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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

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If you deposited a fake check and withdrew money, you'll have to repay the bank for the money you withdrew. You might want to contact your bank and explain what happened, and ask how they handle situations like this.

If you or the person who got the check told a scammer your bank account or social security number or other personal financial information, take steps to protect your information. IdentityTheft.gov has tips about what to do if information is lost or stolen.

Today,i got an email from MS company & checked them on Google.

* Welcome to (M/S) Networks * On Jun 18, 2016 12:23 PM, "Sherry Evans" > wrote: Hello, Sorry for getting back to you late. The delay is due to the number of applications we have to treat everyday. Count yourself lucky as your details have undergone background checks and have been processed. We received your mailing details in replication to our Survey/shopper job ad.

Your job is to act like any customary customer and perform a mundane business transaction while you conduct a simple evaluation (without being noticed) and accumulate information about the quality of service by staff, customer service professionalism, comportment of staff and other issues at such locations. Your survey evaluation will be on business locations such as, Walmart outlets / Western Union and MoneyGram outlets / Financial institutions. There have been reports about lapses in the services of their management and some of their staff. This evaluation is necessitated predicated on reports which their customers forwarded anonymously and phone calls, which were also made to the head office. A package will be sent to you, inside the package you will find your Emolument payment of $200-$300 and other funds you will utilize to carry out your surveying process. The funds will be sent securely to your mailing address you have given down in form of a Check which you would cash at your bank and use for the assignment. You must not use your personal money to consummate any of the surveying processes and there will be no reimbursement of any kind since we are providing you with all the funds you will require to carry out the survey. However, you are allowed to use your personal money in a situation where you want to promptly accomplish your assignment if you are capable to do so as bonuses are paid for timely execution of assignments and it enhances new tasks to be designated to you expeditiously. An Evaluation Instruction will be sent to you through email, this will tell you what to do at the store location and how to expend the funds at the location. I would optate you to confirm how your name should appear on the check, give down a working cell phone number where you can receive text messages.

Additionally, I would want you to state if you have done this kind of job before and what your experience was when you did it? You are also to confirm your mailing address and give down your apartment number if there is any, so there won't be issues when the courier service wants to deliver the package with your payment. Please note that you are to act Cool, Calm and Confident throughout the period which you will be carrying out your survey at the Outlets in order not to arouse any suspicion. Your swift response would be highly appreciated, replying with the Subject THIS IS ACKNOWLEDGED. Best Regards, Sherry Evans 703- Task Coordinator Survey Shopper® Copyright © 2016

Don't know if it's scam, but may be spam. What can I do?

You can forward spam to the FTC at spam@uce.gov. Please include the entire email.

The website that you need to complain is www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.

I received the scam check yesterday and I called the bank to report it. I am also going to report it to FTC. This is a shame, that people don't have anything postive to do but try to scam people out of their money.

I got an email regarding application for Kmart Secret Shopper. Heard about them, applied. But I discovered I got the job when I found priority mail in my mailbox with a check in it. WHAT I DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO HAVE AN INTERVIEW?

The envelope had a letter explaining I got job, go to Kmart do one task and email back my report. This part is exactly how the real Kmart secret shopper is done, except they use forms, I had no form. 2nd and 3rd tasks were not for Kmart. They wanted me to go to Walmart and use their 10-minute moneygram transfer and make 2 separate transfers. RED FLAG Why am I going to Walmart and evaluating them if I am hired by Kmart? The check I received was large enough to cover my purchase, all fees, moneygrams, etc. and left $300 for me.

I verified the cashier's check was written by a valid bank, signed by the correct person, however, the amount of the check was not the amount the bank said that cashiers check # was made out for. The check did not look like it had been changed in any way. Whoever did this scam is very good at changing numbers and amounts on checks. People please be aware. Scammers are getting real good. I got suspicious because the job came to me too easily. One other clue, there are different names everywhere and different locations. Florida to report by email, New York for return address on package I received, Texas for moneygrams, state of Washington for bank used.

