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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

I too got the email and since I was unemployed at the time, I responded. Got the USPS 2 Day Priority envelope today with the letter of instructions and a check for $2850. Same sort of breakdown. $305/salary, $90/shop at Kmart or if one was not close then Walmart, $55 for money transfer fees, $1200 to someone in TX and $1200 to someone in FL. I contacted Washington Federal who the Cashiers check was made from and they confirmed the scam. They asked me if I could provide pictures and better than that I scanned everything I received including the USPS envelope with the tracking number to them along with the original email that I received about the Secret Shopper opportunity. These guys are pretty sneaky but if you look for the clues you will be able to detect these scammers. Some are the before mentioned like clerical errors but others are like with mine, the senders name did not match the name of the remitter on the check. The biggest is asking us to send money to other people. Hope this helps someone else from becoming a victim.

This has to be a scam. You can deposit all of the money in the bank and not send any of the money to anyone else. How are they going to get their money back? I just got a check in the mail. A letter of instructions was sent with it. The letterhead was forged. They copied and pasted it on the paper. You can see the different color in the background. When in doubt, call the bank on the check and see if the money is good.

mine sent from Gale Russel and Employment Connections Inc, 905 S grand in Spencer iowa, google shows this to be legit. Letter and mystery assignment guide is on plain white paper from mark sisodia text/phone three four seven six nine five o 2 seven.

A scammer may misuse the name or address or other information of a legitimate business.

Received a check for $2,650. They had initially told me they would pay me my fee by Money Order, so when the check came I knew it was scam city. It came from: Diane Wilson, Diane Ent., Sandy Valley NV I will contact Brannen Bank, on which the check is allegedly drawn, about their bank being used in a scam.

I received a $977.30 POSTAL MONEY ORDER with instructions to write from Megan Graf-adderess: 27 Whitemre Ln, Coram, NY 11727 pay to: my name and address. They want me to cash it at once at the counter at my bank, deduct my pay of $200, spend less than $20 at Walmart and Western Union remaining $760 to Thomas Philip in Illinois. Is it a scam if my bank cashes the check?

This could be a Fake Check Scam.

Under federal law, banks generally must make funds available to you within a certain time. But just because the bank gives you some of the money 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 were deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check. That means if the is no good, you have to repay all the money you took out.

I am going through this right now. They are hounding me to see if I got my check. it is for $2,445.00. 45 is for expenses, 400 is for me and I was to buy $2,000.00 in prepaid visa cards and send a photo of the front and back of the cards. I was to write a basic report but no other instructions were given.

I just received a check for $1745, claiming they are with Shadow Shopper and want me to do a Mystery Shop on MoneyGram. The scammers aren't very accurate because they give very vague email instructions. The bank name on the cashier's check is a real bank, but I'm sure it's a fake check. I will report it to the FTC and send it through the shredder.

Here is an email that was sent to me recently about becoming a Mystery Shopper:

We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate. Mystery Shopper is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. It's fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience.

Mystery Shopper NEVER charge fees to become a shopper, mystery shoppers are paid a prearranged fee for a particular shop, We have available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any Western Union in your area. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shop you will visit the location and make several observations as regards the customer service. You will be required to interact with the shop clerk. You may conduct the shop alone or as a couple. The assignment will pay $170.00/ assignment.

Kindly Fill Out the application form below and we will get back to you shortly with the assignment. You can also send the below required information as plain text email. PERSONAL INFORMATION: First Name.. Middle Name.. Last Name.. Street Address(Not PO Box) .. City, State, Zip Code .. Cell Phone Number .. Home Phone Number .. Age.. Current Occupation.. Alternate Email Address .. AVAILABILITY: Days/Hours Available Monday . Tuesday . Wednesday . Thursday . Friday . Saturday . Sunday . Hours Available: We await your urgent response. Thank you for your help. We look forward to working with you. Sincerely, Timothy White. Mystery Shoppers, Inc.

BE AWARE WHEN YOU SEE UNDISCLOSED RECIPIENTS IN THE HEADER!!!!!

I just received a message via LinkedIn about this same thing! Personal Profiles, Inc. I received a priority mail package with a check for $3,330 and was asked to deposit the check and then purchase six VANILLA ONE prepaid VISA cards and photograph them and send them the photos of the front and back of the cards, and could keep $300 ($30 processing fee for each card). I was told that I would be using these cards for my next "assignments." Luckily I did research and am not falling for this. I would be out $3330!! Name of the bank on their "check" is Delta Community Credit Union and the names associated with this scam are: Alicia Vokes & Johnny Giordano. I emailed and texted them that I am aware of their scam and not to contact or mail me anything again. DON'T FALL FOR IT!!

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

Blog comments don't go into the database.

Yes, I too received a retail mystery shopper email. Went through the motions, received a check for $2,875.00. was to proceed to Western-Union store. Make a transfer to Williams Munoz in the amount of 2,500 in Istanbul, Turkey!! You gotta be kidding. Pay Western Union 125.00, I get to keep 250.00. No one sends checks out just like that, gimme a break.

