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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


I received a "mystery shopper" from Schmidt Market Research. Cashier's check issued by 167th TFR Federal Credit Union for $2995. I was asked to get 5 money orders totaling $2600 to send to a residence in AZ. Is this a scam?

Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know. By law, the bank has to give you some money in a short period of time. You might get some money now, but if the check is fake, it will eventually bounce.

You are responsible for any checks deposited to your account. You'll owe the bank the money you withdrew and used for money orders.

I was forwarded an application to apply to be a mystery shopper on Linkedin for this same company. After a few days I got a text message saying I had been approved and in 2-5 business days I would receive my assignment in the mail. So today, a cashiers check from Navy Federal Credit Union arrived with a detailed letter with my instructions on secret shopping any USPS location i choose.I have to go get (5) cashiers checks from them in amounts of $520. i keep $300, and then the remaining $95 dollars is to cover the ups or fedex next day air shipping costs. along with some additional instructions. I am not sure if this is a scam. I was forwarded the application from someone i know who said they are a brand ambassador for them? What did you end up doing?

I was sent this email
This is to notify you that the payment for your first survey assignment will deliver today if you have not gotten it. It's a check of $2,850, it covers your $300 pay and the rest will be used for your assignments, further details and instructions will be emailed to you soon. Please proceed to have the check deposited once it delivers and keep me posted once that has been done.
And also this one
Assignment 1
1. Proceed to a nearby Gap store or any clothing store and purchase anything with $50,the purchase item will be kept by you because it is yours.
2. Attached to this email is a customer feedback form which you are required to fill out and email back to us. 3. Deduct $300 as your weekly commission. 4. Purchase 13 Walmart gift cards.
Note: Walmart gift card can be purchased with cash or with your debit or credit card. Attached to this email is a sample of the Walmart gift card required,it also comes in different designs,pictures and colors,so you can purchase any design. Go to the register and add cash of $200 to the 12 Walmart gift cards and $100 to the remaining one ($200x12 and $100x1 = $2,500)
The cards will be used to fund further projects/research, eliminating the need to post you checks for future assignments.
After purchase of the cards, "Walmart gift card" kindly peel or gently scratch the silver panel a the back of the cards and then send the pictures of the scratch cards and email to us. (Phone camera accepted) Walmart gift cards are available only at Walmart store. In rare cases were Walmart store is not available in your location, kindly inform us in other to give you an alternative. Once the payment has been received, proceed to get the assignment done at your earliest and revert back to us with the feedback form and images of Walmart gift cards for verification. Completing assignment fast earns you reward to receive more assignments promptly. I want you to know that Completing assignment and sending in the report as soon as funds are available in your account earns you 30% payment increase on your next assignments. A confirmatory of the receipt of this email will be appreciated as we anticipate your prompt response. Thank you for your time and have a wonderful day. Thomas Watt Recruiting dept|Mystery Shopping
Seelevel HX® Atlanta, Georgia seelevel hx.

Now I am a licensed PI and I asked questions about their license number to operate in Nevada, a contact phone number and then said I am turning them into the Attorney Generals office. Surprisingly I never did get my questions answered and I DID NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT. Have you heard of this scam before and it appears there is a See Level company also. Thanks

Yes I received the same type of rhetoric from Raymond McCloskey, Atlanta Georgia @ SeeLevel Human Experience.

I am wondering if what I received is a scam. But I received a USPS money order. The rest all sounds familiar, but I don't know how they would duplicate this postal money order??

Any ideas???

Scammers can make fake postal money orders.

The US Postal Service has tips on spotting fake money orders. Go to this US Postal Service page, look at the section named "Accepting Money Orders," and click on the words "Show Details."  You will see a diagram of a postal money order with tips about how to spot a fake.

