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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

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.

I have received the same emails as everyone else. I had done some research on this so called mystery shopping. Recieved the check today for $2955.00 sent them an email telling them they are a bunch of losers and need to get a real life instead of stealing people's money. Ripped the check.

I also am grateful I saw this after receiving a check in the mail sent to me Priority for $1,595 but written out as $1,995...that was a flag plus I didn't expect any money coming to me so I wanted to know first where it was coming from.
That's how I found this site because I have been contacted by Michael Givens who claimed this was an assignment for Target & that instructions would follow.
The only information I had received was vague & not what I'd consider professional...
Thank you for putting this post up!
Lana

Mysteryshopper @ walmart. com is the email address it shows as Walmart in the address location.

Congratulations, We are accepting applications from qualified individuals from all-over the world to become Secret-Shopper. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials from us. Should you interested, your wages would be $250 per assignment. No commitment is made on this job and you would have flexible hours. At least 2 evaluations a week will be assigned to you because this is a part time job and we think this job suits you. We will provide you the money for all of your evaluations.

Money order/Payment check would be in a certain amount which you would be required to Cash at your Bank, then deduct your salary and have the rest used for the evaluation at the store that would be given to you for evaluations. Provide the following information if you interested and we will get back shortly with your assignment. Full Name: Full Address (Including City, State and Zipcode): Phone Number: Regards, Mark Tyler Head of Recruitment SS-Network @2016

Beware- I received a Priority mail with check for $2,450.85, from Alexander Street Press, LLC Alexandria, Va drawn on Wells Fargo Bank, 420 Montgomery San Francisco. I was selected to be an Agent for Secret Evaluators... The name of the letter writer was Michael Waltz . His email was mwaltz             . He asked that I text him immediately after I deposited the check in my bank, which I did not do. BTW, His text is 562.353.7641 And get this...the check was signed by Richard Nixon! I guess tricky Dick is still playing tricks on dummies! I will forward to my bank and send info to FTC

I received an alleged cashier's check drawn on Suncoast Credit Union, FL. As in the above reports, it involved secret shopper scam including Kmart and MoneyGram same day wire transfers to individuals in Dallas TX. I have eMailed the detailed information to Suncoast CU this afternoon (09-17-2016) and hope to hear from them Monday 09-19-2016

i received a 2,285 cashiers check from Helen Martha Lewis using First Fidelity Bank scam or what?

Did you ask her to send a check? Did she offer you a job as a mystery shopper? What does she want you to do with the check?

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.

If you get a check that you weren't expecting, you can contact the person or business on the check, or the bank the check is written on to get more information. Some scammers steal checks from legitimate businesses, or create checks that use the name of a real business, but the checks are no good. If you deposit a stolen or fake check, you could lose money and have legal trouble.

Just today I received a Priority Mail package with a check for 1,983.94. Along with what is, to me, a mind=boggling amount of money, was a set of instructions to text when I get it, text when I deposit or cash it and go to two different Money Gram locations to send out amounts 800 and 830 to first, Chad Doug, then to Buell Cason both in Arlington TX, 79602.

Asked me to rate performance, yada, yada, yada. The kicker was that I was coached to say NO if asked am I a mystery shopper and YES to "Do you know the person you're sending money to".

Letterhead reads Money Gram International, contact is David Forbes. The very real looking check (with color change ink, no less) is from Gate City Bank, remitter Amaris Flores, w/ only a po box for bank contact. 1983.94 is a lot of money to me. So is the 350 I'm supposed to keep. I could finally pay for my tall, handsome, smart youngest kid to be in basketball! I could get my Dad some healthier food...I am the sole provider for my son (13) and my Dad (89). In the past 6 months alone, I've lost 45lbs because of stress, over-working and not eating any food at home so they could eat.

This check crap is downright CRUEL!!!Last Thursday morning, I put my last $3 in my tank, which was waaay in the red zone, so I could drive to work to be able to run payroll! This amount of money would make such a difference! Don't worry, tho, my heart is in the right place and I'll just turn this bogus thing in. I just had to vent!

