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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

Beware of a post on Craigslist in October 2014 under Focus Group Survey agent/Financial Enterprise. It is a scam, where the person send counterfeit money order through priority mail with a poorly written letter to be a mystery shopper survey agent. I was surprise and said what fool sends $827.00 blank money order that want me to deposit in my personal bank account.

I request my bank to looked at the money order and it was was hard to tell by looking at it visually in the bank, so they manually verify it for me and it was no good. If it too good to be true, you bet it is no good to be true. No lost for me, but I did my own research and the fake money order suppose to have originate from a Alice, Texas Post Office. I did contact the U.S. Postal Services, Fraud. This person had the nerves to ask me to take $200.00 out the $827.00 for my service if I chose to do it, and the rest to mystery shop at Von's to purchase two reload pack cards at $400 and $200. The next step was to observe how the retail store clerk did in customer services. After purchasing the cards, I was suppose to scratch the card for the pin and email the pin # along with my customer service survey. Now Get this! The person on the letter said that the money from the cards, will go to charity. So Folks, stay far far away from those mystery shopping ads on Craigslist.

Had same happen to me 10/31/14 check for 1850 told to buy money pack cards SCAM!!!!

My roommate just received a check for $2,867.00 dated 10/31/2014 (drawn at: San Diego County Credit Union) with an assignment letter to deposit it and with "Secret and Discreet" mystery shopper instructions for purchasing GreenDot MoneyPaks from CVS, 7-Eleven, Rite-Aid, and Walmart and then to scratch the cards and provide the list of PIN #s and to answer a few questions about the purchase experience and customer service.

I told her it is a SCAM and not to deposit the check. Thankfully I read the letter and saw too many red flags.

She was in communication via email with someone with 'Mary Booth' on the letter.

Evidently this Mary contacted my roommate and led her to believe an old work colleague from "LinkedIn" had recommended she try this money making opportunity.

Just sharing this information and hoping to save someone else from losing money. Beware folks. Know who you are dealing with.

I got a mystery shopper email a few days ago and i provided my information. I received the check in the mail today for $2,865.00 and i am to evaluate my bank and then use the cash and go to a CVS store and buy 5 money pack reloadable cards and i was to keep $300. Call me dumb but i deposited it into my account and its the check will take up to 10 business days to clear. My question is would i be wrong to try keep all that money if it does clear and the funds are not insufficient but the mystery shopper thing is a scam would i be wrong to keep all that money cuz as god as my witness that money would help me out ALOT right now in my desperate time of need. I have my boyfriend looking at my emails that i got from them he thinks its a scam but hes gonna read it throughly and see if its a scam.

In our experience, what you are describing sounds like a fake check scam. Remember that just because funds are available on a check you’ve deposited doesn’t mean the check is good. It’s best not to rely on money from any type of check (cashier, business or personal check, or money order) unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with or, better yet — until the bank confirms that the check has cleared. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that 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.

Do not attempt to withdraw the money from your account the check is fake and can take weeks for the bank to discover it and you will be responsible for repayment

It wont clear honey. Its not a real valid cashiers check.

I recieved mystery shopper check for 2380.00 today. Check looks real but david parker was the original person who contacted me. The package came from kenneth hayes . And the bank check is made out from a bank in melbourne florida. Several mistake is grammar on the instructions. For cashing check and getting green dot cards. I don't plan on doing this after reading up on it.

Bri Bri.. do not get the money outta ur bank girl... for real.. trust me.. i know it could help.. but i gaurantee you, the cops n swat will b breakin down ur door in a couple weeks, ull have a warrant out for u, n ull have to pay all the money back to the bank... do NOT make that mistake. i know it sounds like a good idea now.. but it wont be good when cops are at ur door n takin u to jail in a cpl days.... im not lying girl.. look it up..

