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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


I received a check from KSS International to be a Secret Shopper for $2350.80. The check looked authentic. Upon investigation I noted that the check came from GPM Southeast in North Carolina. The bank PNC Bank NA 060 New Jersey, NJ with routing number 000098642. The letter was from a John Horton. I learned that KSS doesn't employ a John Horton, not do they send a check out prior to an assignment. I also learned that the routing number is not tied to the PNC bank 060. Granted I was excited at first sine I had applied for a position at KSS but then realized that being paid $550.00 to be a secret shopper was to good to be true, hence my investigation. I am glad I did because the ramifications of depositing a fraudulent check comes with ramifications that you don't want to deal with. Please, please do your due diligence and be aware, be careful.

Hello. And now it is October of 2019 and the scam seems to be going strong. This version comes with a letter directing me to deposit a $3500 check and to do mystery shops in various retailers and a bank, purchasing gift cards and a cashier's check. A business name shown but email addresses are at gmail, etc. I have already filed a formal report on this website.

I received a secret shopper from a “Brian Williams” of Balanced Growth Consulting and a check for 3555 dollars with a survey assignment for a secret shopper asking me to go into the bank and deposit the check and then cash out all but 500 immediately get a cashiers check for an orphanage and then leave & take a photo of the cashiers check for VASA Orphanage and send it to him & then go to different local stores to buy EBay Cards in 500 dollar increments all totaling 3000. And then take a then scratch off the back and reveal the numbers and send it to him!! Thank God my bank is not local and I couldn’t just walk in; rather I had to do an e deposit and then wait until it cleared which it did not!!! Instead after calling the said bank on the Check which the bank was real the funds were not... my bank put returned it. I cannot believe I was so stupid but I had applied for a secret shopper job from this company on LinkedIn

Victor Price 305-901-8633 vicprice005@
www. mallsurvey. org Posted Jobs Inc.
I had signed up for a secret shopper job in the past. This was not the company. The letter/instruction sheet was rife with grammatical errors (thankfully I'm a grammar nut) and the .org website was a bit strange as most .org domain names are for non-commercial or non/not for profit. Also the cheque had the cheque number where the routing number should be.


I was contacted by a Rick Walter with a telephone number of 901-401-0516. I did not fall for this, but let Rick Walter that I was in.
The package came from CA. When Rick Walter (I f that is his real name) was told my me that I was on to this scam, he threatened me. He said he was using my information to file tax returns and that I would find out when the government contacted me. I contacted the credit union to which this fake check was issued. They were aware of the scam. Yesterday, I decided to text this guy let him know that I did have the money orders to see what he would say. He did not remember that he and I had a conversation. He asked that I send a clear copy of each money order. I then said "don't you remember, do you not take notes." I told him I reported this to the FBI and police. He then threatened me again November 12, 2109. "You will be sorry that you did will regret it." THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE STOPPED. I can provide a copy of the letter that was sent to me re Walmart Mystery Shopper.

I got this email and a check for 2,350$ Congratulations Jamie, you just got your first secret shopper job. You received a check of $2,350. Below you will find a full breakdown of how to complete your survey.Your report should be sent to johnjohnsone 05@ ONLY.
1. You are to cash the check at your bank instantly(or Deposit it at the ATM/Mobile deposit) or you can deposit the check for 24hours’ clearance, Email a Deposit Confirmation. Deduct $300 as your benefit for this assignment, you will have $2,050 left.
2. With Cash Only, Proceed to any of the following outlets near you: Amazon Store, Office Depot, Kroger, Food Lion, Winn Dixie, Safeway, AHOLD, Royal Farms, Vons, Pavilions, GRISTEDES, Acme, GIANT, Bestbuy, etc.
3. Ask any of the cashiers or attendants where to pick up an ebay gift card pack.
4. (Note: You can evaluate 2 stores i.e. buy 2 cards in one store of $500 each and 2 cards at another). Whatever's left after the purchases is to cover your gas.
5. Scratch all 4 eBay gift card Packs gently and take a clear picture of each card also a clear picture of the Cash Receipt given to you at the store and email them to johnjohnsone05@ .
Carry out the following investigation and Email Report Below:
1. Name Address of the Store Visited. 2. Amount loaded on each Pin. 3. How clean is the Location? 4. Did you notice any roll-back charges? 5. Is any attendant by any way rude to you? 6. How fast and efficient is their Service? 7. General Comment. Please email the evaluation report above to us immediately your result is ready. Thanks John Johnson Evaluation Consultant, Certified Reports INC.

They emailed me to be a secret shopper . They told me I will receive a check for the assignment. The check came including instructions to buy Ebay gift cards . I decided to research before Buying gift cards . I found out it was a scam . Do not fall for it .