I received a cashier check for $1000 and the letter has the Walmart logo. Brian Winchester wants me to deposit the check into my account, the fund will be available in 24 hours. I'm supposed to go buy something for under $35 for myself to keep, then wire $700 from Walmart2Walmart, and there's was a 15 fee for that, and I'm supposed to keep $250 for myself as payment. HA! oh and I have 2 days. He keeps texting me asking how I am and if I'm doing the task. He knows my name. Now I assume everything is a scam, but there's secret shopping my husband gets secret shoppers at his restaurant. Well my 2 days are up and I have just left the letter and check on the desk hear. I will assume it is a scam. Right before Christmas too, gotta be fake. Walmart doesn't do Secret Shopping this page says....going to block phone number now. Is there even a Walmart2 Walmart transfer kiosk? I was just there too I forgot to ask them...oh well.

Hilarious! Let's ask the question another way, "Can you name for me a single fact about this situation which suggests it is NOT a scam?"

OMG! i am so lucky I did some research and found this site!!! I got this UPS Priority Mail which I opened to find a check of 2410.10 dollars! I had no idea what it was all about until I check this site!!! Can we all say SCAM???!!!!! I have never had anything like this before...totally insane! I wish I could bring it down to the Police Department and have them take care of business!!! But I will just shred all this stuff and wait to hear from the scammers everyday until I tell them.."I am on to you..You are Busted"!

I received a check for $2,950. I was instructed to deposit it, keep $200 for myself, do 2 transactions at Wal-Mart...a Walmart to Walmart transfer of $1,950 and a money gram of $900 to two separate individuals. Then take $20 and make a purchase at Walmart and report back all my findings...for example, length of time at the register...etc. The email's are coming from what appears to be a legitimate company. They're using Market Force but a really strange email address. He's going by the name of Douglas Nash. I did deposit the check, made my bank aware of what was going on and asked them to call me if the check cleared. That was 3 days ago. It hasn't at this point but I'm still getting emails from Douglas Nash asking me why I have not completed my assignment. I've told him I would when his check clears or is paid. Now he's telling me I've been reported for miss appropriated funds and could be arrested....really? I haven't received any funds, only a useless check. What should I do????

This sounds like a scam. It's not safe to agree to deposit a check from someone you don't know and send them money. If the check turns out to be fake, it will eventually bounce. And because you are responsible for the checks you deposit to your account, you will owe the bank the money you withdrew.

Read more about fake check scams.

I received in the mail a cashier's check from First Community Credit Union of Houston Texas and reference: Andre M Williams, in the amount of $2,900.52. It was accompanied by a letter offering me to be a "Secret Surveyor" and instructions to deposit the check (Obviously a phony check as it is printed in large letters: OFFICIAL CHECK)and to buy EBAY Gift Cards in the amount of $2500 and keep $400 as my commission for being a Secret Surveyor. Also the check is a printed signature (not original ink signed). The instruction letter is signed "Regards, Mark Scott" ... no address or phone number to reach him. I am reporting this to the FTC and FBI. I cannot stand these ridiculous scammers.I want to see them in prison!

Tony..I so agree with you! How the hell do these scammers get away with this crap! I feel bad for any people who actually think it is real and they deposit the fake check and then loose tons of money! CRAZY!!!!

I received a letter (Priority Mail) from Schmidt Market Research, with a Cashier's Check for $2995.00, drawn from HarborLight Credit Union. The instructions are to deposit the check, wait until the funds clear (usually the next day) and complete a task within 24-48 hours (required). LOL The task is to purchase postal money orders worth $2600 (5 worth $520 each). You can only make the purchase with cash or a debit card, so you need to first withdraw the funds or use your debit card. You are to mail the money orders to an 'Evaluator' of the USPS, via FedEx or UPS Next Day Air and use the remaining $95 to cover your costs for doing so. The funds go to a Leatrice Pratt in Rutland, VT. SCAM for sure!!!!!

I got the same thing today. But my check was from Navy Federal CU. Did you fill out an application link that someone sent you on Linkedin to see if you would be approved?

Hi, I received a message from a LinkedIn connection about a Mystery Shopper job. He said it was legitimate... I applied, got "approved" they mailed me a letter with a large check.. I immediately smelled a scam. Same scenario, go buy eBay gift cards.