I have been a mystery shopper for over 12 years with over 100 companies worldwide. Many emails are fake. Most mystery shopping companies will not contact you to do a job unless you applied for that particular job through their site or were referred by a scheduler you have already completed great shops with and believes would be a good match for the job they are looking to fill (these emails will contain both the scheduler's contact info, the company they work for and it's info as well as the company they are recruiting for and how to contact their scheduler). Jobslinger is a great site for finding mystery shopping companies that are legit (always do your research though). Also, a mystery shopping company will generally pay via Paypal, very rarely will they mail a check, but when they do, it is for a job you already completed and submitted a report for that received a satisfactory grade. There are several good companies to find open jobs through, but NEVER pay for this service. You can find a list on Jobslinger and can connect directly to the company from there. ShadowShopper is not as trustworthy in my opinion. I have been doing this so long, I have several companies I would recommend contracting with first due to their quick payment turn around, general reputation, general trust-worthiness, job availability and customer service departments: Bare International, Gfk, Goodwin and Associates, Sinclair, BMA, Research Services Group, ath Power, Martiz, IntelliShop, MSI and iMyst. I hope this helps some of you considering mystery shopping; it is truly quite fun and can be very rewarding (not enough so to quit my day job, but I have fun nights out on the town paid for/reimbursed and can always manage to get good gifts for friends and family for birthdays and holidays, and I have extra pocket money).

Greetings Mystery Shopper,
It has been some time since you wrote this but I recently replied to an ad to make a few dollars and they are Intelli Shop, and the contact person is Don Bode, his cell # is 573-575-6529. The Intelli Shop sent me a series of emails, first to intro, then to tell me that they would be sending me the first task, and within a few days I received a priority envelope with a Cashiers Check for 2950.00 I looked up the routing number from the credit union and it is a real Credit Union. I was instructed to purchase I-Phones and mail them to a residential address in Indianapolis My Salary was 300.00 so do you think this is real? Thank you for your time

Dishonest promoters use websites and email to make you think you’re signing up for a job, but then they say you have to deposit a check and wire money, or buy something with the money. Don't do it. Read more about these scams.

About that check -- by law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within a few days. But the bank might find out in a few weeks that the check was fake.It may seem like the check has cleared and the money is in your account, but when the check turns out to be a fake, you will be responsible to repay the bank for the money you took.

Two days ago received a USPS envelope priority mail, containing a cashiers check drawn on Ga,credit union,printed letter detailing the scope of the 2 assignments involving green dot prepaid cards,info.on the contact people for the project,including US phone number,which specifically stated for texts messages only.Long story short,I knew immediately the entire thing was a scam,I thought I would try to burn them called the CU and they confirmed the check was not real,if one really is observant and catches the lingo it was very obvious it was a joke,but my question is how did they find me? I apply only to those jobs that are posted on actual employment sites,such as indeed. I feel as if I need to change both my phone number and email address ?

Uniblue of India said they were Microsoft and I paid them $300 by credit card to speed up my computer. Months later they charged my credit card again fraudulently.

Cleverbridge of Chicago was accessory to the crime.

I got the check yesterday all the same stuff this is from Albert.ttony just so ya know

What happens if I have deposited the check and the bank already in my statement? Called to the bank to ask if the check is cleared and they said yes? im really worry...

Forgeries can take weeks to uncover. If you've already deposited the check, you may want to contact your bank and let them know you think it's a fake. Either way, don't withdrawal any money that you can't cover without the funds from the check. When the bank discovers that it's fake, they will debit your account for the amount of the check. Some banks also charge a fee for depositing a bad check.

The checks are stolen - they are real checks. Your bank should be alerted to it now but I would close your account and open other.

Hello, The same thing just happened to me. What did you end up doing? I'm not sure what to do. I just deposited the check, which has already been accepted.

