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Scamming the scammer is always fun

'Jan Brady' our inspiratiwith rest her 'family.'

"Jan Brady," our inspiration, with the rest of her "family."

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Updated: May 9, 2012 10:01AM

Dear Readers: We’ve all gotten those scam emails offering us a share of Nigerian oil wealth if we’ll provide our bank account number, or telling us that a friend was mugged in London and needs money. Other emails promise simple work-at-home opportunities that can make us rich.

The Fixer has heard from lots of otherwise intelligent readers who were sucked into these scams. So when we got an email offering an easy job as a “mystery shopper,” we jumped at the opportunity to expose the con.

It’s a scam that most likely originates overseas but involves co-conspirators in this country who collect the money. After it was over, The Fixer talked with Chicago’s top postal inspection official and money experts to dissect how it works.

The scam begins with an email from a Mr. Fred Nickolas of “EBay Secret Shopper LLC.”

In his initial email to The Fixer, Fred says his “premier mystery shopping company” employs 500,000 secret shoppers to evaluate various businesses. He claims to be offering a “satisfying and rewarding” job that will pay $400 a week. So we apply for the job, using the Chicago Sun-Times email address of and the name “Jan Brady” (one of six siblings whose current job as a singer for The Silver Platters hasn’t been paying so well).

The very same day, Fred emails us back. His English isn’t so hot, but we’ll overlook that because we got the job!

Fred waits a few days; then emails “Jan” her first assignment and news that a check is in the mail.

Fred tells Jan that her first mystery shopping assignment is to evaluate the services of Western Union at her local Walmart. She is to deposit a $1,950 check in her own bank account, keep $400 as her pay, and then wire transfer the remaining $1,550 to a fellow mystery shopping employee in Connecticut. (Fred’s letter is edited and we’ve deleted the name of the wire transfer recipient.):

From: Fred Nickolas

Sent: Mon 9/19/2011 9:00 PM

To: Zimmermann, Stephanie


Hello Jan Brady,

Thanks for your interest in working for this great company, your details as been received and has been forwarded to our Administrative department for proper screening and documentation.


Jan Brady

c/o S. Zimmermann


350 N. Orleans St., 9th Floor

Chicago, IL 60654


I want to use this medium to welcome you to this company on behalf of the Board of Directors, a letter of appointment and job details will be communicated to you shortly. Once again welcome to The Company.

Do confirm the receipt of this message, have a great day.

Fred Nickolas

Employment Manager

EBay Secret Shopper® LLC

Jan Brady is pretty excited about this, and accepts the job. Fred waits a few days; then sends her first assignment and news that a check is in the mail. Again, Fred’s grammar is not so good:

From: Fred Nickolas

Sent: Tue 9/27/2011 5:32 PM

To: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Subject: Mystery Shopper*****(First Assignment Delivery Notification)

ATTN : Jan Brady,

This package have been dispatched and addressed to you per your interest in working as a secret shopper in our company, we are EBay Secret Shopper® LLC and our work operation is according to the better business bureau, your duty as a Mystery shopper for Fred Nickolas commence with this first assignment, you have to adhere to the instructions attached

to this funds.

Speedy processing of this assignment is very important for the release of subsequent task in this company,your first assignment is sponsored by Western Union Money Transfer And WAL-MART In collaboration with our integrated payment system

NB: Your First Assignment will be carry out at Western Union and we will inform you when to Visit Wal-Mart Store.

We are trying to access basic information on their customer service, comprehensive analysis of their charges, and their staff approach to customers in your location, you have to ensure adequate observation of all the proceedings at the western union location you are visiting at First.

The check have been branded for instant cash out payment in your Bank, if you can successfully complete the assignment Same day you are entitled to $400 deduction from the funds.

Your assignment is to analysis the western union money transfer customer service, observation of their staffs while at duty, the environment of the western union outlet.

You have been mandated to also transact at this location to gather further information on the CASH transfer system, this can be deduced by sending the balance of the funds (transfer charges inclusive).

The transfer must be processed to mystery shoppers in Connecticut, And the approved mystery shopper below, this will enable him to commence on his assignment respectively.






You have to survey the following information at the location, and get back at us with your findings.

1. Name and address of the store

2.How many sales people there are when you enter?

3. How many customers there are at the shop when you enter?

4. Is there a queue? If so how many people are attending to them and how many people are on the queue?

5. How long does it take from when you enter until someone offers or comes to assist you?

6. The name of the person who comes to assist/attends to you?

7. What is he/she’s general deposition, are they friendly, helpful, polite, grumpy, rude, or whatever you may use to qualify them?

8. How easy or difficult was it for you to obtain the service or goods you went in there for?

9. How long does the entire exercise take?

10. What are your personal opinions about this store? would you recommend them to your friends?

When you are done you will email us ( a FULL SURVEY REPORT with time stamps and cost breakdown with the following information:






As always communication is very important, please acknowledge the receipt of this mail ASAP.

