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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

Received mine yesterday. Signed Alexander Fleming. Bank of the West, San Francisco, CA. But came from Houston, TX.

I recieved one from Carlos Williams, Head of Recruiment,MS Consultant. I even recieved an e-mail & text message,rushing me,telling me I was taking too long and asking what I was doing with the money. None of the responses to my detailed questions were personable. They only resent previously seen info.
I got suspicious. When I called the phone number and got no answer, I texted and asked why he didn't answer when I called back! Of course, he finally answered, lied and un-professionally,said he was in a meeting.Luckily, I ran it by my friend before I did anything and discovered the scam! I can't wait until they call/text/email me back.DOGS!

Please report this to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. The information you provide will go into a database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

Me to. I tore up the check and he is now rushing me. I told him I knew it was a scam and to leave me alone.

The guy's name is now Peter Bris. "He" sends emails first to let you know the cashiers check is coming and true to his email it came today via USPS priority mail (at the bottom of the package USPS prints "misuse may be a violation of federal law - wondering if this constitutes "misuse"?). I can't stand injustice and want to do something that will truly help people by putting these "people" out of commission ...but I guess when one is stopped 20 more take their place. Soooo glad my husband has been in law enforcement for over 25 years or I might have actually called these people (never would have deposited it) He took everything to his white collar crime unit. Btw - I let Pete Bris know that..I'm very anxious to see if I get a reply

In 2007, I fell victim to a similar scam. I don't recall the details; and being the naïve individual I am, I took the bait. I received a check in the mail for a couple of thousand dollars, so I deposited it in my checking account at the Bank Of America. A I received a temporary credit for the amount. The check bounced the next day, and the credit cancelled, A few days later, I was at work on my lunch break and wanted to make an on line bill payment from that bank. My account was $5000 less than it should have been; and within a few hours, another $2000 had been deducted from that account. I called the bank and learned that someone in Atlanta had make charges at a Walmart with a phony debit card. My BOA account was credited for the full amount, and I opened a new account the next day. The next year when I attempted to file my Federal and state taxes using Turbo Tax, my attempt was not permitted; because I had already filed my tax and a return issued. Of course that was not true, and I still am required to use a new tax ID number each year in order to file my taxes. BEWARE!!!

informative as always.Thank you!Keep them coming.

I am on to these scams and I don't bite on anything, cause I don't have any money anyway and what little I do have goes for bills, food, etc. its funny, I even get phone calls. you would not believe..when they ask for me by name,i tell them she don't live here anymore

Doozey, I occasionally was receiving sporadic but frequent calls one or two a day, but today I have received no less than SIX calls from scammers, one asked for me by using just my middle name, then he asked me if I knew someone by another name, and the other name he used was my first and last name (which, like you, I pretended not to know who he was talking about. He was was very unfriendly and said he was calling to try to keep me from ending up in court. He thought that if he bullied me into thinking if I didn't answer his questions that once he mentioned the court system that I would become so afraid that I dare not give him the information he was asking for, and this is why he was so unfriendly--he was pretending to be a person of authority or someone associated with law enforcement or the court system.

FTC, law enforcement, Consumer Affairs, Do Not Call registries, and all other so-called protective service agencies just aren't able to help us or curb this kind of activity at all. We must be our own watchdogs. Be careful everyone and God bless all of you.

To Doozey: I replied to you about and hour ago saying this but want to revise my reply: Here is what I said: Doozey, I occasionally was receiving sporadic but frequent calls one or two a day, but today I have received no less than SIX calls from scammers, one asked for me by using just my middle name, then he asked me if I knew someone by another name, and the other name he used was my first and last name (which, like you, I pretended not to know who he was talking about. He was was very unfriendly and said he was calling to try to keep me from ending up in court. He thought that if he bullied me into thinking if I didn't answer his questions that once he mentioned the court system that I would become so afraid that I dare not give him the information he was asking for, and this is why he was so unfriendly--he was pretending to be a person of authority or someone associated with law enforcement or the court system.