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 just received a USPS priority mail envelope today with instructions for the green dot cards and a check for $1,900. The postage was printed off a computer from a 'Terry Perkins'at 811 Main St in Houston TX. The check was cut from M&T Bank in Buffalo, NY but there's no phone # for the bank on the check. The remitter says Erich Waldorf bht its e-signed by what looks like Lola Sammy. Also.... The postage says it was shipped on 11/28/14. . But the check is dated 12/05/14... YESTERDAY. SAME TYPE of green dot instructions also asking to text (267) 603-3718 as soon as package arrived and when job is done. Also im supposed to email my report to 'David Stanley'@ MRDAVISSTAN@GMAIL.COM. which is kinda funny, because david stanley is the author of a book about mystery shopers..lol. RED FLAGS all over it. Im gonna do done research on this bank and mailing address then contact the fbi and bbb.

I called the credit unions printed on the check - real credit unions - stolen checks. No phone number on mine either so I just Googled the credit union's name to get the phone number. The rep from the credit union very much appreciated my call. In just want to stop someone from losing money who probably can't afford to

Hey Harley, I got the same thing from a Terry Perkins but of course the check was from another bank, one without a local branch. I might have fallen for it had they not asked me to purchase green dot cards and send them the pins.

Robert Harley sent me a check for 2950.00 from John Cobwel 167 White Ridge Dr. Maryville, MO 64468 and the check memo purchaser: Maria Canfora ...instructions was to buy ITUNES Cards and send them receipts and pin code in pictures from my camera. Sounds like a scam.

my name is rashda.and i received a check from freelance marketing RESEARCH AROUND 2200.00 AND THEY ASKED TO DEPOSIT IMMEDIATE AND MAKE A MONY PACK CARD FM CV/RITE AID WALGREEN ETC....AND PROVIDE THEM PIN NO....THEY ARE PAYING ME 250.00I DONT KNOW WHAT I HAVE TO DO.

Thanks to all of you! Received my pkt with USPS money orders from David Parker and decided to research and am glad I found this site. To whom should I report this scam and what do you advise I do with money orders? Thanks for your help.

THANK YOU FOR NAMING THE PEOPLE! I got a Terry Perkins check. The first contact checks out (legit movie guy on IMDB) but after researching Perkins I'm not going to do it. It seemed fishy and I'm glad I found this site!

Just in time for Christmas, just received mine, along with a Email. replied waiting for photo of the Green dot money pak. Thanks for sharing.

I received a check for $1,820.00 for Mystery Shopping for Walamrt, along with the check was a letter congradulating me for being a mystery shopper. The letter said that once I received the check,send a confirmation email to walmart@mysterysurvey.net to get my assignment. So I did. I then received an email stating that I need to cash or deposit the check, go to Walmart and place a moneygram to Rodeny Lawson in Baltimore Maryland 21226 so (She:<Red Flag> could complete her assignment) I've never know a lady to be named Rodney. Anyway I was to send Rodney $1,450.00. and I was to keep $300.00 for myself and the rest would be for the fees of the moneygram transfer. The whole transfer thing was suppose to be the assignment. To see how long it took the CSR to process the order, what documents were needed for the transaction, etc. Well, they might have thought they found "Boo-Boo" the fool, but the Devil is a LIE!! Wrong person. But I just want to warn people that this is a SCAM, and please be CAREFUL....If it's sounds to good to be true, then it is

I received this below assignment. I went ahead with it, but then I read all the scams about it. Now I don't know what to do. Two of the card numbers I haven't given them yet. Can someone advise.

(BTW, I got the assignment through a recommendation on Linkedin, but know the referral says she never posted anything about it on LInkedin, and that her account was hacked)

The assignment:
Information reaching us from USPS Courier Service confirmed the delivery of your first assignment. The package entails check worth $2950. You are required to deposit/cash the check at your bank. Do note that we deal with banks only, Reason is that we make monthly reports of our transactions and financial activities to the government through the bank,so the records are required.

ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTION BELOW•
You will be evaluating your BANK and any of the below stores in your area ,The payment you will received covers all expenditures including evaluation, shopping and your compensation (salary=$300.00 ) for these surveys. You are to purchase MONEYPAK of $2500 , it usually comes in $500's or $1000's depending on its availability. As soon as you purchase the cards just ask the cashier to add cash directly to your card at the register. A service fee of up to $4.95 applies on each card. You are required to email the 14 digit number at the back of the MONEYPAK with your evaluation for record purposes before shopping with them, Please make sure you double check the numbers before sending your report. We will provide you with the other locations where you will have to shop with the MONEYPAK cards.