I recevied a money order for $975.00 from Brent Dickenson. Is this a scam? asked me to cash the money order then spend $50 at Wal-mart keep $200 for commision then send the rest to Frankie Button. Is this a scam

I've mailed that check they gave me right back to the address it came from

yes it is a scam

this is a fake!!!! My check came in the mail today and there was no bank on it just the po box of an insurance co with a claim number on it.

I recevied a money order for $3975.00 from duckfield Truman. I spent all of it and no bank said anything. should I be honest and the tell the bank and the scammer that both there money I burn on crap I don't need!!!!

How did you cash a check that was fake

On a forged government check or Cashiers check, it can take sometimes 6 months to a year for the bank to find the fraud. They will discover it, and they will find you to get their money back!! Hope you invested it wisely!!!

Bad name Ronald Webster. Return address Mississippi. Company 21st Street Investments in NC. $2550! Woohoo! Don't think so!

I just received a text from someone with the same name about a Kmart mystery shopper job and saying my first assignment will be mailed and I went today to check the website and it was closed out. What should I do about the stuff I'm probably going to be getting in the mail? I'm kinda glad I found this before it was too late.

Ronald Webster from above sent me a package to something didn't feel right so I googled his name and address ! Thank you so much for putting this info up ! I knew something wasn't right !!!

Got the official mail with a check for $1650. Same instructions as above. Sending a copy to FTC for action.

Just received a "Cashier's Check" from Washington Federal in the amount of $2,900.00; SO, I called the bank, needless to say they'd heard this story before.
I knew as soon as I saw the Check it was a Fake. Although all of the info is correct, the Check Number has been used multiple times.

Email contents of this jackhole: " Dear Sir/Madam, Earn $210.80 Weekly. Kindly view attached file for more details. STEPH ANNE Email: mysteryshopper   Website:

I received a check for $2875 and was supposed to deposit and after I wrote an account on how I was treated, send them back $2575. I called the bank it was drawn on with the check in hand and low and behold, FAKE. Do your research people. It isn't hard to detect a scam. Rule of thumb, if it looks to good to be true, it isn't. The Internet is only fingers away to verify most any scam, it's your fault if your duped with the information only seconds away.

There is another Scam going targeting Nurses. They put post's on Craigslist,care.com,indeed.com. Stating I need a caregiver for my 75 year old mother. It's a scam!!!! I fell for it. I just wanted to make some extra cash to pay for my bills. So I looked on Craigslist and found this caregiver job $18hr 3 days a week it sound like a good job. The Scammer's Name is Benson Brown AKA Bryan Carrion. This scam was so good. He send a contract for the job and everything. Then I got the check for 1845.30 in the mail deposited and was asked to withdrawal $1000 the next day to his cousin to get his mother's pills. I kept saying Im a med tech I can get his mother's pills, but he said he got an urgent message from the Doctor for his cousin to get the pills because we need to follow the right dose.So I transferred the money so the cousin can get the pills. The next day I get an email from my bank saying that my account is below $25 dollars. I checked it. The check was being sent back and I was $1485 negative. I reported to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. So please beware of caregiver scams!!

Received cashiers check for $1860 drawn on Comerica.
Shop the World, Russel Hollar. Text only:509.769.3323
Remitted: Ryan Mass. I am to keep 220, shop at McDonald's and Western Union the 740 X 2. What a scam.
I was born at night but I wasn't born last night.

I just received a check from Chase remitter richard bulk for 1,986.00, I will not cash it I can smell a rat and I got some rat poison

I received two checks from two different companies in a matter of days. I endorsed both checks with my fake signature and sent check1 to the person listed in letter2 and check2 to the person listed in letter1. Boy it felt good.

I, too, just received a check for close to $2,000 with instructions from Kmart (?) to deposit it and then moneygram $800 to two different people. I keep the rest as a "Mystery Shopper". NO WAY. Reporting this to the FTC!!

I just got a text on my phone saying that they are looking for secret shoppers....came through at 5am - we were not happy!!!

I just received a check from Mystery Shoppers with the same instructions and I almost deposit it, I was so happy thinking that I got a job as a Mystery Shopper. Thanks for the information.

I got the same thing... Check to cash or deposit, then buy 5 reload it cards, take picture of front and back then later use to shop at stores for other evaluations and get to keep what I buy. But what I'm realizing is not that they need to see the reload it card info for actual evaluation purchases but to use for themselves and then the mystery shopper gets scammed because the check was really not legit.

Though IDK how the banker would'nt be able to see that when trying to cash it. I understand if you deposit the check but to cash it, not really because then you're keeping the first portion of what they tell you to keep and that's cash. Though you would have to pay that back too. Anyway the scammer is the one using the reload it cards before you even get to do the mystery shopping.

jab WHat do you do if you get postal money order check, instructions to go to Walmart spend $50, keep $150 , send rest to someone else? As mystery shopper

If you got the check and instructions after you answered an ad for a mystery shopper job, this could be a scam. This FTC article about mystery shopper scams tells how the scam works, and warns against depositing a check, withdrawing money and wiring it to someone.

It’s never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back.