Good Luck and stay bless

Best Regards, Fred Nickolas

Jan replies immediately:

From: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Sent: Tue 9/27/2011 7:16 PM

To: Fred Nickolas

Subject: RE: Mystery Shopper*****(First Assignment Delivery Notification)

Dear Fred,

I am so excited! This job is coming at the perfect time, as my brother Greg’s old beater car just broke down in our driveway and my sister Marcia’s nose was badly damaged by a football and she may need medical attention.

Good luck and stay bless to you, too.

Enthusiastically, Jan Brady

The next day, Fred emails Jan the package tracking info for the check (which is being mailed to the Sun-Times newsroom) and directs her to send the money transfer “as soon as possible.” But Jan needs to stall for time, so she tells Fred she had to leave town to pick up Cousin Oliver, “who will be staying with the Brady family for 1-1/2 seasons while his parents are away.”

The check arrives at the Sun-Times newsroom, addressed to Jan Brady in care of S. Zimmermann. It’s realistic; it bears the name of Kohr Royer Griffith Inc., a real estate company in Columbus, Ohio, and is for $1,950.

The Fixer showed the check to Tom Brady (no relation to Jan), the postal inspector-in-charge for Chicago, and to Jack Buscemi, VP of security at West Suburban Bank. It turns out the check has real routing numbers for Fifth Third Bank in Columbus. Brady and Buscemi both said the check would be accepted at any bank. Under federal law, funds would be made available by the next day, though it could take a couple weeks for both banks to realize the check was fraudulent.

By then, Jan would have already wired money to the scammer’s accomplice in Connecticut. Jan’s bank would then tell her she’s on the hook for the bounced check.

The package was mailed via UPS with a sender’s name of Willie Samuels in Kokomo, Ind. We tracked down Samuels and he told The Fixer that some time ago, he had almost fallen for a different online scam. We’re guessing his scammer got his personal information because Samuels told us he received a bill of about $800 from UPS for packages that were sent out using his name. (UPS later waived the bill, as he was a victim, too.)

The Fixer also talked to Steve Hess, a vice president at the real estate company whose name was on the check. Hess said they’d gotten calls from three people who almost fell for the scam and their bank told them that five others had deposited their checks and become victims. Hess’ company didn’t lose any money, but they’ve had to sign up for costly check protection– not to mention wasting work hours dealing with it.

(We also reached out to the woman in Connecticut who was supposed to receive the wire transfer; a heavily accented person answered the phone and hung up.)

Meanwhile, by Oct. 3, Fred is getting nervous. Jan still hasn’t deposited the fraudulent check.

From: Fred Nickolas

Sent: Mon 10/3/2011 10:52 AM

To: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Subject: Good Morning....I Await Your Full Report

Hello Jan Brady ,

How are you doing and how is the weather treating you and your family? Hope all is going on well concerning your first assignment kindly get it done first thing this morning due to the fact that the payment department have been awaiting your report.

Warm Regards. Fred Nickolas

Jan replies, but the news is not good, as you can see from this edited email:

From: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Sent: Mon 10/3/2011 1:04 PM

To: Fred Nickolas

Subject: Mystery shopping report from Jan Brady

Good morning, Fred!

I took the check to the Sherman Oaks Bank and tried to deposit it in our Silver Platters’ account. The bank manager said the check should go through by tomorrow, but first they need to make sure it is not fraudulent. I told him I couldn’t imagine it being fraudulent, but whatever.

Then I went to the Sherman Oaks Walmart to send the Western Union transfer. Here is my report:

There were two sales people. There were no other customers. I waited about four seconds. The person who assisted me was named George Glass. (Full disclosure: George Glass was my boyfriend at Fillmore Jr. High.)

It was very difficult! George Glass began questioning why I wanted to send a money order to Hartford, Connecticut. I told George that it was none of his business. He said he was going to call my sister Marcia and see what she thought about it.

What right does he have to call Marcia? It’s always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Then he starts telling me there have been all sorts of problems with people getting scammed by mystery shopping jobs. He asked me if I was doing this for a mystery shopping job. At that point, I was a little flustered, so I said yes, as a matter of fact, this is a mystery shopping job, only I guess it’s not much of a mystery now!

So, that is my report. I will keep the $400 once your check clears the bank. But where should I send the $1,550? I don’t want to you think I am a thief!

Sincerely, Jan Brady

Fred is getting worried. He tries to reassure Jan that this is not a scam. He says his mystery shopping company is fully registered in the United Kingdom, Ireland and United States!

From: Fred Nickolas

Sent: Tue 10/4/2011 6:29 AM

To: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Subject: 100% LEGITIMATE‏

Hello Jan Brady,

I want to let you know that our company is registered by the appropriate authorities of the United Kingdom, Republic Of Ireland & The United States of America and we do not engage in illegal operation neither do we engage in fraudulent activities.

We are licensed to operate under legal and tender services and working with our company ensures safe and reliable transactions.

Go ahead and process the payment and get back to me with your Assignment Details, You do not have to worry as you are not going to get into any kind of trouble because everything you are doing for us is 100% legitimate.

