The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has warned consumers and businesses to be on the look out for scammers masquerading as ASIC in an attempt to recruit potential victims for ‘shadow shopping’ campaigns in an attempt steal personal information.
ASIC said on Tuesday that scammers are cold calling people at random and pretending to be working on behalf of the financial regulator, asking them to sign up to work as a ‘shadow shopper’ for an ASIC compliance and monitoring campaign.
‘Shadow shopping’ or ‘mystery shopping’ is a process in which marketing agencies send workers pretending to be ordinary customers to purchase goods and access services from certain businesses. The workers assess the standards of the business or provider and report back to the marketing agency.
ASIC regularly contracts shadow shopping agencies to conduct research and survey the market or to check if new regulations are being carried out by businesses.
An ASIC spokesperson tells SmartCompany the regulator has received a number of messages, which led it to investigate the situation.
“Generally after there has been a few stories [in newspapers] that we might be undertaking research, this sort of thing can arise,” they said.
The spokesperson says scammers will even sometimes invite potential victims to professional group events to make it appear more professional.
“What we’ve found is they purport to be looking for shadow shoppers for a campaign. That might be by way of a so-called education seminar, or a hard-sell campaign,” the spokesperson says.
The scammers running the event then get attendees to fill out a questionnaire with personal information.
“it will generally involve getting access to people they can subsequently take advantage of,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement, ASIC referred to “theshadowshopper.com” as one of the false agencies people should avoid, as the website incorrectly claims to be associated with ASIC. Source code for theshadowshopper.com reveals the website is embedding content from another website — producttestingau.com.
SmartCompany attempted to contact theshadowshopper.com and producttestingau.com, but did not receive a response.
ASIC explained in its statement that there is legitimate market research firm called Shadow Shopper, which operates the website www.shadowshopper.com.au, but this business is not connected or associated with the scam.
Heather Cullen, chief executive of Shadow Shopper, tells SmartCompany the scam has been affecting the business because their URL is so similar to the scam website.
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“This has been causing us a lot of grief. What [the scammers] have been doing is using mobile phones to contact people and they change each day. Once I did get through and I spoke them and asked if they worked with ASIC and they said ‘oh yes we’re working with ASIC!” she says.
Cullen also says no reputable agency would cold call people.
“If its a cold call, hang up. No reputable company does that. Or even if its an unsolicited email.”
Be wary of the details you hand over
Kate Gorman, national accounts director at customer research agency the Realise Group, says there are a number of ways to verify if a shadow shopping agency is genuine.
“They should be looking for the company website, seeing if they’re a legitimate marketing research company or checking if they’re part of the Mystery Shopping Professional Association,” Gorman tells SmartCompany.
“I think people need to be definitely wary before they give out their personal information to anyone, but definitely research the company requesting the data.”
Gorman says agencies tend not to just recruit anyone. They look for potential recruits with a keen attention to detail and good comprehension skills, and only ask for basic information when signing up recruits.
“It’s pretty much just their name, they sign a statement by supplier form and just their bank details so we can pay them,” she says.
*This article was updated on February 14, 2018, at 12.35pm