Western Union Mystery Shopper Money Laundering Scam

Email offers the recipient work as a mystery shopper evaluating Western Union outlets. The message claims workers will be sent certified checks to cover evaluation costs and their pay.

Brief Analysis:
The message is a scam designed to trick people into “laundering” the proceeds of counterfeit checks.

Subject: Customer Insights Survey!

We are currently accepting limited number of applications from competent shoppers to evaluate Western Union’s services and programs, both in-store and on their Website.Job Description & Responsibilities;

(1) As our shopper posing as normal customers, you will be required to visit the nearest outlet near you to perform specific tasks such as purchasing a product or using a service.

(2) Funds will be provided in form of a Certified Check to cover the expenses of evaluating the outlet. $500/per assignment.

(3) While there, you will secretly evaluate things like customer service, store cleanliness and quality of service rendered.

(4) Upon completion of the survey you’re to simply send us an E-mail with your rating of the store.

You will receive a flat sum of $500.00 per assignment. It’s fun and rewarding. There is no charge to become a volunteer and You do not require any special skills for this opening. We would like you to participate because it’s Fun & Rewarding, please fill out the Application below as we hope to Welcome You to PineCone Research:

Full Names:
Home Phone Number:
Cell / Mobile Phone Number:

Thank you.

PineCone Research

[Address removed]

Detailed Analysis:
This message offers recipients a well payed job evaluating cash transfer company Western Union.  Would-be workers are told that they will be payed a flat fee of $500 just for posing as customers and using the services provided by various Western Union stores. The offer is supposedly via a company known as PineCone Research.

However, the message is a scam designed to fool workers into laundering the proceeds of crime.

Those who take the job will be sent what will appear to be legitimate certified or cashier checks for varying amounts and asked to cash them. They will be told to deduct their $500 fee and use the rest of the funds to evaluate a Western Union store.  As part of the evaluation, they will be instructed to wire the funds to a specified person.

However, the check will turn out to be counterfeit. In fact, this is a canny means of turning counterfeit cheques into untraceable cash. The criminals responsible for the scam will send the fake cheques to their victims and then collect the proceeds as cash from Western Union. Meanwhile, the hapless worker may be investigated by police and possibly prosecuted for passing counterfeit checks. And they may be held responsible for funds lost in the fraudulent transactions.

In order to make their claims seem more legitimate, the criminals have used the name of a genuine research company.  The real Pinecone Research has issued a notice warning people about the scam and noting that it has no involvement with the scam messages.

BBB also published a warning about the scam back in 2012, noting:

BBB is issuing a warning about a business, posing as PineCone Research Panel, to fraudulently conduct a mystery shopping check cashing scam.  Consumers receive a counterfeit check and are advised to cash it.  Once cashed, consumers are then asked to secretly shop a money transfer business by wiring funds to unknown individuals.  Consumers who have been scammed have reported losing as much as $3,060.

There are many variations of these money laundering job scams. Some versions claim to be offering jobs as financial agents for an overseas company. Workers will be asked to receive checks, money orders or electronic transfers, deduct a percentage for their “wages” and wire the rest back to the “company” as cash. Again, participants will be faced with possible criminal charges and will be left out of pocket.

Meanwhile, the criminals can disappear with their safely laundered funds. No legitimate company is ever likely to ask workers to deduct their pay out of funds sent to them or use their own bank accounts for company transactions. Be very cautious of any job offer that claims to operate in this manner.

Western Union Money Laundering

Last updated: December 2, 2016
First published: August 26, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

Pine Cone Research
Important Security Notice
Payment Transfer Job Scam Emails – Laundering Scams
“Can We Use Your Image” Photography Scams