FTC, law enforcement, Consumer Affairs, Do Not Call registries, and all other so-called protective service agencies just aren't able to help us or curb this kind of activity at all. We must be our own watchdogs. Be careful everyone and God bless all of you.

If I could revise the reply I would say instead, near the end of my comments that:

FTC and some other protective/consumer services are doing all they can, and many times are getting some great results; but we must still be diligent and do all we can to be our own watchdogs as this will keep a lot of work and "overload" off these various agencies. My apologies to FTC and other agencies I named in my previous reply.

Well, I have yet to receive my "job" or check(s). But, I was asked to give the address of the nearest WalMart and Western Union and about $300 per assignment. I am very savvy...but thought this might be great as I need money!

Reading all this, though, I see I need to rip up and/or turn in any monies they send me. You all gave me the aha moment. What could I possibly do at Western Union besides send them money! Screams SCAM!

Well, they have my address, phone (although I never answer numbers I do not recognize--and block those I do not recognize if they leave no message) ... They luckily have no bank info. And even more if they did, they will be the ones messed up. I am personally overdrawn $1500 in one account and have $2.00 left in the other!!! No credit cards, either! LOL!

If they want victims, picking broke artists is really stupid on their part! Thank you for reminding me and keeping my little bit of money safe.

Hi NeedyinNY, I also got that email regarding a Mystery Shopping job and at first I replied and gave them my info because I had applied for a mystery shopping job and thought it was them. Well today I received a check for $2830 and they told me to go to a WalMart Western Union and send the money to someone, who is always out of the country. On the email, it said for me to keep $300 and on the letter I got it states to keep $200 and when I read that I laughed because I am like if this was legit, you are cheating me already. But, I am not going to deposit this check because when you realize something is too good to be true, it is and I am no fool. I am going to report to FTC. Everyone be careful!

thanks for all the info

This scam is legit. Hate to say it but, I was defrauded out of $990.00. Still very upset about this. The Money Order received is a counterfeit and will not clear if deposited. If you receive a Money Order call 866-459-7822 to verify if the check is legit. This is the Post Office Check Verification System. Be aware my friends, the scammers are out there working hard to take your money.

You’re correct. You can call 1-866-459-7822 to verify that a money order is from the US Postal Service. Here’s a link from the US Postal Service with steps to verify a USPS money order.

I called the credit unions on the face of the check. It was 1 of 500 checks stolen (real check fake account number) - the credit union sent out alerts to all banks so even if somone talks for this, banks won't touch it.

thank you for the info - I just called them on a money order I received - it is a fake money order! At least they won't get it from me!

I'm sorry but; you are late ! I fell for the scam and it cost me $3860.00. Is there any thing I can do to get my money back? I am 70 yrs. old and I need help. I have all the info, thank you.

You can file a complaint with fbi website. Federal trade commission. Local sheriff's office. Did they scam you with work at home mystery shopper. They sent me a check 1,740. They told me cash the check. Which I didn't. Wanted me to buy at cvs,walmart. Buy 3 Green Dot money paks 500.00 each. Give him the 14 digit code. So he could clean me out. I'm not answering his email. Good luck in the future.

I got the greendot one to buy 3 cards at 500.00 each and one for$246.00 Check was for $1996 I was to keep 200.00. Wanted me to deposit it in my account. I did not and won t Every one needs to be careful. Name is Christopher Green Head of recruitment MS Consultant Group.Sounded to good to be true.

I got the same thing via USPS priority mail yesterday. Thank God my husband has been in law enforcement here in SC for over 25 years cause I'll be honest, the cashiers check has real credit unions on it so I MIGHT have fallen for it. The "person" on my letter is Peter Bris. How I'm on a mission to catch these "people" so after reporting them to Alan Wilson's office SC atty gen, I replied to the email they sent me asking for more info before I would deposit the cc. I got the same email back plus a text msg!! There are going to be innocent people that will fall for this; I just want to stop them.