I await the Assignment details as soon as you process the transaction, Your Survey Report Is Very Important To Us, You are Instructed to submit all the necessary reports today.

Thanks and God Bless. Regards. Hiring Manager Fred Nickolas

That’s good enough for Jan. She replies:

From: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Sent: Tue 10/4/2011 3:51 PM

To: Fred Nickolas

Subject: RE: 100% LEGITIMATE‏

Dear Fred,

I believe that your company is on the up-and-up. I can only imagine how difficult it is to get a license in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and United States of America to operate under legal and tender services. I may not be popular like Marcia, or groovy like Greg, or cute like Cindy, or sweet like Bobby or curious like Peter, but I am smart like Jan. So I know that you are legitimate!

As for the mystery shopping transaction, my Cousin Oliver has started asking a lot of questions, like “Where is this mystery shopping company based?” and “Why would they hire you, Jan?” I told him that the mystery shopping company is based on the Internet and does not have a physical address, because it is a mystery. That is the whole point.

Anyway, Cousin Oliver insisted that I wait a few more days. I am torn because this is probably Cousin Oliver’s last season with the Bradys and I do not want to hurt his feelings.

Sincerely, Jan Brady

P.S. I’m sorry for my slow reply. My brother Peter came home from school with the measles and the entire Brady house has been in an uproar.

Again, more reassurances from Fred, whose nerves appear to be affecting his command of English:

From: Fred Nickolas

Sent: Wed 10/5/2011 7:03 AM

To: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Subject: Good Morning ***** I Await Your Western Union Report Today

Hi Jan,

Good to read from you. I Understand your worries and complains. You need to Understand that Mystery shopper is a company that based online and its 100% Legitimacy. We always make sure we carry out our assignment before processing to the next Available Mystery shopper.

And if you Understand the nature of your job you won’t wait for anyone to tell you what to do. And concerning the instruction you’re being given. You’re to follow everything written in a mail for you. Because another mystery shopper is waiting to pick up the money you have in hand with you for another assignment. And that has cause so much delay in yesterday transactions. You’re to wire to the cash out today, In the morning and E-mail the western Union details so the next Mystery shopper looking forward to his assignment could take it from there.

Don’t worry about waiting on the check to clear because the bank has already check on that before given you the cash. You have to follow the instruction and the company will be waiting a reply back from you.

I await your swift reply

Regards Fred Nickolas

At this point, we’ve had enough fun, so Jan’s father, Mike, finally steps in:

From: Zimmermann, Stephanie

Sent: Thu 10/6/2011 10:50 PM

To: Fred Nickolas

Subject: FROM JAN BRADY’S FATHER: Good Morning ***** I Await Your Western Union Report Today

Dear Mr. Nickolas,

Good to read from you, too. I am Jan Brady’s father, Mike Brady. I am a respected architect here in Sherman Oaks. I have to say that I am very upset because my daughter, Jan, was hoping to make good money being a mystery shopper for your company and now she has gotten nothing but trouble! Our housekeeper, Alice Nelson, got a rather disturbing phone call from the Sherman Oaks Bank this morning. It seems that the $1,950 check that you sent my daughter Jan and which she deposited into the Silver Platters’ account has bounced! Yes, I said bounced -- just like that ball that bounced off my other daughter’s nose.

I would have expected an internationally accredited mystery shopping business to be a little more organized! Yes, Cousin Oliver is a little twerp and he may be the end of our show, but he’s starting to make sense.

Very sincerely disappointed,

Michael Brady

Needless to say, we never heard back (and obviously, we never attempted to cash the bogus check).

As crazy as it sounds, online scams like this make millions of dollars for the scammers, who work in sophisticated overseas crime networks. Chicago Postal Inspector-in-Charge Tom Brady says it’s easy to see why people fall for them.

“There’s nothing about this check that would indicate it’s fake,” Brady told The Fixer. “This is your classic work-at-home scam.”

Western Union and MoneyGram have been trying to educate comsumers. Peter Ziverts, Western Union’s vice president of policy development, told The Fixer they train their agents to question people who come in to make a wire transfer under shaky circumstances. They also publish warnings about scams online and on the forms that must be filled out to make a wire transfer, and have developed computer programs to detect patterns of fraudulent activity.

In our case, it was obviously a scam because of the poor grammar, their lack of concern about emailing a newspaper and their ignorance of all things Brady Bunch.

Ordinary consumers should listen to their intuition and remember that strangers won’t offer you a dream job online, or ask you to rent them an apartment, or cut you in on vast oil wealth, or tell you they’ve been mugged in London and need money.

“Almost in every case that we’ve heard about, people overlooked red flags,” Ziverts told The Fixer, adding, however, about the scammers: “These are very, very creative and crafty people.”

Listen to The Fixer talk about this scam on the “Don’t Fall for It” radio show at noon Wednesday on WBIG-AM (1280). The show, hosted by Tom Brady, postal inspector-in-charge for the Chicago division, also streams live at

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