for more than its worth, pay for it with a "cashiers" check much larger than the purchase price, and ask the seller to wire the "balance" as soon as possible via western union. Of course, the seller is told to keep an additional hundred for his troubles. Anyone falling for this scam is both an idiot and greedy, meaning, that the vast majority of people who don't fall for the scam are your garden variety person of average intelligence. Nothing savvy about it. So why is he getting a pat on the back for not being stupid.

Evan Ridenour 9 years, 2 months ago

I worked at a local bank for three years and you would be AMAZED by how many people would deposit or try to deposit these checks. Some of them would even get upset at me for trying to inform them about what was going on.

The average person just honestly is really stupid. You don't get things for free. No one is going to send you a check for several thousand dollars with the expectation that you will send some of it back because that check is as good as cash the moment you receive it. You can't attach other terms like that to the issuance of a check. Especially cashiers checks which normally can't even be stopped.

HermioneElliott 9 years, 2 months ago

Rocket science is offered at KU. I guess to some education is a joke while to others it is serious. Clyde Tombaugh who was an astronomer at KU discovered Pluto. I never, and I mean never, get any kind of e-mails about scams of any kind. I clicked the box that says people not on my address list go directly to trash. I never see it.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 2 months ago

Geez, did_I. What crawled up you? All I did is point out that while some people (like parrotuya) understand a joke that's been around 4-5 years, while you didn't. Your second comment doesn't even make sense. You = fail (by the way, that's a meme from about 2003).

wisebafoon 9 years, 2 months ago

I don't think anyone is trying to praise this guy as a genius, just not a moron. It says its a part of consumer protection week. you all say he is nothing special because you would have picked up on it, there are many many people who are dumb enough to follow through with it. I say good job of recognizing it and telling someone about it.

Crystal Patterson 9 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone else find it hilarious that the ad posted right below the article is for mystery shoppers? "Get paid to dine out! Earn up to $28/hour" Sign me up!

RoeDapple 9 years, 2 months ago

Right Multi, nothing like showing your address to the world! And he thinks he gets junk mail now...............

misseve 9 years, 2 months ago

I got one of those checks about a month ago for a company in GA for a bank that doesnt exist. I was to mail a money order to someone in Canada. The phone number listed was also Canadian. I took it to the DA and was brushed off. I guess I was too old to be taken seriously (just kidding)

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