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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Fake Check Scams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog comments don't go into the database.

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

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

This FTC article about Fake Checks Scam tells more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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