Thank you for sharing your story. You may help someone avoid a similar scam.

You can report this to law enforcement too, to help with investigations. Go to FTC.gov/complaint and give the details about who contacted you, the check they sent & the instructions about what to say. The information you give will go into a database that law enforcement agencies nationwide use for investigations.

Im still looking at Check thinking of paying off some credit cards...

I received a Priority Mail envelop in my mailbox with return address from SHERRY CASE. Inside a letter had a letterhead SIGNATURE WORLD INC with no address, no website no logo. The letter said: "NOTE: MYSTERY SHOPPER, Congratulations you received your first assignment package. With it you have A Pay Check and you are to deduct your commission which is $300. The rest will be used for your assignment."

The letter contained instructions. A plain white sealed envelope contained a Cashiers Check No: 2070101 Utah Community Credit Union, payable in the amount of $2,330.27. The signature is impossible to read. The check seems to have a watermark and a microprint signature line. I searched online and think it is either a stolen and altered check or a counterfeit check.

The MYSTERY SHOPPER assignment tells me to keep $300 and use the $2000. to purchase 4 WalMart Gift cards and have WalMart cashier add $500 to each gift card. Then instructions say: "AFTER PURCHASE OF CARD 1. Open pack and peel the silver scratch-off area. 2. Capture image of card front and back. Email to your recruiting officer. Confirm receipt of package by Text to: (203) 403-3612 Email completed report to surveyteam              Davis Scott End of Details--

my story: I've heard of many similar scams by reading online stories and reports. I WILL NOT deposit the check and know that it is fake or counterfeit or stolen. I understand that the scammers are trying to take $2000 from me using WalMart gift cards. That if I followed their instructions and purchased the cards then photographed the details and numbers and sent them the photos, that they would use the numbers to create counterfeit WalMart cards with my real numbers and shop with those cards. Then my WalMart Gift card balance would go to zero. Then their check would bounce and I'd be out $2000 to the scammers, plus bank fees and perhaps other problems. I've heard of people being arrested for passing counterfeit checks EVEN UNKNOWINGLY and having their bank account frozen etc.

I also just received the exact same mail. the only difference is my cashier's check was for $2,300.00 and was from PNC BANK. As soon as I saw it and read the instructions, red flags just jumped out all over. I called PNC BANK to verify the routing and account numbers and they verified it was fake.

If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

I received this same scam offer in the mail, with the same phone number to call, 203-403-3612. The person was using a different name, though. The sent me a priority mail package from one state, but the label showed it had actually been mailed from another state. They listed a woman's name in the return address, but I'm sure she is probably has no idea they are using her name and address, if it even exists and is not actually a made-up name.

The priority mail package included a check from an unrelated company in yet another state. The check was for $2,300, I was to cash it, keep $300 for myself and use the $2000 to buy Walmart gift cards. Then I was to scratch the silver off of the gift cards, photograph the cards, and email photos to the scammer. Don't fall for it! I reported them tot he FTC.

Thank you sooooo much for your information. I was sent two checkts of $1450.00 to mystery shopper at wall mart and the rest to send by money gram and western union. It didnt fell ok so I look online about spam checks and now this is what it is. complain is sent to FTC. good luck to everybody

How did it work out?

I received a priority mail package last week. Same scenario as above. Cashiers Check for $3,200. Now I am getting texts asking whether I completed my assignment. I SO want to respond back to the texts. May karma catch up with these people.

I keep getting a email from a Alex smith claiming I have to do some kind of an assignment for some check as u can see I've disregarded the message. But my message I just got:

Alex.Smith@  truckeast.     Hello , We need your confirmation for the assignment sent too you and we need you to kindly give us a go ahead to cancel the check has you have refuse to complete the assignment . waiting for your reply now

I am worried this being a scam it doesn't look like it being from any kind of business.

It's ok to ignore spam email from people you don't know. You're right; it could be a message from a scammer.

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