I decided to do a background check for the heck of it on the names that I was asked to send money to. One has a record as well as an alias (entirely different last name). I did as recommended in some of these post. Took check and letters I got to bank. They took copies of the check and letter and will notify the authorities. I will also contact FTC. For you all, here are names and emails to look out for: ljones012         and jmiller2021 , Rod Franklin, 4209 Fox Court, Arlington, TX 76001 and Jason Waddle (alias-Jason Bagwell),1574 Edwards Blvd, Braunfels, TX 78132, and Aaron Merriweather, 1248 Jefferson Dr, Port Arthur, TX 77642

Got an email 5/06 from Kmart about job opportunity, make$400 a week, or more. Asked for name and address for info. Sent it and didn't hear back. May 18 received cashier check for $2945 with instructions to cash check and call 917747-0003 to get address evaluation site. Was to keep $445.00 for myself and purchase 5 Relodit cash cards at $500 ea. Send them picture of cards ,to be used later. This was 4:30 pm. When l searched address given it was Wells Fargo bank. Got text asking how long would it take do evaluation and send report. Told first thing in a.m. That seemed to upset them, got text asking if I realized I was being paid $400 for 30 min work, yes and that sounded suspicous. Told them eval site was closed. Check really believable, bank wouldn't cash it but deposited it until it cleared.still on hold, after texting that info to "boss" haven't heard from anyone. I'm sure bank will not clear check and I will have a returned check fee. But not sure how scammers will benefit from the deal unless they hoped bank would give cash and they get the cards eventually.bank was legit and signer was v.p. of bank. Bank in Texas, check from Pa. phone #N.Y

I got the same exact scam check in the mail the other day. Also sent from PA but the bank info was from Woodforest National Bank. Walmart # 8015 in Beaufort SC. I called the bank and gave them the check numbers and they verified it was false. I gave them the senders information and they are investigating.

I got a cashiers check today from Woodforest National Bank,The Woodlands, TX it also has 8015 Beaufort Walmart also sent from PA and was told to but 7 $500 Reloadit packs. It seems to weird so I check on line to find this. I will call the bank tomorrow,but I'm sure it is a scam.

I got the same in the mail a couple of days ago. Check from Woodforest National Bank, The Woodlands, TX, in the amount of $3,945. Letter enclosed told me to deposit the check and cash $400 as my commission, then proceed to the location to purchase 7 $500 Reloadit packs. I thought this was rather odd because the original email I received was from Target to apply to become a secret shopper. The offer was to receive $200 to evaluate a Target store. Didn't think it was of any harm, until I received emails and a text from Sears/Kmart saying that my application was approved and that I should be getting a check in the mail by Priority Mail. I didn't know that Sears/Kmart had anything to do with Target, but when I opened the package and found a check for #3,945, along with the instructions attached, I was very skeptical. Glad I googled and found this article and blog. I will be preparing a report to FTC. Grateful for finding this!

Thanks for sharing your experience. You can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

I got this same one. The check was from West Texas Educators Credit Union in Odessa Texas.

I received a cashiers check today from Woodforest National Bank, The Woodlands, TX it also as 8015 Beaufort Walmart it was sent from Santa Cruz, CA. The check was in the amount of $2,962.00. Purchaser: Valerie Brown. Two signatures required on the cashier's check. There were no instructions in the envelope with the check. I immediately called Woodforest National Bank to confirm if it was legimit. They told me it wasn't. This was really wierd there were no instructions with the check. All I could think of was November 26, I replied to one of the mystery shoppers for Walmart/Kmart through ms-jobs network with my name, address and phone number. I gave no additional information. No one ever contacted me through email. If they tried to reach me by phone I don't answer the phone from unknown callers. I wasn't planning to deposit this check because I knew I wasn't expecting money from anyone.
Glad I did my research and found this website. There are too many scammers out there especially this time of the year.

i'm surprised your check had any ligit info on it.

got the same offer today. in the garbage!

Yes, I almost fell for the scam too. I received package in the mail. Check was for $2875. They wanted me to send MoneyGram to a Gary Simon in Istanbul, Turkey. DEFINITE RED FLAG. My "salary" was $350, but they wanted me to also pay the $30 fee for sending the MoneyGram. Really!!!

No way does it make any sense to send $2,495 to Istanbul Turkey as a "job".
Nope, sorry, they are not getting into my bank account.

Funny thing is I wasn't aware it was coming in the mail, and the guy kept emailing me to see if deposit was received. After checking mail and finding package, I read the "MoneyGram" employment letter and recognized several red flags, so I look on internet and found all these posts.

Thanks guys for your posts. It saves a lot of us from looking our hard earned money.

Beware of Jonathan Daniel. The bank check was from was Tuscaloosa VA Federal Credit Union.

Be careful.

