Imagine you’re at home, and the mailman drops off your post for the day. As you sort through the letters, you then spot an envelope from the supermarket chain Walmart. Upon opening it, the contents leave you very excited, but you should take a closer look at some of the minor details.
For some of us, the thought of receiving an unexpected surprise can be incredibly exhilarating. Whether it’s a gift or a party, the recipient is often left with a smile on their face, knowing that someone put the effort in for them. In the case of Brenda Berry, though, her bolt from the blue arrived in the post.
A resident of West Virginia, Berry was like countless other people across America when the mail arrived at her home back in October 2015. She subsequently checked the post, before noticing something unusual. Because you see, in among all of the envelopes, she caught sight of a letter from Walmart.
Unsurprisingly, Berry was curious about what the supermarket chain had sent her, so she opened the letter. At that point, she then received a huge shock to the system after looking at the contents. However, her joy was cut short in dramatic fashion once she realized what was really going on.
If something appears to be “too good to be true,” you can’t help but feel a little cynical about it. Yet regardless of any skepticism, situations of that type still manage to draw people in. Unfortunately, that can lead to plenty of problems down the road, especially if it does turn out to be a scam.
In the end, these scams can potentially cost the victim thousands of dollars, leaving them in a horrible position. But when looking over Berry’s story in 2015, her situation proved to be unique. Indeed, as we’ll discover a bit later, the letter she received stood out for a very clear reason.
Incredibly, though, scams don’t just affect random people at home. In fact, they can also hit some of the country’s major retail businesses. For instance, Walmart is known for its “price-matching policy,” which means that if you see a product that’s cheaper in a different store, it will mirror the total.
On that note, Walmart took things a little further back in November 2014. In a bid to compete with online behemoth Amazon and additional web retailers, the supermarket chain decided to alter the policy. At that stage, the company’s price-matching could be used when looking at products on those websites.
So if you saw a product that was cheaper online, you’d need to show the page to a member of Walmart’s staff. After a while, certain individuals online then came up with a plan to scam the stores through the policy. Using Amazon, they managed to create fake advertisements for some pretty expensive items.
The most notable of those products was the PlayStation 4, which had been on the market for around 12 months at that point. Given how relatively new it still was, the console would set you back a few hundred dollars at the time. However, thanks to the knock-off listings, some people were able to buy them much cheaper.
While Amazon wouldn’t sell you something from a fake listing, customers could snap a shot of the ad and take it to Walmart. In a stunning turn of events, the scam worked for plenty of individuals at first, with one grabbing a PS4 for just under $100. And it didn’t end there either.
Alongside that purchase, someone else nabbed a console for only $50, showing how far the scam could go. After that, this particular scheme began to hit the headlines online, which prompted Walmart to react. John Forrest Ales, who works as a spokesman for the company, shared its response during an interview with the Kotaku website.
“We launched online price-matching because it’s the right thing for our customers,” Ales told the video game website in November 2014. “It’s making a meaningful difference for people who want to feel confident they’re getting the best price. And we’re committed to matching online prices going forward.” From there, he made a big revelation.
Ales continued, “At the same time, we can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers. This kind of activity is unfair to the millions of customers who count on us every day for honest value. With this in mind, we’ve updated our policy to clarify that we will match prices from Walmart.com and 30 major online retailers.”
To conclude, Ales added, “But we won’t honor prices from marketplace vendors, third-party sellers, auction sites or sites requiring memberships.” Yet as Walmart tried to avoid another scam, the company itself has been known for using interesting sales tactics. If you’re a regular customer, you might already be aware of some of them.
For example, Walmart looks to attract the attention of consumers through the large price listings on the shop floor. More often than not, these figures are slightly lower than a rounder number by just a few cents. Even though the difference can be quite minuscule, a customer might feel the urge to buy the product in question due to the “deal.”
That also ties into an additional strategy that Walmart employs in stores across America. Unsurprisingly, the discount listings will usually catch the eye of people browsing the aisles. When they see what’s on offer, they subconsciously seek those products out and add them to their shopping basket, spending more in the process.
Meanwhile, the Walmart app has been credited for driving up business as well by the Retail Dive website. It’s believed that individuals with this application pay out 40 percent more during their shopping trips than those without it. Given those statistics, it’s not too shocking to see the chain advertise the profitable add-on.
Away from technology and clever pricing strategies, Walmart has another trick up its sleeve. As many of you will know from experience, some of the company’s stores are absolutely huge, scattering products all over the place. Thanks to the sheer size of those shops, customers can find themselves in a tricky position.
Indeed, if you’re searching for a particular item down the aisles, you could become sidetracked by the other stuff on offer. Before you know it, a simple shopping trip might turn into a significant spend, all due to the large floor space. And that’s not all, as we’re about to find out.