I am so glad I looked this up and found out it is a sham and I was going to fall for it. I too got a priority mail packet on June 29, 2018 and was hesitant about even reading it. Today, July 2 nd, I get two emails from a George Harris about why hadn’t I been working on the project and deposited my check. This made me nervous as I could really use this money. I had sent a previous email three weeks before and never got a reply, so I assumed they dropped me. I have called the telephone number multiple tones and and no answer and cannot leave a message. I have today called, texted, and emailed him, but have not heard from him. I looked on Google for this company’s name and got nothing until I saw the scam alert here. Thank you so much. I was being such an idiot thinking I could make a little money. I will close my actions with this bogus company and not pursue it. Did anyone send the check back so that it doesn’t look like I was going to keep it as evidence?

I received my cashier's check and instructions via priority mail, and my check is for $2,900.92 (with a $400 commission). According to the instructions, I'm to evaluate a store that sells Ebay gift cards and buy $2500 worth of Ebay gift cards.

I'm glad I found this website, and I appreciate everyone taking time to report this scam.

was told to apply for mystery shopper job at this website / Application-Index. Secret Shopper --- Forum Research I received a check from Capitol one for $3,850.70, I was told to deposit it, and cash out 3,500.70 ($350.00 would be my payment) received a text from 347-927-0598 with instructions and an e mail from a Joe Budden.

Name on the check is Intelligent Discovery Solutions, the overnighted check returned address was from John Capati and Peter Storm of 129 E. Ocean Boynton Beach, FL Now I received this late on Friday 2/16 and did deposit the check, they then were in a "rush" for me to get to the bank the next morning and take out the cash. When the bank told me I deposited after hours so only $400.00 was available but the rest would be available on Tuesday morning 2/20 as 2/19 is a federal holiday. The person texting me seemed agitated that I hadn't got the check cleared. I received the application above from an ex co worker via Linked In inbox. He assured me it was all legit and he was making good extra money. Well today I check Linked in and his account is now taken down. I think this is a scam from reading this. I am thinking of going to the police on Tuesday morning

I was scammed by receiving a cashier's check for $ 2370.22 I had an assignment at Target I was then mailed the check via Priority u.s. Mail such a large large amount I was skeptical I hold on to the check for a while I deposited it into my bank the just over night the check was bad

I also recieved a check from the above person, but didn't deposit it. I thought it was a scam right away as there wasn't any instructions w/the check. They sent $1,400 more for the part that I was selling on craigslist.

I just received an email regarding this same info. Sending me a check by UPS and to deposit it and my employment will be verified. Just waiting for the packet so decided to ck it out. I had written to the person sending me the email that if it turns out to be a scam, that I will be her worst nightmare. If the packet shows a scam, it will be reported..

I got a check in the mail from george holder he sent me a check for 1,998.00 i deposited it into my bank i waited 3 to 4 days called my bank and they said it cleared so im supposed to go to any store that sells itune cards and purchase 1,750.00 worth and send in the pin on the back of the cards so i can recieve my next assignment he paid me 238.00 for my service and gas so im hoping this is not a scam i did call the number back that he called me on he answered and text me too but he has several numbers hes called and texted me from hes steady texting and calling to make sure i did the assignment i will do the assignment since the check cleared and was legitimate and hopefully ill get another assignment and its legitimate too

Honey make sure you keep in touch with your bank. My sister was scammed like this her bank said it cleared then 1 month later she recived letter from bank to cover for that check. Be carefull hun.

George holder is no one to be trusted knew it was a scam from the beginning. His instruction list to go to Wal-Mart and survey questioner looked like a high school student typed it up for him. So felt like it was too good to be true and normally thats the case because nothing in life is free.

Received Ed a check for 2902.43 told to deposit it Take 2100.00 out and buy 2400.00 worth of amazon gift cards from Walmart, Best Buy, Target or Walgreens and CVS. Take pictures of front and back of cards scratch off number and pin. Send to an email address save cards for next assignment. They have sent two emails wanting to know if checks have been deposited.

