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


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 was a victim of this scam, the worst day of my life !!

I have a long list of phone numbers calling for different reasons plus jobs, large amounts of money left to me all I need to do is send money to get it I just write scamer and send back last call I got wants my banking information number is 323-786-7060 no name no information

Thank goodness for the FTC being on the job and alert to the latest schemes & scams. Great job. Thank you!

any scam alerts about skype? I heard you can get hacked by skype easy

Have had a couple phone calls regarding Irs trying to get in touch with me regarding a lawsuit

That’s a scam people pretend to be the irs and charge your phone bill for calling back them they try to get info from you to scam you more

I have had the same call even to my job many times

The IRS will only send a letter, not calls. Do not call back or give information. I reported the phone number and blocked the phone number.

I put my resume on Career Builder and get an offer from a company asking me to be a Mystery Shopper. I checked to see if it was a real company and it was. So I applied. Then when they sent me the 2nd email I knew that they were a scam. They sent me a check in the amount of $3935 and they wanted me to put this check in my bank. I contacted the Local Police Department but was told this is not a crime and was told to inform these people to just stop communicating with me. They then started to threating me. I still have the check and they have now finally stop texting me.

You can Block that number from your cell phone.


Even when a real company asks for a Western Union Shop I just delete it. Better safe than sorry.

Thank you for the information.

Fake checks deserve fake gift cards.

Save your used up and expired gift cards. Send them those numbers!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA

I once got a check for the secret shopper job for $ 19,000.00. It was drawn on a Wells Fargo Bank! Not only did I not ” cash” it I went to a Wells Fargo Bank with it. The poor employee went nuts. You didn’t try to cash this did you? No, I just brought it to you to see it! I then shredded it....what a scam!

I was also taken by this scam...they are so smart that they even sent me a contract for employment. It was an energy company.

I've seen many opportunities to be a Secret Shopper at Walmart. Continous IRS threatning lawsuits,Thanks for the heads also. Keep up the good work.

I use to get calls like this all the time but i never acted on any of them.but the only way i was able to stop the calls from coming i start telling them i accept cash only.

I was scammed by this dude called himself Marcos Coletti, a real scammer with the fake job offer, I-Tunes, Amazon Gift cards theft ring. STAY CLEAR, BE VERY CAREFUL!

I got 4 checks, $2,500,$3,500, $5,000 &$9,000. I sent the largest back to sender. It came back to me with undeliverable, no such address. The 2 smaller ones had the same return and the other a PO Box. Thank God I didn't fall for it. Then I got the one from the Federal Reserve Bank.a go back to school grant. I think they are getting names from public records of anyone who has ever used a form of public assistance.


When I had some items up for sale on the Internet, after communicating with a gentleman for weeks, we agreed on a price. I told him I would not send the items to him until I received the money. A week later he sent me a check for $3500 more than we had agreed on, so I went to my bank and gave them the check , only to find out it was a scam. I learned very quickly.

Just had the same scam attempted on me. $2750 sent to be a Mystery Shopper. Used a lumber company address and SunTrust bank on the check. I called the company and they asked for it to be sent in. They have had this happen before. Fake checks using legitimate companies on the check with address and all...

You can help law enforcement by reporting your experience to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

The comments you put here on the blog don’t go into the law enforcement database.

I get those "work at home" emails and other weird looking emails which I DON"T OPEN. You figure if someone really wants to hire you, etc., they can send you a letter. This gives you leverage in hand. FTC is just great in offering emails explaining all the scams old & new. I subscribe and read diligently to keep safe.

Free cell phone use medicaid card, SCAM conspiracy from NAtionalGrid in NY with scammer IDT and other are really killing people pocket book. Nationalgrid still keep saying their SMART SCAN work well, this dump ideas make VC laught..

First of all, legitimate Mystery Shopping companies DO NOT pay you in advance. Secondly, the way it works is you use your money first, submit your report and they will refund you the money. There's no advance money.

There ARE real secret shopper companies; I have worked for them and received pay for the jobs I took. They NEVER ask for any money from you; they send you money for doing the secret shop. It was fun and you get some free meals etc. when you review their clients who are fast food chains.