I just received this same scam and it said the exact thing you wrote above. I almost fell for it at first because it came from a good friend of mine on LinkedIn...I should have called her first to ask her. I found out a few days later that her LinkedIn was hacked. I have saved all the emails from this person and received the check in an envelope with no return address. Won't do anything with the check but glad I found out it was a scam. Crazy!

I was scammed by a person going by "Petra Artis" through care.com. I received a check from the aforementioned Terry Perkins of 811 Main Street Houston, Texas. I didn't believe it was a scam because their story was so believable but now I'm -$2200 and hAve to pay the bank back.

Hey, how did that happen? Doesn't it say something about watching a kid? And did they send a lot of "money" or something? I had soemthing happen like that recently.

Omg. I did this and now im am out 1867. I will not recover from this for months. I cant believe i was so stupid. My biweekly check will be automatically delosited tonight and i will still have no money to pay my bills or feed my kids. All to make a few hundred dollars that i needed but now I'll owes thousands of late fees and overdrafts. I dont know what too do.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. If you sent money to someone through a money transfer service or a prepaid card, contact the customer service department and explain what happened. Also, contact your bank, explain what happened and see what options you have. Ask the bank to waive any late or overdraft fees. Then, file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.

I am so sorry to hear that. Try to keep your head up, I hope and pray that things will get better for you! I am so sorry, I am a victim as well...I deposited the check BUT I still have the money in the bank waiting for them to take it once the bank finds out that it is a SCAM!! I called the bank and told them that I think the check was a scam, just to cover myself. But you are NOT alone - this has happened to several people and will continue too, unfortunately. Sorry!

Glad I stumbled onto your site. I received what "Mystery Shoppers Customer Service Experts" stated was a Cashier's Check in the amount of $2,755.00. Actually the check is imprinted "OFFICIAL CHECK", not Cashier's or Bank check. It is drawn on Capital Bank (Routing # 000357726; Account #067011760 802104588). No Bank Address or Phone Number is printed on the check. It is signed by "John" with a last name that is not legible. The letter I received (3 Logos Xeroxed at top for letterhead, but the letter is laser printed) with the check gives "Paul Turney" as my contact (Phone:205-518-9082; E-mail:wolbergfirm@gmail.com / paulturneysorgs@gmail.com; Time: 24 Hours daily by e-mail. Paul Turney's name is typed in all caps at the bottom of the letter.) Both the check and letter with instructions to purchase Money Pak cash top cards and NOT the prepaid card totaling $2500 in the denominations of $500 (repeated 5 times). I was instructed to purchase the cards at CVS, Rite Aid, Dollar General, 7Eleven, Dollar Tree, Fred Meyer, Radio Shack, Kroger or K-MART. I was instructed to scratch off the PIN information and e-mail the PINs to wolbergfirm@gmail.com. All of this came in the mail in what appears to be a legitimate USPS Priority Mail 2-Day windowed envelope, complete with a USPS bar code for tracking. I am providing all of this information because I have frustrated in my search for more specific information and this just might help someone else. I HAVE NOT AND WILL NOT BE DEPOSITING THIS CHECK. The return address is Charlie Lambert, MS Inc, 4 Martine Ave, White Plains NY 10606. Because it involves the use of the USPS, it is a Federal crime and I will be following through with it as such.

I received exactly the same email that you describe here. I felt uneasy about the whole thing, especially with instructions as evaluating the "smartness"'of the person waiting on me. I shredded the whole letter and check and emailed a reply telling them that I did not trust them and was no longer interested.

yes, i got a check today from a terry perkins as well. and let me tell you, RED FLAGS from the beginning. This time they're talking about how they are Brett ratner and they are trying to hire me for a job. This is plain BS. Beware out there guys.... the world is scary and full of crooks...

