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Beware of mystery shopper scams

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I confess… I once was a mystery shopper. Decades ago, I shopped at stores to see what they were charging for certain products and visited restaurant chains to evaluate the food and service. I wrote up a report, sent it in, and received a check for my work. Nothing I could make a living from, but it helped fill the gas tank.

Back then, it didn’t occur to me that responding to a mystery or secret shopper ad could set me up for a scam. Now I know – if you’re looking to make extra money as a mystery shopper, it pays to do some homework to make sure the job is real.

Recently, we’ve heard about a scam that begins when you get an email offering “secret shopper” jobs with retailers like Wal-Mart, Kmart, Best Buy or Home Depot. If you click through to the website, it looks like you’re on a retailer’s site – but you’re not. You’re asked to provide some personal information to get started, and told you’ll soon get a cashier’s check for around $1,500. You’re instructed to deposit the check into your account to “activate” your employment, keep $300 of that money as “advance payment” to cover initial expenses, and wire back the rest.

Problem is, the “job” isn’t real and it’s not associated with any actual stores. You’re dealing with a scammer. That check is a fake. If you deposit it, you’re on the hook to pay the bank back.

Following these tips can help you avoid a mystery shopping scam:

  • Do your research. Most legitimate secret shopper jobs are posted online by reputable marketing research or merchandising companies. A quick internet search can help you verify the company’s reputation, legitimacy, or flag any complaints. Scammers like to use the names of well-known companies like Home Depot or Wal-Mart to gain your trust.
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Wiring money is the same as sending cash – once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know. If the check turns out to be fake, it will eventually bounce. And since you are responsible for any deposited checks to your account, you will owe the bank the money you withdrew.
  • Never give your personal or financial information out online. Guard your personal information, and treat it as if it were cash. Refrain from entering your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers online or by phone to someone who gets in touch with you.

You don’t have to pay to get into the mystery shopper business. We have more advice on finding legitimate mystery shopping jobs. If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC.

Blog Topics: 
Jobs & Making Money

Comments

Excellent information. These 'Mystery Shopper' scam artists are working while we speak.

Just got a cashiers check via Priority Mail for $1,997.00. They are getting even worse! The two credit unions on the cc are real! Good thing my husband is in law enforcement or dummy me might have fallen for it

I just received one like this about 3 days ago, and they keep emailing asking when im going to do it. i report it to the ftc, but i dont know what else to do.

Received the same thing a cashier check for $1,197.00 asking that I do a mystery shopper assignment for WalMart, to deposit the money into my personal bank account, take out $250 for the assignment the. Wire the balance of $1,685 to the next mystery shopper for their assignment

I got the same one around the same time from a guy called : Marc Kaufman. I'm glad I checked him out before I deposited the check today.

Just received a check for 1999.00 telling me to keep 300 and wire the rest to two diff people . BEWARE.. FOOTHILL CREDIT UNION..ITS A MONEY GRAM SCAM..

Hi Wandernever, Could you please tell me more about the same. My friend received the cheque and she has deposited it already. Bank takes 5 business days to process so I guess she still has time to hold it and report the bank.

If your friend thinks she got a fake check, please tell her:

Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know. If the check turns out to be fake, it will eventually bounce. And since you are responsible for any deposited checks to your account, you will owe the bank the money you withdrew.

Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Wiring money is the same as sending cash – once you send it, you can’t get it back.

What if they have the address to where you live?

I got the email Dec 13. Job description for being a secret shopper. Gave breif description of what I would be doing. Told me the compensation for each job would be about 200ea assignment, it sad send your name address and contact phone number to sign up, and once they accepted my application, they would contact me.

A couple days go by,I'm contacted the week of Christmas, Tuesday Dec,22 they let me know that they are about to send e my first assignment. And I should be checking my emails daily now especially on Wednesdays. On Dec 26th I received a communication that I should be in receipt of my first assignment, sent by USPS priority mail, I get to my mailbox by 6pm and sure enough, I had a package. I open it and a check was inside for 1996. And a note typed on plain white paper with my assignment. I headed to the bank to cash the cashiers check because I'm thinking, its like cash, like a money order, so I rush to the bank before they close at seven and I'm reading the instructions which are telling me to send the balance of the unused portion of the cashiers check to someone in the Philippines so they can do their shopping assignment.

