All Mitchel Gowing wanted to do was work. What he ended up with was being $4,000 in the hole after falling victim to a scam.
“I was totally under the impression I was doing legitimate work. All I wanted to do was find a job,” said Gowing.
Already employed, the 19-year-old Penticton man put his feelers out for a second job to put some extra cash in his pocket through a job website. In March he received an email that his application had been looked at and he was going to be selected to be a secret shopper in Penticton. A month later he was sent a letter of employment with a $989 cheque and a number for his handler with Alfa Group Services Inc., his new employer.
“I called him and he told me to deposit the cheque and I had an assignment to do at Wal-Mart to make purchases for $100. I was to keep some of the money for my work and the rest was to be forwarded through Western Union because they were also part of the assignment,” said Gowing.
The Penticton man completed his task and received another cheque and assignment. He said his handler told him to keep a portion of the money and the rest was to be forwarded through various Western Union locations so they could assess what each business was doing. Gowing said he also was provided forms that he filled out as part of the evaluation and faxed away. It wasn’t until he went to his bank to cash his income tax refund that he knew something was wrong.
“I was told my account had been frozen. I was pretty rattled,” he said. “I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but the numbers I was using to contact my handler were deactivated. It was pretty obvious then that there was a diabolical scheme going on and the only person to blame was me.”
The cheques Gowing had been receiving were fraudulent, and because the bank could not track who issued them, Gowing was held responsible for the $4,000 which was then funneled out of his savings to repay it. It wiped out an account he had built up to pay for his car and insurance.
“All of my savings were liquidated. Luckily my wonderful dad is just awesome and helped me pay some of it,” said Gowing. “The only money I had left was the money that wasn’t in my bank.”
Gowing decided to come forward with his story in order to warn others of the scam.
He has put forward a complaint to Penticton RCMP, who are investigating the matter, but more often than not, these types of scams do not result in charges filed.
This type of illegal activity was listed in the Better Business Bureau’s top 10 scams of 2012. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association said it’s not the practice of their members to pre-pay shoppers, and to look for legitimate jobs at www.mysteryshop.org.