Good for you jeh! And since I'm also from SC, I'll do the same to Alan Wilson's office, too. I also answered to a "Mystery Shopper" ad in a regular mail, so I thought I'd give a shot, that was about 2 mos ago at least. Today, I get a USPS priority mail with a cashiers check for $2,780.99 with instructions to cash it, keep $200 for myself, split the balance for 2 persons they list on the instructions and to send them the 2 split balances thru to 2 Western Union stores via their "Money in Minutes" service, then report how the transactions were done. I haven't gone to my bank, but I called the actual "Mystery Shopper, Inc." on their official website and asked them about this, and they told me its a scam. The person's name on the check and on the instructions who claimed to be a "Task Coordinator" of the "Processing Job Unit" is Timothy White. A new one on the block it seems from your Peter Bris (or could be the same 2 people?). And I already reported this to the Federal Trade Commission also who gave me a link to scams like this since I mentioned it was a "cashiers check" of a large sum of $$, and the link gave an insightful lot of information on the exact kind of scam this is, esp. using wire-transfers thru Western Union. I was afraid this would happen, but at least I didn't "take the plunge" and be out over $2780. This guy, Timothy White, had an address on the USPS mailer of 2067 Crotona Ave., Bronx, NY; but the cashiers check was from Armstrong Bank, which after I looked the name of that bank on the Internet, Google search, I found that bank has 3 locations in Oklahoma. Sort of strange that a person living in NY has a check from a bank in OK, doesn't it? But before I did any of this, I emailed the guy (Timothy) last night and asked about his business legitimacy and said that if the bank tells me they have to wait 10 days to cash this and if I have to cover those funds in my account, I will just send all this back to them and won't do the "shop". Well, this guy emails me back and claims that they are "legit" and that they all go by "Law of Kamar"! "Kamar"?? I had to look that up and its about some Buddhist belief (that its all action whether good or bad!), so that tells me something! Wow! Look out for this guy!

I just received an email from what appears to be the same person or group- It just mentions going to a shop you will be assigned to and shopping and filling out a questionnaire, and getting paid $250 for each assignment.
The email was from jonsteue0r@. The name at the bottom of the letter is Sophie Austin. The name of the company is MS-Recruitment.

Of course I am not going to reply!!!

I received a letter and check for $2200 today asking me to buy greendot moneypak cards. No way will I ever do this. The check is on a bank from First Niagra in Lockport, New York. Too bad I am in Texas or I would take it to their bank and cash it!

I got the same thing from Navy Bank today. Tony Brown emailed me then called me to see if I got my party mail package yet. Then texted me a couple of times to see if I have received my package yet again. I finally got it and then they asked me to complete my assignment as soon as possible. In the package, was a check for $2350 that I was supposed to deposit in my account and then purchase $500 money top up cards and keep $300 of the amount for myself and $50 would go towards any expenses. I almost fell for this but talk to a friend who wants me. Unfortunately I did deposit my check but talked to the bank just now to warn them so I won't be charged for it when bounces. This guy Tony I'm sure will continue to bug me but I'm just going to ignore his text messages. So glad I found this string and I hope that no one else falls for it.

YES DONE THAT BEEN THERE NEVER AGAIN

SCAMS SCAMS GO AWAY AND NEVER RETURN.

Good info. You may wish to include an alert for reitred people with time on their hands who could use gas money.

This happened to me but I was smart enough to call this website & check on it& yes it was a scam!!!!

I would of raised the flag when you are instructed to return the rest of the money. Why wouldn't they send just the 300.00 to pay you for your work. That sounds like a scam to me, I don't think I would of fallen for that.

Oh, I was also set back by the fact that I had to "send the money to the next mystery shopper so that they can complete their assignment." Why wouldn't they just send the other without my doing so? And why wouldn't they send a money order to my local Walmart and have me evaluate it by picking up my 400$ in commissions that they are offering me? Instant red flags all around.

How do i find a real mystery shopper online.

There is a company called Shadow Shopper that sends out lists of legit mystery shopping jobs. I have used them and made money doing Myst. Shopping

Sounds like the (TP) republicans are at it again, win at any cost???

