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Better Business Bureau warns of marketing scam

By Maria José Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

The Better Business Bureau is warning Georgia consumers about a bogus marketing company that has tried to lure consumers into one of the most common scamming tricks in the book.

Augmentity Marketing, LLC, has offered potential victims a chance to be mystery shoppers, according to the Better Business Bureau Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia. Potential victims of the company's alleged mystery shopper scam are to evaluate either a Western Union or Money Gram money-transfer service, and area stores. The Better Business Bureau says victims of the scam are provided with a fake check, for $2,966, and instructions on how the money is to be spent.

According to a letter purportedly from Augmentity Marketing, the company instructed potential victims to deposit the check into their bank account and use the money to evaluate the stores assigned to them. The instructions include evaluating a Western Union, or Money Gram, by wiring $2,516 back to Augmentity Marketing, using a portion of the remainder of the money to evaluate their stores, and keeping what's left over.

According to Better Business Bureau officials, within a couple of weeks the fake checks used as part of such scams are ultimately discovered by the victim's bank, and the bank removes the suspect funds - in some instances leaving the victim's account overdrawn.

"This company [Augmentity Marketing] had stolen the name, and account of one of our new clients," said Fred Elsberry, Jr., spokesperson for Better Business Bureau Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia. "We did have an Augmentity Systems ... [but] in a very short period of time, we found out this [Augmentity Marketing, LLC offer to consumers] was not a legitimate deal."

According to Elsberry, a concerned consumer in Amarillo, Texas, who received a check and letter from Augmentity Marketing brought the company to the attention of the Better Business Bureau of Amarillo. The Better Business Bureau of Amarillo advised the bureau serving Northeast Georgia to further investigate the matter, because Augmentity Marketing's letter stated the company was located in Woodstock, Ga.

"We contacted the business licensing bureau in Woodstock, to see if Augmentity Marketing, LLC, had a license there, and it did not," Elsberry said.

As part of the scam, Elsberry said Augmentity Marketing used the checking account number of Patton Contractors, in Fort Worth, Texas, which held an account at Woodhaven National Bank, also in Fort Worth.

An operations officer at the bank, who declined to be identified, said the account may have been used as part of another scam as well, and has been closed.

Elsberry said after the alleged scam was uncovered, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies were alerted.

"I went online, and looked up the bank [Woodhaven National Bank], where the checks came from, and called them, and they informed me that the account was frozen," said Julie Lambert of Butler, Ky., who said she received one of Augmentity Marketing's letters and a check.

"I would never deposit a check unless I knew it was valid," said Sarabeth Farney of Wichita, Kan., who was also contacted by Augmentity Marketing.

Farney said the $2,966 check, which she received by mail, led her to further investigate Augmentity Marketing. She said she was interested in becoming a mystery shopper.

"I am retired, and I don't need the money. I would've done it for the fun of it ... but there are a lot of people in Wichita without a job right now, and I was very concerned about that," she said. "You don't get a check for $3,000 for nothing in the mail."

Though being offered a large sum of money by mail, or e-mail, may be tempting in today's economic climate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation urges consumers to be wary of such offers.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true," said Stephen Kodak, Jr., supervisory special agent for the FBI. "Employment frauds commonly work as work-at-home offers," he said. "You see more of it with the economic conditions."

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On the net:

FBI: www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/fraudschemes.htm

Better Business Bureau: atlanta.bbb.org