I received a check ALLEGEDLY written against a valid Missouri bank from a real business. I googled the bank and the business to verify as I didn't know why I received the check. It was made out to someone with a similar name but addressed to me.
I called the business's Accounts Payable Manager and she confirmed they've had calls coming in for days. I emailed the check copy, the scammer emails and then the text messages from him! Hope they contacted the FBI!

I have called the banks that the checks were issued from and reported them as fraud, as many of the checks were frauds.

I have encountered many scammers and have been vocal in catching them. It is sad to say that it takes one dumb move and realize how bad the company or people were.

Thank you so much for reporting on these scams. So many calls,letter,therats on voice mail it's a war zone out there. I'm about out of blocking call space.

The scammers have become creative, using careerbuilder.com monster.com and many job seeking sites. Using these sites to catch many people with "Job offer" in email heading, it is not true.

One scammer used a real company name and address, but error was the numbers did not correspond. I called the companies and reported them via BBB.org

I am surprised that you guys are letting people know about this now. I was scammed by these people back in 2009. the central Florida of educator bank charged me $25 when they acknowledged they are aware of this cam. they treated me like a criminal everytime I come to the branch until I demanded to speak to a manager as a victim

Got a call saying they were from Microsoft and my computer had a virus and they need to log into my computer to fix it but I knew it was a scam so I told them no and I ran my Norton security and there was no virus. It was a scam and they would have messed up my computer and charged to fix it.

This happened to me a few years ago however I researched the bank the check was drawn on and what do you know there was no such account. Be very careful!

I received an opportunity to make $100,000 a year or more. After realizing it was too good to be true, I deleted it and the other "opportunities" they have sent to me. If it is too good to be true---it's not.

I have done Mystery shopping for two real companies. I'd be lucky to get $50.00 + a product sample per trip. Anybody that offers you 1,000's of dollars is an immediate fake. You never get paid until you finish the shopping assignment and fill out the company questionnaires. And yes, plus some shopping expenses.

This is really scary - I like to think I am savvy enough to recognize a scam, but honestly the scams get more and more sophisticated every day. Please keep up the good work. We need someone watching out for us.

I was a victim as well and then prosecuted for forgery as if I knew about this but it was dismissed after a long battle. Although I was still convicted of failure to appear on this charge that was dismissed. We need justice overhaul badly in Texas . I have never been more humiliated in my life .

Please don't tell me that the FTC can be scammed too. I got a check a couple of weeks ago from the FTC for a refund for over payment of something I had ordered online. Was it legit because the bank took it and said it went thru but that doesn't make any difference obviously.

Brob55 Got a check for 3100 told to keep 500 for myself and the rest will be used for a decal for my vehicle for Dr Pepper.Still have the check and the so called instructions.If I send this to you maybe it will help you get these creeps

You can help law enforcement and report this to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations. You can't send the paper check, but if you received the the instructions in an email, you could copy the email and add it to the complaint you file online with the FTC.

The comments you put here on the blog don’t go into the law enforcement database.

I saw something on my Paypal Account about a week or so and keep looking at it and try to called PayPal too and really got it item and I was right SOME ONE DID A FRAUD ON ME That they want their money back and actually had my Paypal account money I had in there A SCAM ME OUT OF MY MONEY CLAIMING A SOLD THEM SOME GOODs AND ACUALLY PUT A CASE AGAINST ME AND I KNOW THIS WAS A CRIME AND BIG FRAUD CAUSE I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE SOLD NOTHING ONLINE EVER ON EBAY OR ANYWHERE AND I DO NOT EVEN A SELLING ACCT WHICH ANY WEBSITE like EBAY I ONLY BUY THINGS NEVER SOLD NOTHING AND I AM ABOUT REALLY TO TURN THIS SCAM - PUT CRIME CHARGES ON

Thank You FTC. Theres nothing worse than scumbag scammers who want something for nothing. They need to get caught and put in jail for a minimum of 5 years, or longer

Always make a copy of the check. If it's fake you'll see VOID all over the copy!! Then turn it all into the FTC and the Post Office. Too bad the Bank doesn't do this simple thing. Would save everyone alot of trouble.

I get those emails at least 3 times a day, that dosen't include the phone calls from telemarketers.


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