I just received emails from Terry Perkins claiming to be the producer Bret Rattner responding to a job application for a production assistant. He was pulling the same scam with wanting me to deposit money into my bank and purchase the cards. He wouldn't verify who he was and I found this site after looking up his name when I got the mail. Beware!

Received $2200 check and letter in the mail for mystery shopper assignment for purchase of MoneyPak Cards, to buy cards and send PIN numbers.

Be on the look out for the following email address and contact noted from market research correspondence
Definitely a scam, do not deposit check. Notice Bank and Contact have a PO Box address.

what would happen if you deposit the check and kept it for your own good? i heard a girl who did this with her "fake"check.

I THANK GOD FOR THIS WEB SITE I JUST RECIEVED AN INVITATION FROM ...CATTHERINE OLIVIA... TO BECOME A MYSTERY SHOPPER. THANKS BUT NO THANKS,,,,,,,,, THERE ARE NO FREE MATERIAL THINGS, PEOPLE AREN'T GIVING ANYTHING OF VALUE AWAY. THE ONLY THING THAT I KNOW IS FREE IS SALVATION, AND IT APPEARS AS THOUGH SO MANY PEOPLE MAY NOT WANT THAT. GOD BLESS YOU ALL AND THANKS AGAIN...

I just recieved a check yesterday sent priority mail its for 1,997.00 I am told to deposit immediatly. I keep 200 then get the rest of the money on greendot money pack and send them the 14 digit pin to each card. I haven't done anything yet with it my Brother in Law told me it was probably a scam or I would be at the bank first thibg this morning to cash it like they said to in the letter. What do I need to do next with it? I can't believe I was about to fall for this I am always so suspicious of the get rich quick scams.

I received an email to apply to be a mystery shopper through my husband who was the orginal email recipient. He forwarded to me. MS Consultant. I filled in the info and sent back figuring the chances of being picked were slim. Received this email this morning which made me very suspicious:

Attn:  SECRET SHOPPER
This is to inform you that you will be undertaking your first Mystery Shopping Assignment on our behalf this  week .At this Point in time you are expected to check your email every day and most especially WEDNESDAY MORNING (1/14/2014) for Instructions to follow as soon as you get the payment for the assignment. Get back to us with a reply to show that you are in receipt of this message.

BOBBIE MCCHRISTY
HEAD OF RECRUITMENT
MS CONSULTANT

Thanks for everyone sharing above. Hopefully the word can get spread. Once I receive any checks I will immediately file fraud complaint.

I too just received a check from Terry Perkins, pretending to be movie director Brett Ratner... for a production assistant job.. with a cashiers check for 2,835 from M&T bank.So glad I just saw this site..

I user received one of these in the mail today buy it doesn't tell me to deposit the check. It says to cash it. If it's a fake check will I be able to cash it with out paying it back? It's a cashiers check.

If it seems too good to be true...
"Opinion Outpost" (if it's really them) stopped using USPS–probably for legal reasons! Got check sent by FedEx 2-day priority, $1867, to buy Green Dot cards & send pins. #RedFlag!! I WILL be going to my bank...for them to evaluate for fraud. Also, I found this on craigslist, so I'll be emailing craig@craigslist.org to pass this along. Name of contact is Brian Washington.

Exactly as you said above, I received a check for $3478.40 and was told to deposit it as my first assignment. It came from the same Terry Perkins by 2-day priority mail. A few hours after I got it in the mail, I was contacted by a man claiming to be Brock Heyman at a 646 number and he pestered me about when I would be able to fulfill the 'survey'. Once I knew it was a scam, I started messing with him telling him that I deposited the check but the bank had called and told me it was fraud.
He sent me a few texts after that but now hasn't responded.
I want to warn people that this thing is such a scam! Do not give them any personal information, guard those things like cash!

got a check for 2200 new it was bull so i played dumb, i told them i deposited the check but wont do any shoppiong till the check clears,got all kinds of texts from them i kept on playin dumb,its still on going,now they told me the money cards are canc elled and to wait for further instructions--sure ill do that ill keep messin with their heads

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