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A scam story: Secret shopping and fake checks

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Scammers need a good story to get to your wallet. Once they find one that works, they use it again and again. One of their old favorites brings together fake checks and secret shopping, and we’ve been hearing a lot about it lately.

Here’s how it starts. You get a check in the mail with a job offer as a secret shopper. You deposit the check and see the funds in your account a few days later, and the bank even tells you the check has cleared.

Now you’re off to the store you’ve been asked to shop at and report back on, often a Walmart. Your first assignment is to test the in-store money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram, by sending some of the money you deposited. Or you might be told to use the money to buy reloadable cards or gift cards, such as iTunes cards. You’re instructed to send pictures of the cards or to give the numbers on the cards.

Fast forward days or weeks to the unhappy ending. The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money. How does that even happen? Well, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. By the time you try to get the money back from the money transfer service, the scammers are long gone, and they’ve taken all the money off the gift cards, too. (By the way, money orders and cashier’s checks can be faked, too.)

The moral of the story? If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam. No matter what they tell you.

Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at FTC.gov/Scams.

Blog Topics: 
Jobs & Making Money

Comments

I recently received a check for over $2600 check/secret shopper. I did not do anything with the check. The bank in Washington State

I received a check from a bank in Texas. I didn't do anything with the check either. The only way I would have considered cashing the check is if the bank that the check was written on was in my area and I could cash the check at that bank

Even is it is a local bank, it may still be a fake check. Often banks in one State own banks in other States. If anyone sends you money out of the blue and asks you to send MoneyGrams, it is a scam!

I just received a $4600 check and they asked to deposit to my account and Text a James Smith (707)653-3012 confirming that I deposited the check into my checking account. Then withdraw $4000 cash and go to a local Walmart or two and purchase 8 Walmart Gift cards. Then exit store and scratch off gift card backs and take pictures of all individual gift card backs and receipt and send pictures through text to James Smith.

I will be sending all info to fraud department.

Omg, I just fell for this!!!! Please someone tell me what to do!!!! I’m unemployed and wanted to make extra money!! Please someone help me!

I just got taken as well. Please share any info you have learned.

Hey Thomas,
This just happened to me today. I did NOT touch the money. Left it in my account and when the check was returned from Fulton Bank(on the fake cashiers check) my bank was able to take the money back right away.

Thank you for sharing this story! I just received a check for 2,350.00. I deposited the check and had a terrible feeling. I reported it to the FTC and will be calling the bank in the morning to notify them. So, in your experience since you didn’t touch the money the bank wasn’t owed. Did the scammers continue to communicate with you?

I just received a check with the amount of $2600.... I have received this kind of mail before so I am going to have some fun with them... lol I am texting with them now, I have received an address so I am going to send them a letter and that the Feds have been contacted.. They have been blowing up my phone all morning about when am I going to FedEx to send the blank money orders totalling $2000.... they will be waiting for it

I just receive one and deposit it. Oh lord I hope it's not fake.

YES IT IS A FAKE CHECK.

I got a check in the mail 2 days ago from a mystery shopping company. The check is for $2,475.00. The check was sent to me from KELTON Research, Survey, and signed by Timothy Castagne. The instruction is for me to cash the check, take $400.00 for my services, and $75.00 for transportation. That I should use the $4000.00 to purchase gift cards from Walmart and CVS, each card costing $500.00. I should make copies of the front and back of the cards and the receipt and send to them along with the cards. I deposited the check yesterday and part of it cleared within 24 hrs. My surprise is that I have received several texts from the Kelton research survey asking me if the check has cashed. I got upset and am now at google search to see if this is a scam. Please what shall I do?

I received the check today and they hassled me about checking my mail, I told them I have a full time job of a software developer and I would check it when I can. They replied Okay. Later I replied yes it has been received. I sent them a question for I was not going to deposit it until I heard back. They answered and asked did you deposit the check. I said no I was waiting on your response, I will do so now. They asked who I bank with I told them and they replied back my check will clear in 1 day, when they said that I got worried and started looking on line about this being a scam. I already reported them to the feds and contacted my bank that the check is fraudulent

Oh my God! Got Th we check and deposited it. But I said I will not touch it until it is cleared should I contact my bank about it?

They won’t once you confront them. They usually will have the fake phone number deleted from whatever app their using. I lost my account with Wells Fargo that I had for 15 years because of these assholes.

I lost my bank account too because of this jerks

I'm going to throw up, I got scammed as well. What do I do?

I also just did this and I am a broke college kid who was just trying to pay my health insurance.. stupid me

I just received a check for 2600, was told to deposit the check and then in 24 hours it would be good. Then keep 600, then go to Walmart and buy something personal for me and then get 2 Walmart cards and send them to them via pictures. Figured out was a scam, glad to know. They don't have my acct number or anything. Came through USPS. Glad I checked it out and then contacted my lawyer.