Just got a check for $2600 and after depositing it I was supposed to get cash and purchase two money orders for 1,000 each. Then send them to a PO Box. It’s crazy! The contact person was Harry Lewis. (Obviously a fake name)! All of this came in a legit envelope with a return address that said CLINICAL REFERENCE LABORATORY. Huh??? These people need to be stopped !!! His number is (402)204-0998.

I too was taken by this scam...fortunately all turned out in my favor...2350.00 check, 350.00 up front payment, and 2000.00 in gift cards. Gift card money returned, bank account safe...I guess I scammed the scammer. I always warn about scammers and boom, I was scammed. They will send you to this site, saying it is a real check. www. verify check atpma. When you link, it is an unsecured site. I was able to text with the one who sent the check, he is demanding gift cards, which he will not get. Police are involved!!! Be AWARE!!!!

I am annoyed thAt they are doing this via text. Also. The loyalty cards you sign up for must sell your information. I have been getting scams based on recent shopping with a receipt number listed from a particular store.

I received an official check in December 2019 for $2,600.00 and cashier check on today for $2,600.00 with two different bank information. The enclosed letter has Walmart simble as the letterhead and The #1 employer of Retail Researchers. Welcome letter with evaluation instructions. The letter tells me to send a Text message to my batch supervisor (Harry Lewis) to confirm i received the envelope with the check and instructions.

The letter tell me to deposit the check at my bank (immediate funds availability with processing fees applied) then text Harry Lewis on 402-204-0998 after deposit has been made for funds availability time.

The funds will be available a few hours or the next business day. Soon as the cad is made available by my bank, withdraw the cash and take cash only with me to complete the secret retail evaluation task.

Go to the nearest Walmart store. Deduct $500 and extra $100 to cover cost of gas and fees, then withdraw the remaining cash for task ($2000) and get (2) money orders for $1000, each and send them in a FedEx envelope overnight to Harry Lewis. I refuse to take this check to my bank, because a real business wouldn't ask you to deposit a check and send them the remainder of the funds. Use common sense people. It just sounds shady. Don't do it.

Got a letter with a check in mail. Check from MS for $2600 a letter telling me what to do and the return address is in UTAH. The email address is harry lewis atwork @ and gave a phone number 4022040998 NOT going to cash that check at all

What I’m wondering is: WHY would a genuine job offer send a check for, say, $2400, ask you to keep $300, then send the rest back. HELLO! If they want you to have $300 they would just send $300!

I did get a check like this years ago and took it to CHECK INTO CASH instead of my bank. They have some system they can check to see if your check is real. Mine was not and they advised taking it to police. I did and filed a complaint but never heard anything else.

Just received an official letter and check for $2,950.52 from Mark Henderson. Took it to the police department. I knew it was a scam. I was asked to buy $2,500 in Nike cards, take the silver scratch off area on the cards, take a pic of each and immediately send the pics by text to info @ storesevaluation. Letter came from Debrock ENT Inc, 440 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA. That address doesn’t exist.

Hi- Glad I landed here to see all of your stories. I definitely was suspicious all along but also kept playing along bc I was curious. I received payment in the form of a Postal Money Order- was asked to purchase eBay gift cards at any of these: CVS/Walgreens/Albertsons/few others and keep about 20% of what was sent to me as my 'salary' and evaluate the service. Also, like many others- they said to take pics of the cards and pins. I did think for a minute that maybe it might be real when it was a USPS money order sent via USPS Priority (?) so I finally looked in to it and found that they combined real company names to JB Research Inc. Other contact name used was Peter Thomson, Head of Recruitment. One difference: Directions stated to deposit "inside the bank (no ATM) and wait 24 hrs until it has cleared", like they were making sure I was paid

Beware of Patrick Mason, He is a scammer got a check for 2,865.00 to secret sho at Walmart 300. 00 for me and the rest to buy gift cards why so many gift cards? BIG scam be ware folks

I recently was contacted by d&m research group survey inc. I was sent a check for 2500.00 and told to deposit the check, keep 400.00 and to purchase 4 $500.00 gift cards and to keep the cards for future assignments. I was told to peel the silver foil areas on the back of the cards and take pics of front and back of cards and keep the cards for future assignments. I was given the name of Jose Milan as the recruiter for me to contact if I had any questions. phone number of 920 252 7513. I sent Jose a text asking for a web site of his company and got no response. Sounds fishy!