I just received a 3,500 check from Nationwide Insurance. I have no clue what this is. Came in a usps envlp. This check looks real! What should I do. I haven't gotten any instructions or anythinh

Just received a postal money order in the mail for $981 along with a typed letter as a mystery shopper job as instructions, took the money order and instructions with the original envelope down to the Post Master General and turned it all in as I knew it wasnt real, money order didnt have watermark and instructions were totally assanine, so hoping te authorities will be abe to track down and prosecue this scumbag!

Hello, so I'm not sure what to do. I am registered on Care.com for the summer, and have gotten varies offers. A lot of them come to my phone, asking me to send my resume and etc. I sent my resume out to one woman to babysit her daughter. Turns out she already offered the job to someone else, but was looking for a personal assistant. All I have to do is do her personal shopping, and send her the items. She travels a lot, or so she claims...I don't know. She just sent me a check...I had her send it to my PO Box, so I haven't looked at it yet. The check is about 2650, and I get paid 500 weekly. She wants me to deposit it into my account, and she has sent me instructions on what to buy for her. I don't have to wire any money back, and she says she will pick up the items when I meet her next weekend. Though I'm not sure if I'll actually meet her or she'll have me send them to her location. Also, she says shes in Canada on business, but the check is coming from CA... I don't know what to do. Her name is Mrs. Mary William, really, William, not Williams.

We have a blog post about fake checks and nanny scams.

A scammer may offer you a job, and then send you a check to deposit. He asks you to keep some money as payment for your services, and to send some to a third party to buy things.

When you deposit a check, a bank may give you some money within a day or two. It can take weeks for your bank to find out that a check is phony. If you spent money, and then the bank finds out the check is fake, you have to repay the bank.

I'm so glad for all these comments I also almost fell for this I got an email from a Dennis Rosenblum saying he worked with a company called RAND survey research group but when I googled the company it didn't seem like it had anything to do with being a mystery shopper and the fact that they just sent me $2,240 right off the bat to someone they didn't know seemed fishy and then they wanted me to do wire transfers to people I mean my first thoughts were what if I'm a middle person they are using because they want to keep their hands clean in something illegal so I did some more digging and found this site and I'm so glad I did because I was going to do it probably so thank you to everyone who has posted because you just saved me a lot! I'm going to take it to the police this week and have them deal with it.

has anyone just gone to walmart or some place and just tried cashing it?

I received the Kmart Secret Survey scam. I received another similar offer from Walmart. I wasn't paying attention the Kmart email and fell for it. Anyway the check will be shredded. It is fake. The check is from a Credit Union in Cedar Falls, IA. The fake address is 195 Bristol Oxford Valley Road, Mississippi S MS 39762-0156. The Bristol Oxford Valley Road address is in Pennsylvania. The Zip Code is Mississippi State University.

I got a check today for $1980.00 from (letterhead)Shop World and email address listed worldshop     I am instructed to go shop either McDonalds or Starbucks and then send $835.00 to Derrick Ward 502 Dusty Leather Court PFlugerville, Tx 78660 and $825. to Derek Hamilton and I an to keep the remainder of the check. I was looking to report this scam. Does anyone know where to report this?

You can report it to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. The information you give will go into a database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

I got Same thing mystery shopper
Attn: Esteemed Secret Shopper,

How are you and how is the weather today? I am writing to check the status of the package that was delivered to you through USPS Priority mail post, i want to find out if the check deposit was made' i will like to know if the task assigned to you will be complete today' i will be expecting the report on your first assignment survey including the transfer details to the next shopper as requested in the memo instruction that came along with the package,Waiting to hear from you and we look forward in working with you. I will need you to email your report when you are done with the evaluation' hope to hear from you soon.

Best Regards,
Daniel Lawrence.

I got the email and Priority mail letter from supposedly Sears HR manager John. Even in his mail, there was no contact number, no logo not even last name spelled. A cashier's check of $3945 and instructions came out from envelope. First I was happily surprised to see a big fat check like this. Then I read intructions. They were telling me to cash the check, keep $400 ( how generous huh? ) $45 my travelling expenses and txt a number to get location of where i would be shopping. They said my assignment was to buy 7 reload for $500 each. Then I started reading about the scams. My friend told me secrets shoppers do not get that much and it is fishy. She was right. I did nt cash the check and I got a txt msg asking me if i cashed the check and ready for the evaluation. After everything I read here, I sent him a txt back, asked to verify his ID, office # etc. I do not think they will send me any cause they are not real! Thank you so much everybody!

Got priority mail 2 day envelope today from Leelah Connor, Gilbert Morgan, Suite 201, 761 Commonwealth Avenue, Warrendale, PA 15086 with badly photocopied mystery shopper instructions and a "check" for $1,850 on NASA Federal Credit Union, Upper Marlboro, MD (also badly printed on back) asking for a wite transfer to be done to Devin Reeves, 2405 Foreman Street, Dallas, TX and Kevin Ramsey, 14100 Montfort Drive, Dallas, TX75254. Just wanted to post this so others may find it.

These are useful details for a complaint.  Please report your experience at ftc.gov/complaint. Your complaints help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies bring scam artists to justice. We cannot address complaints if they are submitted through the blog comments. Thank you.

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