I recived nust today a check for $2,450.49 with a letter asking to wire money to 3 dif. People in texas using money gram. And i called the credit union where the check belongs and they said thatbis not a real can people think we that stupid omg. Im a mistery shopper my self and they actually has sent me visa cards with the payment for my assingment or direct deposit. Wish they get cought soon tho

First at all, thank you everyone for their comments here, I just got a letter and a check formore than 2000 from "Clear Evaluations", I was curious and hoping to find something good for me since I got laid off back on 2016 and finding and working in a job only for necessity so far away from my home, I Google the company and looks something like real, but still something wasn't right for me, so, I came here and reading, I found that so sadly is an scam, the letter with the instructions and go to Walmart and keep 330 as my salary as "we agreed" (I never never ever agree anything with nobody ok?!) and then something that happens 3 weeks ago came inmediately in to my mind, I received an email from Kroger mistery shoppers (actually the website has a link to Kroger jobs, make you thing is something for real) and I sent my address! (Oh oh) then this letter, so we need to be extremaly careful, is a lot of "smart" people out here trying to take advantage of ours weaknesses.

Just got the same deal. Email offer to be a mystery shopper. Responded to it. Seemed a little odd so I investigated and found it was questionable. When I heard back I responded that I was not interested. Next thing I know they say they have my first assignment and a package is on the way. What? Then I receive a letter and cashier's check for $2,484.50. Told to deposit it or cash it at my bank, buy Amazon gift cards and send pictures of the cards and PINs. I looked up the bank website that is way outdated (2015 - no bank doesn't update their website for 3 years!) and nobody answered the phone. Of course, I didn't do anything with the check and reported it to the Postal Inspector and forwarded the email to the FTC ( as suggested in earlier posts. This is just a couple days ago - 3/23/18! Check from a bank in Kansas mailed from Virginia?


same thing here. I am taking it to my bank so they know. police want nothing to do with it. I also got a text from ole' bob.


What’s the address to the FTC? I need to send this money order/letter off ASAP!!

The same exact thing happened to me! Word for Word. They text me instructions and that "my assignment is expected to be done by now". I became skeptical due to how ill-planned and unprofessional it seemed.(major red flags)! What should I do since I tried to send the money but cancelled it right away waiting on the refund now. Did you call the authorities?

I just received a text saying that I will be getting a secret shopper package. If there is a check in the package, I'm going to the check cashing instead of the bank & I'm going to ask them to validate it. If it's fake, I'll tear it up. I just don't know if it's a legit business. I'll post the name and yu guys reply if it sounds familiar.

OK, I admit it, they got me too.
I received an email telling me I was chosen to do a mystery shop. I then got a text to be on the lookout for a package coming in the mail with a check and instructions for the shop I was chosen for.

The check was for $2,995.80. The package came by priority mail with a return address of Dallas, TX. The instructions, typed on a plain piece of paper with bad formatting by the typist and told me to deposit the check in my account and go to an Apple store and purchase 2 iphone X's for $1150 each. Make sure the phones are unlocked and contract free. It said that with the money left over, I should take the phones to FedEx and overnite them to an address in Hamilton, NJ. It said that I would end up with $300 as my payment for doing the shopping job.

On the back of the instructions was a list of questions to answer a simple yes or no or needs improvement. The instructions were signed with the name Brian Stalder, Ph.D.

Well, I deposited the check on a Thursday and since it was Easter weekend, I did not do the shop until Monday evening. In the meantime, on Saturday, I received a text that asked me if I had deposited the check and was I going to do the shop that day. I told them that I could not go on Sat.
On Monday, I got another text stating that the funds should be in my account and I should go purchase the phones and return them immediately. It also stated I should text the tracking number to "Data Analyst" on 925-338-0741 to confirm shipment made.

I was thinking that for a mystery shopping job, they sure were pushy. I have done this type of work in the past but never experienced this type of pushiness.

Getting to the store, I used my debit card to pay for the phones. The message came up that I did not have enough money in my account. When calling the bank, I was told that I had pending payments and they all came through so there was only $280 in the account. It was blowing my mind because I knew there should have been over $3,000 in the account, enough to pay for the phones. I left the store without the phones and with a lot of embarrassment. When I got home, I checked my account and it stated that there was a hold on the check.

That's when I knew it had to be a scam. I couldn't believe I fell for it. Luckily, the bank caught it and did not release any funds. So, at least the scammers did not get any of my money!