Responded to an email offering Secret Shopper job
2 weeks later I received a letter from Balanced Growth Consulting Michael Smith Also enclosed was a cashier's check from JP Morgan Chase Bank Columbus Ohio, signed by Reginald Chambers CAO for $2630.00 Was told to immediately send email to micsmith0909@ (I thought it was not and text 413-561-0723, 779-901-026.
No other correspondence was sent prior to the request.
I haven't signed any agreements or contracts with this firm

Among the instruction included: cash the check, wait 24 hrs for it to clear deduct my $500 salary Get a cashier check for $20 for Pleasant Hills Children's Home and photocopy then use $10 "to cover charges while you will be left with $2100. (again, not proper English).
I was to then buy $100 and $500 eBay gift cards from various stores, scratch off the back of the gift cards, take a photo of each and immediately send to both 413-561-0732 and 779-901-0266.
Many grammatical errors and other red flags. Why would purchasing gift cards tell us anything about service and store quality? What would stop me from opening a new checking account at Chase Bank, cash their cashiers check for $2630, wait for it to clear and keep the cash? What would be their recourse if they are a fraud? Was told I would be "evaluating my bank in process of cashing the check you receive" (not even proper English syntax/grammar). Also told I would be evaluating "Lowes, Publix, Walgreens, Kroger, Target Kmart, Rite Aid, Kmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Family Dollar ETC. That sells Ebay Gift Cards in $100 to $500 denominations. (Visit multiple stores and do not load lower than $100 on a single card

Whole foods is starting an exceptionally huge research project in your general vicinity. This project happens each week, so we need to choose Shoppers to work as a store evaluator. You will get $400 on each endeavor. Every task requires 20-30 minutes of time at the store in addition to time to review your post-visit reports. CLICK THE LINK BELOW TO PROCESS YOUR APPLICATION: //bit. ly/ 2vy Ib4r Steve Carter -(Manager) Whole foods WHOLE FOODS

Got one of those checks via Priority Mail from a Fernando Torres. What do I do with it? Tear it up? Return it (torn up) via certified mail? It was for $3,526.80! Sheesh...what a scam!

They sent me a check for $2890.00 and today I received a notice from my bank they closed my account and charged me fees over a fake cashiers check. I know my mistake but I had similar secret shopper job to this and it wasn't a scam so I trusted this was the same. Please check into every one they send even if one is legit the next one may not be.

i have to admit i feel for the mystery shopper scam the reason i did i was recovering from major surgery when my spouse walked out on me takeing mortgage payment from bankaccount where disability funds were deposited due to supporting her until breaking my neck in a work related injury .i deposited the checks into bank account as directed completed mystery shopper task and called to confirm job was done money wired to diffrent indiviguals totaling from 4 diffrent jobs at diffrent locations 10,955 .00 dollars as i completed each job to my knowings the indivivgual i contacted when finished called my banking instution and canciled check afer every job spaning over a two week period the money made was to be used to save home of 23years left incharge after father passed and mother had a brain anurisium not able to handle mortagage .the kick in the story is my exwife is involved in the mystery shopper scam and when home was sold on court house steps after forclosure due to bankaccount destroyed from online fraugelent charges she recived a portion of what home sold for and still laughing about her part involved in the scam .life gives us cruel and hateful people thru out our lives to try and understand why there so evil ! i see it this way the truth will be shown before the end comes dont allow them to escape justice if they do escape justice they only do it to others over and over .

Was sent a priority mail envelope in mailbox from a Tracy Hines of Riverside,CA return address. In the envelope was a document for a secret shopper to "evaluate my bank & 2 Walmart stores with a check for $2,930." Was instructed to send a text to 229-383-8991 which there was no name attached to the number. Or send an email to "nfo @ gatopecsurvepy. this warning popped up. Upon cashing the check deduct your pay for $400 & purchase a cashier check for $40 made out to BREAST CANCER SOCIETY. Check signed by a S.M.Williams Remitter: Helen A. Conklin printed on check from a Tulsa Federal credit Union in Oklahoma. The money was for gift cards from the first Walmart for 3 gift cards for $400. The second the number of gift cards for the same amount. Was supposed to spend $40 for personal use to be kept later and if this was done in 24 hours there was a bonus 0f $100. .

I responded to one from a David Barrett to see if it is legitimate. I received a check in a priority mail envelope with no instructions. So I went to work on seeing if the check is real. I did everything and the last one that I did is dampen your finger with water and lightly rub the ink on the check. Well the last area I rubbed was the red ink on the check and it smeared. This told me it is faked and it was printed on a printer. Real checks ink don't smear like that at all. I'm putting this comment on here to let people know that if you do get one do this test before you do anything else.