Red flag...therevwass no mention of transferring any money ever nor did my assignment appear to have been sent to me in the form they they want me to send on...

As of now, the check was deposited because the bank said the don't cash cashier checks, don't know why, especially if it's supposed to be purchasable only with cash, so I deposited it and I told the company the check needed to clear first and they responded with, ok it will clear, but they begin rushing me as soon as the day came that the check cleared....

I still have the money, I have alerted the bank as now that I have done some research, its common for the check to clear because the law doesn't allow enough time to find a fake check before by law they have to give us our money.

So this morning I get to go into a branch in Vacaville CA and push for an verification of that check because I refuse to give u any money that for one if I let it go, its gone forever and two i don't got that kind of money of credit to recover from a$2000 scam, so when it turns up a bad check and the bank wants it money back, I got it saved in another interest baring account....

I hope everything works out, wish me luck..

Hi my name is Denise and I live in Minnesota. I just deposited the a check from priority mail of a must set shopper assignment. I don't want to go thru with it if it's fake. I don't have 2000$ to replace . Can you let me know what happened ?

How did this turn out?

What happened?

so what happened? we received that same check to be a mystery shopper for the value of 1000 and idk if I should take it to the bank or not? so what happened did it clear or did it come back fake?

Don't deposit a check from someone you don’t know. If the check turns out to be fake, it will eventually bounce.

You are responsible for any checks deposited to your account. If you withdraw money, and then the bank finds out the check is fake, you will owe the bank the money you withdrew.

The man's name on my paperword with that $ 1740.00 "Cashiers Check" was Dennis Jenkins too. What a racket someone should be locked away!

Received email from a "David Barrett" regarding Mystery Shopper "assignment". Don't know how they got my email address but nevertheless, I have repeatedly asked them to remove my address from their files. Yesterday I received an email indicating that a check for $706 was being sent to me and I was to be surveying a MOney Gram store in my area. There are so many typos in the correspondence that you just know that it's all a fake. I am so thankful that others have posted their experiences so that folks can review and see the similarities and understand the fraud involved in this. The email I got today, indicates that "this is a 100% Legal Job Opening". Still not biting. I have also gotten calls from the "IRS" claiming that they don't want to issue a warrant for my arrest, but will if I do not contact them or speak to them immediately. I have also gotten calls from "Microsoft" about problems they "know" we are having with our computer. They are extremely rude and when I ask them for their name or how they got my number they hang up. The IRS has a place on their website to record scams so if you have gotten this type of call, post your experience there.

David parker is his name I have received checks from two frauds this he keeps calling.and emailing.me to see if I did the first assignment .

yeah I have a guy who is blasting me with texts and on now that I told him I am not cashing the check he is desperate for me to send the check back to him not giving it to the local police department let them deal with this.

So what if the check clears before you take the money out? I mean the check should bounce and not clear at all right? Just asking haven't received the check yet.

Under federal law, banks generally must make funds available to you within a certain time. But just because funds are available doesn’t mean the check is good. It can take weeks to discover a forgery.

Until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check

Read more about Fake Check Scams.

I was recently a victim of this mystery shopper scam. What I thought could have been a cool venture turned out to be a nightmare. I should have known better but I made a mistake. I deposited the check and of course it bounced and even though I didnt use any of the funds my account is now frozen and I cant use my own money that was already in the account. Now I may have to change banks all together because of the fraudulent check. My bank is treating me as if im a criminal and it sucks because I myself am the victim here. It's been a hard couple weeks, I have learned a valuable lesson and I cant stress enough of how careful you need to be now days. Beware of anyone with the name Fernando Torres with a Chicago number.