BOBBIE GREEN ON SCAM LIST I TOO GOT THE SAME FAKE CHECK I TOOK IT TO THE GARBAGE

hi I just had this happen to me through facebook, it seemed legitimate because it came from a friend I know who lives in Denver about this great opportunity to earn some extra cash... I reached out to the company and everything they sent seemed to be on the up and up... emails and texts were sent and the instructions were sent via email the check came for $2900 and I was to buy 3 iPhone 6S and fed ex them to a given address... well you all know the rest! I have been in contact with the credit union that they used to issue the check to let them know what was happening... but it's too bad that this is out there and they used FB to get to us suckers,,, The company was We Check INC beware!

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

I received a priority envelope with a postal money order inside that is the best fake I have ever saying! It has the watermark seal and everything on it! I'm taking it to the post office tomorrow to let them look at it but these people told me I had been chosen to be a secret shopper to deposit The money order in my bank account, take out about $100 for commission and mail them the rest after shopping at CVS. They texted me from phone number 323–643–9720 and asked me to please hurry and get started as a secret shopper and asking if I had cash the money order yet. When I texted him back and ask them if this was a real money order or not they have not responded. These people must think I'm a freaking idiot! Who sends a total stranger almost $1000 in the mail and trust that they will use it to do a job and send back the rest! It ain't happening!

DAM..I ALREADY DID...GOTTA C MY BANK N THE MORNING AFTER THE WKEND HOLIDAY..BUT WHAT IF I WITHDRAW ALL THE MONEY I DEPOSITD..GIVE IT BK 2 MY BANK..I SHOULD BE CLEAR WITH MY BANK..MAYB..THAT WAS VERY TEMPTING..1ST TIME 4 EVERYTHING

Has anyone just cashed in Wal-Mart? Instead of taking it to your actual bank. I just got one of these today, and I'm assuming it's a scam sense I didn't agree to doing any mystery shopper jobs. Figured the one way of knowing was if I could cash the cashier's check at Wal-Mart or something so I didn't have it in my personal account in case it was indeed a scam.

Hey have you or know anyone that jist went to a walmart or check cashing place to cash the check and did it cash the check i got is legit got 11 security features and has watermark its from wells fargo bank i was just thinking of taking it tk walmart or a check cashing store let me know eager to hear yoir response

I just got that same check and information today nit fonna dp it so thank you for this information you saved me a lot of money and time.

got my check $1725. today on Travis credit union in vacaville ca .. googled the bank got thier phone number will call tommorrow to inquire if this account is real. have been trying to check out the contact names i have with no success. names to be aware of peter anderson , john moore , and jerry allen. i was to send 1445 to jerry allen 17 renmin south road , guangzhou, china 510130. i was to buy 10.00 cashier check for john moore then scan a copy to peter4anderson so glad i found this information page

I too received my check in the amount of $1725 from Travis CU in Vacaville CA dated 11/16. It came to me 2 day priority mail from a Delphine A. Vass in North Lauderdale FL. My instructions came from "Michael Frank, Head of HR Office" with instructions to mail 1445 to Joel Hilary at the same 17 renin south road in Guangzhou China 510130. I received several emails from "Michael Franks" inquiring as to whether or not I have completed my assignment. I obviously was very skeptical and glad I did not fall for this.

Travis credit union is real and in Vacaville and other cities in Solano county i have lived in Vacaville my entire life , it is named after Travis Air Force base wjich is just outside of Vacaville .

What do i do with the check they sent me an what happens if I cash it

Don't deposit a check from someone you don’t know.

If the check is fake, it will eventually bounce. You are responsible for any checks you deposit to your account. After the check bounces, you will owe the bank money. You will have to repay the bank for all the money you withdrew.

Ok I unfortunately fell for this and I got a check for like 1900 and some dollars and I deposit it into a new bank account but I only withdrew the 200 that he said that I could have. So I'm not going to touch the money at all but will I still have to pay the 200 back.?

If you deposit a check and withdraw money, and then find out the check is fraudulent, you have to repay the bank the amount you withdrew.

i recently received a check in the mail in the amount of 2860 with a purchaser of Amby Hunt from a paulturney wanting me to become a Money Gram Mystery shopper and keep $235, use 110 for the Money Gram 10 minute service, and send $2450 to Larnaca, Larnaca, Cyprus. Check was written on a "Sun Trust" account so I called the bank and was told this was not an official check and that the information on the check was not valid. Beware of this scam.

These are useful details for a complaint. Please report this to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. The information you give goes into a database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

Tozrts1@ is a mystery shpper scam

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.

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