I was contacted on LinkedIn to sign up to be a potential secret shopper. Here is the original message:
"Dear Natalia, Will you be available to carry out a market Research assignment ASAP? A Job that will not affect your present employment and Its fun and rewarding. You are selected to evaluate a closer Walmart & other retail Stores around you. You get to make up to $800 minimum weekly.If You are interested you can visit website at balanced growthsurvey. weebly. to apply and read more about the job. Best Regards,
Justin Sharma Human Resources Generalist at Balance Staffing Company"
I filled in an online application entering my name, phone and address. A few days later I received an e.mail from a MIKE POWELL TASK SCHEDULER & CHIEF CLIENT STRATEGIST
MARKET RESEARCH INNOVATION. OPERATIONS. TRANSFORMATION The email stated that I was approved and I'll be getting the assignment and a check by USPS. I indeed received a letter from a Reese Dodson with a return address Earlham IA. The letter contained detailed instructions and a check from Reese Dodson, issued by First financial bank with an address and routing number in Greensburg IN. The assignment instructions were, briefly, as follows: 1. You are to cash the check $ 2,630 at your Bank/Deposit for 24hours for funds to clear out. Once you have cashed out the check, Email a Deposit Confirmation. You are to deduct your salary of $500 , purchase a $ 20 cashiers check made out to HOPE CHILDRESN’S HOME using $ 10 for charges while you’ll be left with $ 2100. 2. The remaining $ 2100 are to be used to purchase eBay gift cards from the stores to be evaluated: Best Buy, Lowes, Staples, Family Dollar, etc.
After purchasing the cashiers check & all the gift cards were to be scratched and the images ‘front and back’ to be sent to 413-930-7462, 678-532-8348 & MKWALL9544@ The information requested from the store assessment was: 1. Were there any challenges?, 2. Name of the cashier., 3. How was the store environment?, 4. Customer service and a couple more. After receiving this assignment instructions, I got very skeptical, because: the check was from a private person, I was being paid in advance, the assignment instructions didn’t make much sense. I researched online ‘Balance Staffing Company’, potential secret buyer scam schemes and e.mailed Mike Powell requesting the exact legal name of the marketing company and the web site.
I came across this blog on the FTC website describing similar schemes:
As far as a response Mike Powell, I received regarding the company: LEXICON INC located in Sausalito , CA I researched it on the California Secretary of state website and did not find an exact match. I called both listed telephone numbers and one of them turned out to be a text subscriber and the other call went straight to an answering machine. I can conclude that the above described solicitation is a fraudulent scheme and reported it to warn other potential victims.

Received a check from Michael Bowman, Task Manager (Resident Research Survey) for 1,950.00. Check # 00266081 written on MORGAN STANLEY & company, 1585Broadway, 24th floor, New York, New York. Signed Morgan Stanley) Bowman requested that the check be deposited into my account for cash and then utilize the cash to purchase American Express gift cards (Blue Pack). After purchase I was instructed to take photos of both sides of gift card and send these photos along with my report to Myview @ / (720) 282-9298. I was instructed to keep the gift cards for further assignments. Upon going to My US Bank, I contacted the manager of the bank and ask him to verify if this Mr. Bowman was legitimate and if he had money in his account to cover the check. At this point I discovered the Check was Fraudulent that would have had to provided a serviced before I got paid. Bowman sent me a follow up Tex Message June 1, 2020) text "confirm you received survey package(check payment? 1,950.00 and instruction letter). I will be waiting for your response. Mr. Bowman (resident
Research, Inc). Information received will be turned over to Clark County District Attorney.

I’ve been getting several checks and instruction sheets for a few weeks now. I know they’re scams but I try to get all the i formation I can out of them. We converse back and forth via text message and they eventually halt the conversation. Then I take all the information I get including the original envelopes and turn them over to FBI, consumer affairs, their local PD and their attorney general. I’ve been told that if any of these “mystery shopper” companies are prosecuted I can receive some form of reward. So I keep encouraging them to send me checks.

I have a check that I think is a scam for $3,890 I don’t believe it’s real

I just received a check for 2,350. I never singed up for any of this I just randomly started getting text messages and emails the check came from Showalter construction company in North Carolina the name of the person emailing and texting me is Brian parker but the name on the envelope is troy lisenbee. I sent an email to the construction company it supposedly came from to give them the heads up that their name is being used in a scam. Something told me something wasent right. I mean this was all just so random. I dont sign up for anything on line so how did they get my info!!!??? This is nuts they need to be stopped

I was just contacted by a Marvin Powell guy from Eastex Evaluations agency saying that they needed a mystery shopper and a check would be sent to me for 550 to deposit it to my checking account and do my assignment for the week. I looked up the company and not much on it to be honest. The phone number is only by text and you have a email also. I think this is a scam also. Im going to play this game with him and not cash the check. But I will find out if it a fake check or not.


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