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

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!

Iamworkingwithreal16centscashontommorrowfridaypleasesendanlegit2,780.00dollarshoppingjobassignmentinthemailtoAliciaannVandenbos 15926 28ThAvenueClearlakeca95422itsanemergancy

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.

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...

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