PPC and the Mystery Shopper Scam

In affiliate marketing, the Pay Per Call (PPC) model has advertisers paying publishers for calls from potential buyers. The way it works is simple:

  • Advertiser signs up to the PPC program with an affiliate network
  • Publisher applies to join the program
  • Advertiser reviews the publisher’s marketing strategy
  • Advertiser accepts the publisher into the program
  • Affiliate network provides the publisher with unique phone numbers
  • When dialled, these numbers route the caller through the affiliate network and onto the advertiser’s call center

The publisher (and the network) are paid by the advertiser when certain conditions are met on the call. This could be an actual sale, or just staying on the line for two minutes and thirty seconds.

In so far as defrauding the advertiser is concerned, a common tactic is to buy stolen credit cards and sign each one up to whatever is being offered. The trick here is to buy cards that have not been reported as stolen in addition to getting into a program that has a fast payout. The reason for this is if the cards are reported as stolen before the commission to the fraudster is paid, well then the fraudster has just wasted his time.

A slightly more subtle method one can employ to defraud the advertiser is to pay or trick people into phoning the unique numbers and staying on the line for a minimum amount of time. One could even provide scripts to the callers or, shock and horror, tell them that they are mystery shoppers working on your behalf.

Enter requester Joshua Witzel from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Mechanical Turk is a platform where one can recruit an army of humans to do small tasks for a relatively small fee. Joshua Witzel is using Mechanical Turk to recruit people into phoning the unique number handed to him by the affiliate network. He is telling them that they are secret shoppers. In addition to providing the potential callers with a script, he sets basic conditions that they must meet before he will pay them.

In the following Mechanical Turk Task, Joshua will pay $0.50 to every caller that phones through to the unique number handed out, provided that they stay on the line for more than two minutes and thirty seconds (the condition placed by the advertiser in the pay per call program).

A screenshot of the task:

The text:

Thanks for being a secret shopper.  In order for you to complete this secret shopper YOU MUST HAVE A VALID EMAIL ADDRESS (USA ONLY). You are only allowed to do this once every 30 days. You will be calling a STD Test hotline that provides people with a free quote about getting a STD test in your area. You will be testing the skills of their customer service team to make sure they are asking potential clients the right questions and giving them the right answers.
 So you must play the role and say you meet the specific qualifications.

Setup:  You just saw this number on a google search and you are calling this number because you’re interested in getting a free quote about getting tested. You will be connected to a live representative.

From here you need to meet these qualifications:

1. You must say that you are interested in receiving a free quote about a STD test.

2. YOU MUST REMAIN ON THE PHONE FOR AT LEAST 2 AND A HALF MINUTES!!

Please try to come up with your own wording!! You have to make the customer representative feel like he’s about to make a sale. We want to see if he is treating all of our customers correctly.

YOU MUST REMAIN ON THE PHONE FOR AT LEAST 2  AND A HALF MINUTES. Also if you call back within 24 hours you will not be paid and your Turk will be rejected. (WE CAN SEE IF YOU DID OR NOT)

After you have finished asking your questions say thanks and then explain you will be in contact after you explore more of your options (HANG UP)!!!

If s/he asks where you got this number you politely reply from a google search.

When you are done with the call come back to the turk type up a brief description of the call. If you can answer these questions:

1. What was the name of the company?

2. What was the name of the salesman?

3. How much would the service cost?

4. Was the service representative rude?

5. Did he or she make you want to do business with their company?

ANSWER IN THE BOX BELOW

Numbers from out of the United States will not be paid for. Please don’t try to fake the call. We track the number you call from and the amount of time you spend on the phone. If you have called this number before you will not get credit either. You may call again after 30 days from your first call.

You MUST tell me the name of the company in your response or you will be immediately rejected.

Here is the number you call 888-331-7918 . You will have 1 hour to complete the survey to get credit on your HIT. We pay daily.

CALL HOURS

MON.-SUN. 7:00AM TO 10:00PM

(ALL TIMES CENTRAL)

The advertiser behind the number is STD Test Express, they are using Pay Per Call to promote their product. I know this because I phoned through and had a chat with them (to discuss potential affiliate fraud — not their product).

Worthy of mention is that if a caller phones through and stays on the line for more than two minutes thirty seconds, STD Test Express will pay the publisher (the entity associated with the unique number) a whopping $7!

Ah yes, I asked STD Test Express about their Secret Shopper program and they had no idea what I was talking about.

Here’s another one of Joshua’s Secret Shopper tasks:

Thanks for being a secret shopper.  In order for you to complete this secret shopper YOU MUST HAVE A VALID EMAIL ADDRESS (USA ONLY). You are only allowed to do this once every 30 days.   You will be calling a company that helps people who owe money to the IRS. You will be testing the skills of their customer service team to make sure they are asking potential clients the right questions and giving them the right answers.

So you must play the role and say you meet the specific qualifications. Setup:  You just saw this number on a google search and you are calling this number because you’re interested in getting help with the taxes that you owe. You will be connected to a live representative. From here you need to meet these qualifications:

1. You must answer yes to the question that you owe more than $10,000 to the IRS.

2. YOU MUST REMAIN ON THE PHONE FOR AT LEAST 2 MINUTES!

Please try to come up with your own wording!! You have to make the customer representative feel like he’s about to make a sale. We want to see if he is treating all of our customers correctly.

YOU MUST REMAIN ON THE PHONE FOR AT LEAST 2 MINUTES. Also if you call back within 24 hours you will not be paid and your Turk will be rejected. (WE CAN SEE IF YOU DID OR NOT)   After you have finished asking your questions say thanks and then explain you will be in contact after you explore more of your options (HANG UP)!!!

If s/he asks where you got this number you politely reply from a google search.   

When you are done with the call come back to the turk type up a brief description of the call.

If you can answer these questions:

1. What was the name of the company?

2. What was the name of the salesman?

3. How much would the service cost?

4. Was the service representative rude?

5. Did he or she make you want to do business with their company?

ANSWER IN THE BOX BELOW

Numbers from out of the United States will not be paid for. Please don’t try to fake the call. We track the number you call from and the amount of time you spend on the phone. If you have called this number before you will not get credit either. You may call again after 30 days from your first call.
 You MUST tell me the name of the company in your response or you will be immediately rejected. Here is the number you call 877-626-2105. You will have 1 hour to complete the survey to get credit on your HIT.

We pay daily.

CALL HOURS MON. 6:30AM TO 6:00PM TUE.-FRI. 6:30AM TO 3:30PM (ALL TIMES PACIFIC)

The advertiser behind this number is Tax Defense Network. I asked them about their Secret Shopper Program, they had no idea what I was talking about.

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