I received a letter and check for $1675 for Mystery Shopper, for Sears, Walmart ($100 apiece) and $975 for Money Gram, the rest is my training fee. Bank is legal but $975 for Money Gram, and address in NEQ YORK, and envelope posted in Toronto post office box. Doesn't sound Legit, so I am write FTC, Attorney General of my state. Hope This will alert people so they don't get caught.

This is a scam. We received several USPS money orders for $975 each, and a bogus cashier check for $1700 to purchase green dot cards. We have lost no money, but we have turned over names, addresses, email addresses, etc to FBI, FTC. USPS and the Attorney General's office. I also spoke to the legitimate Mystery Shop website owners. They have been told by the FBI that there is nothing they can do, and the FBI does not have the resources to follow up. I feel terrible for anyone who have lost $$. The Bank will hopefully work something out with you.

I received letter and check from what appears from same so called business as well. I'm doing research myself. Don't think I will bite.

I received a scam mystery shopper this week and I informed them they were a scam and not to email me again.

I HAD ONE LAST YEAR AS WELL THEY SENT MONEY ORDERS THAT WERE TO BE DEPOSITED THAT WERE FAKE OR STOLEN I TOOK THEM TO THE POSTMASTER. I HAVE NEVER HEARD FROM THE POSTMASTER.

AFTERWARDS THE SCAMMER KEPT TRYING TO HAVE ME COMMUNICATE WITH HIM THROUGH MY E-MAIL I JUST IGNORED HI.

I got the fake check from someone I did not know. I ignored it. I did not know about the scam, but the whole thing was "fishy". I was lucky. Thanx for info.

I just got my fake check. There are so many red flags: the return address is not the same as on the check; the check is for a business I have never heard of; and, there is no letter. It just came in a priority mail envelope. I used to be on Pinecone Research, so that is how they got my info. But, I could tell it was a scam and wanted to get evidence for the authorities.

It appears from what I am reading here, no authorities care or have the resources to even care.

I can't even file a complaint here because I have not lost any money. This explain how these scammers get away with this and why they are getting bolder.

(I know from past experience the USPS is useless for things like this.)

You can file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint. Complaints from consumers help us detect patterns of fraud and abuse. It’s up to you to determine how much information you want to provide. You can provide as much information as you have about the company, even if you did not send money.

I received a check on 2/28/15 no letter just a check inside a USPS envelope it's founded by a private bank & tr.Co in oak brook IL,60523 the xheck the company that send it is from Chicago contractors supply in 1567 napperville IL,60563 but on the USPS envelope it states Chicago contractors supply 3036 N meridian st sacramento ca, 95825 very different addresses

The latest is someone called Fred Thompson sending a check for $1,950 for a Walmart survey. You spend $50 at Walmart, then get 3 Money Cards for $500 each to send back to him, etc. Dumb scam that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Same one I got but isn't Fred Thompson the name of that guy who is a speaker for the Ins. company AIG and reverse mortgages?

I received a check today for 1985.78 to buy the green dot cards and moneypaks from walgreens and CVS. I almost cashed it today but continued to search BBB to find out if this is a scam. Could not find anything out about the company. I am glad i read this. Thanks for the info. Now what do i do with the check and the letter from Wilmington DE?

Just got that email the other day. I did give them my name,address & phone no., had a funny feeling about that. Hope they can't wreak havoc with that info, haven't heard from them since.

I to received a check in the amount of 2,250,90 was asked to buy money cards, with instructions on the pacific amounts to be applied. There was no financial institutions information on the check(red flag), no letter head misspelled words, the amount of check in letter was 2,250,00 seriously? If that's not a flag nothing is.The senders a dress was Michaels arts and crafts store. I called the financial institution for verification on what I already knew was fake. Promptly directed to their fraud department. I have since sent forth with all contents as well as check to the bank. They have had several checks with the exact amount try and go through. I have since gotten treating text messages concerning the check, which abruptly stopped once I informed the sender their check and contents of envelope may be picked up at their banking institutions friendly fraud department.

Good job! You did your research, and you didn’t agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know. That’s our advice, exactly,  to avoid a fake check scam. Thanks for reading our blog posts!

Nice job! I hope more people do their research like you did, that was so cool! Thanks for sharing.

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