Naturally, when you’ve completed your shopping in a store, you head toward the cashier to finalize your purchases. But as you approach Walmart cash registers, you’re greeted by even more products that could tempt your interest before you leave. In most cases, these smaller items are referred to as “impulse buys.”
From toys to magazines, the placement of the products is fairly deliberate, as the store looks to get an additional bit of money from the consumer. After that, they usually head back to their vehicle with the goods. However, not everyone enjoys walking around a massive Walmart to do their shopping.
With that in mind, the company has been taking advantage of another sales tactic. Walmart’s “pick-up service” allows people to order their shopping beforehand, ahead of collecting it from the store. As a result of that option, it’s believed that the customers in question might open their wallets a touch further.
The argument is that a patron will only grab the items from their shopping list if they don’t enjoy traipsing up and down the store. On the other hand, should they go with Walmart’s aforementioned service, they might be willing to purchase additional stuff. After all, someone else will be responsible for gathering everything up.
To round things off, it’s been claimed that Walmart’s system for returning items is a sneaky tactic too. For you see, the supermarket chain has something in place called the “Mobile Express Returns” scheme. As the name suggests, if you have a product that you want to take back, you can kick-start the process with your cell phone.
From there, you can head over to Walmart and avoid the queues at the return counter. About why this is seen as a clever strategy, the explanation is quite simple. The idea is that by knowing you can send any item back with no issues, you might feel the urge to buy more expensive products.
Given those strategies, and the sheer scale of Walmart’s business, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it employed a mystery shopper scheme as well. Brenda Berry certainly thought so back in October 2015. This job is usually undertaken by a consumer who’s asked to assess their time at a particular store.
Keeping that information in mind, Berry was sent a letter from Walmart, claiming to be part of a similar program. Then, as she dived into the envelope’s contents, the West Virginia resident was shocked to find a check. The figure itself left her in a state of pure surprise, as we’re about to discover.
Incredibly, this check was written out for over $1,800, and appeared to bear the mark of Walmart’s senior vice president, finance, and treasurer. Speaking to news station WSAZ in October 2015, Berry admitted, “When I saw the check, I was like woo-hoo. I was excited. It’s $1,800. Everyone can use $1,800.”
Due to the check’s authenticity, Berry had little reason to believe that something was wrong. So she went on to contact her daughter with the good news, readying herself for the mystery shopper role. At that stage, though, she was given an invaluable bit of advice that quickly led to the truth.
Berry continued, “I messaged my daughter and she told me to make sure it’s not a scam. So, I went and looked it up, and sure enough it is. This whole thing looks legit. And I kept thinking, please let it be real. I wanted it to be real, but it’s not.”
To give you a bit more context, the cash that a mystery shopper receives needs to be spent in a certain store. Knowing that, Berry realized that the scam could’ve been very costly. She said, “If I would have put that in my account, I would have had to pay back all that money. Every fee and everything for having a bounced check.”
Luckily for Berry, she avoided some of the darker aspects of this particular scam. Back in 2011 a man from Los Angeles, California, was sent a similar letter, which also included a check from “Walmart.” Unfortunately for him, he added the money to his bank account, but that’s not all.
The scam advised the unidentified man that before depositing the money, he should share some of his details on a web page. From his contact information to his Social Security data, this step was meant to “activate” the cash ahead of the shopping spree. Furthermore, the letter itself seemed quite legitimate, with the Walmart logo in the corner.
The document read, “This is to inform you that based on the previous survey by our affiliate Consumer Survey and Quality Control Specialists, you indicated your interests in an additional income on a part-time basis. You are hereby selected to participate in a paid Quality Control Program.” After that, it explained what the role would entail.
“As one of the Research Personnel selected under this program, you will be working as a Consumer Service Evaluator,” the letter continued. “This research program is a fully paid program. You will be assigned different jobs every week. For each job assignment, you will get paid different salary depending on the nature of the job assigned.”
Then, to conclude matters, the letter ended on a promising note. It added, “On top of being paid for shopping, you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. With our continual investment in the latest online and communication technologies, working as a Consumer Service Evaluator is a satisfying and rewarding experience.”
Sadly for the man in question, none of that came to pass in the end, as the scammers cost him around $4,000. Meanwhile, if you’ve received a letter that contains similar text, you should be very wary. This is due to the fact that Walmart doesn’t run any kind of mystery shopper scheme.
After what happened to Berry in the fall of 2015, Walmart went on to share a message with WSAZ to reiterate the business’ stance. It read, “Walmart does not sell or rent personal information from our customers. Unfortunately, people occasionally take advantage of our brand to perpetrate these types of scams.”
As for Berry, she wanted her story to reach those who find themselves in a similar situation. After all, checks of that size can sometimes cloud your judgment, especially if you need the cash. She told the television station, “This is terrifying really. When you think about it, that much money is very appealing.”