Did your attorney say to turn it in - to the police/is there an open investigation? I just got one Saturday

I just received letter and ck. My sis referred me this website
and saved me the anguish. To tear and throw away. Me in Bulverde

I received a 2400 dollar check last week from fedex i think i actually threw it away and text the guy due to coronavirus and I'm high risk i wouldn't be participating no response ever.

I think all you can do is report it.

How do I do that? And to who?

I have a friend that works for Walmart Security I turned it over to them

Yip - Fernando texted me!!!!! I half knew it was a scam and googled it and here we are!!!!!!!!!!!! Never ever trust anyone who is offering to give you money!!!!! The world is evil - remember that!!!!!!!!!! Always be alert!!!!!!! NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO GIVE YOU MONEY EVER!!!!!!

I just got scammed back in September. Fell for first class mail with name, routing number and water mark including really good fake check. Bank of America contacted me not long after to say it was charged off and I owe balance of $2,240. It was such a good fake that the teller didn’t know the difference.

And what happened next. How did you handle the situation? I just got scammed.

Me too. Buy giftcards and we'll reimburse you after we get pictures of the display, receipt, cards, etc. $1000 before I Ran into a cashier who warned us about this scam. I feel so stupid!

I was scammed 3600 dollars yesterday. I feel so freaking stupid. Since the virus Uve been out if job and I signed up fire secret shopper job. The check looked real, and the check was cleared and I was told by the guy "Alex" he'll fix it. I dont know what to do.

Never ever trust anyone who is offering you money to BUY A gift card, gift certificates, money orders. OK?

I'm from tampa florida recieved a cashier's check for 3600 dollars and asked me to deposit and wanted me to buy gift cards and text him the codes. I didn't because the force told me not to.

I've just gotten a check for $2432.27.... What did you do? I live in Tampa too!

To all of you. Sorry but Truth never changes. IF ITS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE? IT IS! Except for Jesus of course.

Hallelujah!!!

They sent me the same thing. 4600 said I could have 5 and an extra 100 for gas. Wanted me tob7y gift cards. The nerve people has really blows my mind! Thank you for your story because I about did it.

The best you can hope for is the bank close your account and take your remaining deposits & hope they you off their hook if they can prove you've been defrauded by a scam artist.
It is happening to me as I write this. Not sure if I should give this scam check to the FTC or police.

I just got the 4600 check too. But "James Smith" had a different phone number and area code.

I received the same thing but I went to western Union and cashed the cashiers check, will western union, come after me for the money now ? Or am I going to be arrested for fraud ?

I have one to did they give you the money

Did anyone come after you yet? Just curious to know because I did the same thing?

I just received a fake check as well and common sense I'm holding on to it and playing phone message tag with the scammer pretending I lost and need another. I'll keep making excuses until whomever playing this game gets bored.

Yes and they kept texting me asking me if I'd recieved the check yet.I told them I would let them know when it came and to stop bugging me. lol It came I told them drive through only bank was closed now. Im playing along too. Will see what happens too. Guessing Im bored and will see what the bank says about this check.

I was just sent the same thing... thanks for the heads up!

Same here I just received a cashiers check for $4,600 with instructions inside the overnight UPS package , I was instructed to go to my bank and deposit the check and wait for it to clear once it did I was to withdraw $4,000 and head to Walmart and purchase 4 separate money orders of a $1,000 each and keep the rest for gas / transportation and my commission and than to text Sandy back to confirm everything went through and also if I did it within 48 hrs I would receive a $500 bonus gift card for Walmart, so in total I would be getting $1,100 for myself

I just had a gut feeling something wasn’t right so that’s why I’m on here searching for similar story’s and WOW!! I was surprised to see I’m not the only one fortunately for me I didn’t cash the check but what should I do ?? Any suggestions would be great I still have the cashiers check

I just received a letter in a FedEx envelope... it had a $4800 check and an instruction letter .
The check is high quality with water Mark's and embossed seal from a bank in New York state " Josephine Kanis Estate ". As for the instructions ... I was asked to deposit the check into my checking account then proceed to a local Walmart and purchase 5 money orders...totalling $4200 and I was to keep the rest ..also if done within 48 hours a bonus of $300 would be sent to me..I have not destroyed the evidence in case local or federal investigators were going to need it....if it's too good to be true ..it is going to hurt you.

Do you have the email that you sent your phone number and address to

I got s check in the mail with indytuctiond i never vashed it I still got it what should I do report it or just throw it away?

I was sent a 4900.00 check. Same exact instructions. So glad I didn't cash it. I'm contacting the FTC.

I got a check for $2950, from WholeFoodsMarket, as a secret shopper, they wanted nike gift cards bought at multiple locations they offered..scratch off the back and send it to them type situation. I contacted my bank, turns out it is a fraud! They will use anything to get your money! DONT FALL FOR THIS!

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