OGDEN -- When Stephen Thompson received a letter recently that informed him he had been selected as a secret shopper for a Texas company, he was a little suspicious.
There was no return address on the envelope, the stamp was Canadian, and the letter said he had inquired about being a secret shopper, though he never had.
The letter had a check for just under $2,000 enclosed and instructed Thompson to cash it into his account, then spend some money at a J.C. Penney, some at Walmart, and wire $1,500 back to the company.
Surveys evaluating the shopping destinations made the letter seem more legitimate, Thompson said.
"I called police, and they said it was a scam and to just tear it up," he said.
Scammers sent the material in hopes that Thompson would cash the check and wire the money back to them. After the money was wired, Thompson's bank would ultimately not accept the fake cashier's check and Thompson would have been liable to pay the money back.
Thompson said he felt it was a scam because much of the letter seemed suspicious, and when he researched it online, the bank that the money was being wired through had a website but no contact information was listed.
"There was no phone number or anything," he said. "If it's a legitimate bank, you think they would have a phone number for contacting them."
Francine Giani, the executive director for the Utah Department of Commerce, said this type of scam is nothing new.
"We get fake checks from time to time," she said. "They may have a different twist to it, but those are pretty typical."
Giani said people should never give their personal information out to anyone, and to watch to whom they wire money.
"The division recommends that consumers never send money unless the recipient is a trusted and known source," she said.
Even then, precautions should be taken.
She said someone recently reported that their sister's e-mail was hacked and messages were sent to several of her contacts pleading for money to be wired to her because she was stuck in Ireland and had been robbed. The sister had never left the country.
Giani said other scams that are prevalent in Utah right now include many make-money-at-home scams.
"They are just not available," she said. "You are not going to make tens of thousands of dollars stuffing envelopes at home."
Sweepstakes and lottery-type scams are also prevalent, she said, adding that gambling is illegal in Utah, so if a letter indicates the recipient won a lottery, it is a scam.
When in doubt, Giani said, call the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601. The division knows the scams and will do any research required to help prove whether the offer is legitimate.
"We are happy to do the research for you," she said. "We promise if you get any money, we will not take one bit of it from you."