You can report this to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Law enforcement uses the complaint database to investigate cases nationwide.

I just received my check with the same name. Do I rip it up? Send it back? This is my first time...

You can report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. If you got the check by mail, you can submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also can alert your state Attorney General. Ask your Attorney General's office if it can use the check.

Just got one for $2,865, drawn on First US Bank. Took it to WalMart, where I was supposed to do my "Mystery Shopping" and send two Moneygrams. Routing number was bogus; "bank not found".

i got a check from mistery shoppers to do two different moneygrams, its a scam and i know it, i had a friend of mine mess her bank account up and after she paid the bank all the money back. Her bank dropped her accout becarefull all

I received the same thing and I. Am worried because he said he will get the last laugh because I didn't complete the job. His name is Timothy Smith from Cape Canaveral Florida. Phone number (646)942-8058

Don't let them intimate you into sending them money... that's all he's doing

Received a check for a little under $4000. Thank goodness the bank asked questions and immediately spotted it was a fake check. My pay was to be $450 a week yeah right. The name if the place is JTC-LLC in Georgia

The 2nd time I got one of these checks my Husband reminded me (Then I remembered). The 1st time the bank kept the check, I won't go into what happened because "scam victim" just did. I kept the 2nd check & thanks to other unfortunate stories/advice I now know what to do with it. I am SINCERELY SORRY THIS HAS HAPPENED TO SO MANY NICE PEOPLE, like myself. I won't let it happen again to me. What prompted me to write this today is I got the Kmart offer but got nowhere by clicking on the link so sent an email that was promptly returned & then I found this website. If my story helps 1 person it will have all been worth it. I was a legitimate Mystery Shopper & enjoyed it. I've been logging on here & there (not looking too hard) sine the 1st of the year to do it again but believe me I WILL BE CAREFUL & SO SHOULD YOU! Happy shopping, but beware!

I just fell for the scam here in Sac looking to make a few extra bucks. I deposited the Capitol One cashiers check but when it was not fully available immediately, the red flags were raised. Thankfully i did research on mystery shopper scams because i was supposed to wire money from Western Union in Woodland. I will not follow through now. I wonder if I should I go to my bank and report this? Fortunately, i deposited it into a depleated savings account.

Wow this is so scary! This has to be the same scam that I almost fell for just yesterday. I received a cashier's check from Capital One and was supposed to deposit it and wire money from Western Union and do a mystery shopper evaluation on them and take out my commission. the letter was from Steve Johnson and the check was for $2380, much more than the $980 I was supposed to wire to some person I never heard of. I decided to be safe lol and open a new account in a new bank, and figured I wouldn't spend the rest of the money till I knew what was going on. It seemed kind of fishy but I admit very tempting... thank God the cashier said that if it was her, she wouldn't deposit it... So I went to my regular bank and asked their opinion and they immediately said it was a scam! I asked some of my friends and they said rip up the check and have nothing to do with it. I feel so stupid that I almost fell for it! But I had no idea that when a check clears the bank in a few days and they give you your money, that three or four weeks later the check could turn out to be a fraud and then I would be out whatever money I had wired and whatever else I spent, Plus in big trouble for cashing a bad check. Thank God the bank and my friends alerted me to it because I was very close to depositing it... this one has to be the same one that I almost fell for. I guess I should report it and maybe they'll catch the people who are perpetrating this scam. Thanks for all the info! Almost scammed in New York...

Thank you for this site thought it’s was a scam from Fernando Torres so I went on line to do my research and then I saw your post. He is at it again Beware all don’t be used Stay Blessed and always know God Sees all

Folks, it has gotten worst. I received a check for this and there is no name on the document at all. One of my Linkedin connections account was hacked. Before I thought about it I gave my business information. Then I contacted my connection and she informed me that her account was hacked. Shortly thereafter I got the bad check in the mail. I know better than to deposit.

I fell for a scam. We're desperate for money, and can't pay our bills. I received a letter and a check for $1860, and that I was to keep $350 for my first payment.