Do not be stupid like I was. I should have known that something wasn't right with all of the different addresses and the address on the check was from Webster Bank in Woodbury, CT. The check looked very legit.

After all of this, I now will be changing my debit account - just in case - I also know that mystery shoppers do not get paid $300 for a shop and a legit job would not be pushing me to hurry up and make the purchase.

I learned my lesson.

A friend forwarded the Forum Research opportunity to me. She reported her success with the program, so I registered. My first assignment just came, and in the words of Judge Judy, "if it looks to good to be true it probably is". Any advice on the Forum Research Inc and a guy named Raymond McCloskey? He has a gmail email (flag) and the signature block contains no phone or company address. It's screaming red flag. Will see how my friend really feels about this.

The name of the guy that's been contacting me from Forum Research is Jeremy Parrish. I looked up the bank online, Winchester Cooperative Bank, in Boston. But all of Forum Research's online sites state that they are in Toronto. I will not be depositing this check (or at least trying to). It wants $1500 in Walmart gift cards and to scratch the back and email photos. So they can use the gift cards, I would suppose, and this reeks of money laundering.

I received a check from Forum Research also from a Thomas Watt. What’s really up with this company? Any news from anyone? It’s a cashiers check also.

Got a check today, too from Thomas Watt.$2850.00

I also received an email and cashiers check from Thomas Watt for $2850. Should I just rip it up and move forward from this?

Same thing, forum research. Some guy named Terry Patrick. Weird emails and assignments that do not make sense. Reporting it.

I'm trying to find out if what I got is a scam I received a secret shopper thing in a certified mail today with the money order telling me to cash the money order or deposit it keep part of the money and MoneyGram the rest through Walmart is this a scam since it's a money order not a check I did sign up for secret shopper assignments online a while back so I'm worried

Wish i would have looked him up first! I did not cash his postal moneyorder i ripped it up!it didn't sound right. Today I received a t.h.r.e.a.t.i.n.g. letter from Bob mcChristy. Well he said I cashed the money order an used it for Nope. Send the cops stupid. I didn't want to return it an have someone else cash it!!

Steve Gregory of Forum Research found me via LinkedIn. I later found out he or his org hacked into a common contact and sent a link advertising a part time job for mystery shopping. Long / short he sent me a check for $2,850 asking me to by some items at the Gap for $30. The kicker was to also buy 4 gift cards at Walmart at $500 each. He then asked for me to scratch off the coating to reveal the numbers and send him photos of the cards. Ridiculous! This was followed by a few emails and texts to me asking me to quickly make the purchase using the funds from his check. I deposited the check at my bank and determined to wait and see if the check would clear. The check was drawn from a bank in Florida and all my research indicated Forum Research is out of Canada. I believe he and his crew just ripped off the name Forum and created their own check system. I had no intentions of making any purchase until the check cleared. I even called my bank to put them on notice that I thought this was a scam. 3 days later, sure enough, I got notice THE CHECK BOUNCED! No major surprise. Just like I thought it would. I am posting this notice to let you all know these checks are not good and will bounce. Don't buy into this scam. I am following up with my bank to see that they alert all their clients. The branch manager initially told us he had seen a few of these checks come in and thought they were good. I think he has a bad memory or really did not see these checks at all. BE AWARE AND DON'T BUY INTO THIS PROGRAM! Be safe everyone.

I just received a priority mail piece with s check for $1,850.00 with a letter of instruction to buy something from WalMart for no more than $50.00, then to wire money to 2 different guys in Texas. I was excited until I read these postings! Thank you everyone for stopping me from making a huge mistake!

This also happened to me, luckily I realized it was a scam before I but it in my bank though. I told the guy I wasn't doing it and I knew it was a scam and then he threatened me saying watch what happens to your life. Should I be worried?

I answered an ad in my email concerning a position as a Secret Shopper for Walmart. A few days later I received a letter with a deposit check. I followed the instructions in the letter. My bank got in touch with me the next day and informed me that the check was a counterfeit. I had not withdrawn any funds. The funds never were actually deposited in my account. I am thankful that my bank has a fraud department that checks and verifies these transactions. They are now investigating further.

Do you know anything about George Holder of
Retail Shopper Express LLC?


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