I thought it sounded too good to be true, but we just need money so badly that I figured I'd go ahead and do the shopper job... My bank is currently canceling my account because of these people...

Fortunately, I didn't send any money to them. They are: P.O. Box 870 Montreal PQ H5P 1B2 Centers Insurance Job Solutions. Phone number: 1 855 553 3987 I called and actually spoke to someone. Maybe this will help someone else.

These details can help law enforcement. Please report this to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. The details you give go into a database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

Blog comments don't go into the database.

The same thing just happened to me. I signed up through a linkedin message from a friend and decided to do it. I got a check in mail for $1820 and was to buy 3 $500 cards and keep $300. I thought, well if its a scam the check will bounce and i just wont do it. But wells fargo closed my acct and froze my money. They also are treating me like a criminal. I had nonidea. I dont watch the news often and i knew this may me too good to be true but had no idea it gave the banks the right to treat you like this. I hope i can open an acct somewhere else.

 Under federal law, banks generally must make funds available to you within certain time. However, just because funds are available doesn’t mean the check is good. It can take weeks to discover and untangle a forgery. Until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.

This FTC article about Fake Checks Scam tells more.

Don't get started with Mymysteryshopper They just sent me a cashiers check to cash and then go wire the money to 2 people thru money gram. I felt like it was shady when I text for further information but he didn't respond right away. He took awhile to respond and when I did he was pissed off and went off on me because I didn't complete the assignment. He cursed me and told me he was going to be unemployed because of me. He threatened to do ill will to me later.

Got my check in the mail today from Ronald Webster. $2550 send $1050 to 2 people in the Philippines. I don't think so. Think I'll turn it over to the police.

got an email from BEN RABIN about a secret shopper position with Kroger. They mailed me a check for $1750, told me to keep $320 or $420 based on how quickly I did my "report". once I did my report, I was to wire the rest of the money back to: BENEDICT COOPER Dallas, TX 75201

Same thing happened to me. I received a letter and a cashier's check for over two thousand dollars to deposit and wire money at a Walmart. I was told I could keep $300 for myself. I even googled the nearest Walmart and got ready to go. I got suspicious when teller at bank would not cash it and it said on my bank receipt bank may not get paid and the clearing date was over two weeks from the date I made deposit. Then I read about the scams of Walmart and called the bank. I should have done more research before I took the job seriously and deposited the check in my bank. Even my mother agreed I would be in hot water if I wired the money and the bank told me the check was a fake- I would be responsible to pay back bank for money I don;t even have. Hell, I could even get evicted if they deducted it out of my social security payments which only basically pays my rent.

My clients hire mystery shoppers from time to time and these clients don't hire people off the street. Real mystery shopper jobs go to people with extensive backgrounds in retail who are able to collect relevant intelligence and provide cogent reports of their observations in industry-relevant language.

I did the same in the 80's for a large greeting card company. worked for month, killed ouy tons of paperwork and spent money on gas, wear and tear on car, reimburse me for mileage. At the end of the month I expected a check for $800 fought for several months never rec'd. So even legit, they scam you

I was scammed twice as a mystery shopper and both involved buying the green dot shopping cards I think they're called. Now I know not to touch those things with a 10 ft. pole.

The mystery shoppers got a hold of me. They wanted me to by 3 moneypaks. For $500.00 each. Plus pay the activation fee. Plus to go to a Walmart

omg i just got the mystery shopper scam thing in the mail today! Along with a check for $1740!!! his name is Dennis jenkins from the rabin market research group in Ny, NY. He wants me to buy green dot money pak vouchers and email him the 14 digit secret code on the back of the card!! This has to be the same scam you guys got huh???

Did u deposit it, I just received the same thing???? From dennis jenkins for 1740.00

My dad fell for it, only it's worse. His ex step daughter got it in the mail. She asked him to cash it and give her the money since she don't have a bank account. He did, she blew the money on other stuff. At least "Dennis Jenkins" won't get the money. But now dads out the 1740!

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