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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!

My daughter was sent an email from a student from her college in PA in regard to a Mystery Shopper opportunity from Pebble Survey Inc. Deposit check for $2500 , survey local Apple Store & purchase (2) Apple G Cards each for $1,100 . Your compensation for survey is $300. After completed , text picture of store receipt & scratched gift card # to: David Bodin : 530 270 9439. Check is fake , you lose your $2500. Looked very legitimate ....preying on College kids !

I was approached on LinkedIn recently about being a Mystery Shopper by someone I thought was one of my connections. I emailed the contact person she gave me and he wrote back to tell me my first assignment would be the Apple Store closest to me - and that I should watch for information coming in the mail. They sent me a check for $2995 and instructed me to purchase 2 Apple gift cards and 1 iTunes gift card for a total of $2695, with the remaining $300 to keep as my "salary." I knew it had to be a scam so I took the check to my bank. It even took the bank a little time to verify the check was fraudulent because it had a water mark and hologram on it - very sophisticated. Once I told the scammer I never received the check they must have realized that I figured it out, because they quit texting me, and I haven't heard from them since. They are using tactics to throw people off by being "referred" to you by someone you supposedly know. They are also using slightly-altered legitimate research company names & creating very realistic checks. Be careful not to fall for this Mystery Shopper scam!

Thank you! Similar scam just happened to me. They made a website look legit, but when it didn't go anywhere at the end I was on point. Same thing happened, Guess it was worth their $6 to Priority Mail and see if I would "bite."

Same thing just happened to me. I thought it was legit but I see its not. Will be taking checks to local bank to turn them in with letter and screenshots of text messages from person who has been contacting me.

So glad I researched about this beforehand. I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper; was told to also deposit it in my bank and go to an apple store to purchase 2 gift cards with it and $300 was my salary . It seemed too good to be true so I researched first and low and behold here I am. A few different things though, the company is White Loft Surveys LLC and the mans name is Joseph Rendon. I've saved the text messages as well.

Oh my god ! I’m so happy that I googled it before going to the bank tomorrow morning . I just got a check for $998 and they wannted me to buy itunes gift cards and then scratch the code and send a picture of the gift card code to their email !
The pay was so good to be true ! I mean almost $300 for just going to bestbuy or apples store to buy the gift cards IS RIDICULOUS !

same here

I knew something was fishy. Signed up for that peddle Inc company through my university. And received a check for 2,950. Called all my older friends, and we looked at it and I was like nahh...let me look up the number.

The exact same thing happened to me but the link came to me from a recruiter and so I thought it was a legitimate Mystery Shopper experience which I sent my contact information to. Fortunately for them, I work in the judicial system and will take this to the authorities. I never did anything with the checks but let the Scammer know they had the wrong person. The company is SeeLevel HX Research Group and the woman's name is Lisa Hartfold. File a complaint with the FTC and give them as much information as you can regarding the checks, text messages and phone numbers. I also had another address on the envelope that was sent to me as well.

Wow...she has been texting me for the last 2 days asking if I received my first assignment. It was a bit too desperate why I started researching her name. Once I receive the package, I will definitely report it. Thanks for providing details...

I just received a check for 2,375 from consumer insights LLC and I'm like....woah it says the remitted is Deanna Jones. Cashiers check ...definitely a scam

Same thing just happened, received the checks yesterday and the info. Jokes on them, I have the entire envelope with the return address (in Texas) and the "instructions" from a guy in a different state. I'll be filing a formal complaint with the PO, the credit union on the money order, and the proper gov't agencies--I work in financial literacy for a living

Thanks I just recieved the same one.smh.!! Preying on people in general .should be comprehensive pay for it even coming in the mail.

I recv'd email from my school I signed up. rcvd a check for 2500 to dep and purchase 2 apple gift cards so glad I read this before I deposited it. I will shred

OMG!! I received the same email from my school, so I thought it was legit.. got a text message from David Bodin today saying my starter assignment will arrive today. So glad I researched this before trying to deposit this cashier's check. Went on the BBB site and this company Pebble Survey Inc has a F rating....

Same thing here! Same name, David Bodin. Same amount of $2500 and asked me to do the same thing...purchase 2 gift cards at the Apple store! The number is different though 323-840-1332. I was so excited to see a check for that much money, I almost fell for it! I received the job recruitment email through my school email as well. What a shame, I wish people weren’t so messed up. This really would have ruined my life. Shame on you scammers!

The exact same story happened to me. I deposited the check and my bank reconized immediately it was a fraudulent check. Then I did some research and found this post.

The same exact story happened to my son. He also deposited the checked then realized his mistake. The bank said "wait & see". He is afraid to do anything with his account. Once the bank realizes the check is fraudulent, I'm assuming, they'll take the money back, but what happens later? Do the scammers come after you in any way?

I recieve a check to yesterday the same letter we should all get together file a class action suit against them my was for 2,995.

I received a check to from a robbert telling me to purchase gift cards as a secret shopper from Wal-Mart with instructions on everything needed to complete task and confidential on the paper

Thanks for post. I got exact same scam with same name .I could have easily fallen for it if not for your story

Thanks you for the info. I just received a check for the same scam. I knew it was good to be true!

Wow, thank you for posting. I received an email to my college email as well with same instructions, good thing I did my research first. I really need a side job right now and thought this was perfect. Can’t trust anyone these days. Thank you again.

I got hit to. But they didn't get the money either. I played on some bills to later find out i had 2 pay it back 2 the bank.

Thank you so much for this article. My husband was about to make a terrible mistake

My husband did cash the check

My husband did deposit it and the bank called 3 days later to tell him the check was bad. What can he do now? He has scratched off all the backs of the money gift cards, so they can't be returned. Do we need to get a lawyer? Who do we report this to?

If you told someone the numbers from the back of the gift cards, they  took control of the cards and probably used the value of the cards. You could call the customer service number listed on the card, or find a customer service number online and talk to the company to ask if you could return the cards. You could contact the manager at the store where you bought the cards.

You can report this to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give the FTC goes into a secure database that the FTC uses for investigations.

Hi my daughter's receive a check today from mystery shoppers 2,600 n to deposit into her bank accounts n then ask her to go to Wal-Mart n purchase 4 gift card with 500 each n send them a pic of it so wut happened if we don't send them the card # and use it to shop can we do that

If this is a scam, that check is no good.

You are resonsible for the checks you deposit. If you deposit the check and it turns out the check is bad, you have to repay the bank.

If you deposit the check and take money out to buy gift cards, and then the bank finds out the check is bad, you must repay the bank. If you already spent the money on gift cards, you have to find money somewhere else to repay the bank.

What became of this? My husband did the same thing! Now what? Are we just SOL that money and have to pay it to the bank? What if you don't have that much to give them?

You are responsible for the checks you deposit. If you deposited a bad check and withdrew money, you have to repay the bank. If that's what happened to you, you could talk with someone at your bank and explain what happened. You can report a scam to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint.

Hey may I ask you how did you go by receiveing this check

Received via USPS.

Today I received a Cashiers Check for $1390 and I was congratulated on becoming a member of the Walmart Neighborhood Research Secret Shopper program. In exchange for the check, I was to purchase $90 worth of personal items, then evaluate the customer service provided by the cashier. Then I was to go back the next day and buy 2 $500 gift certificates and rub off the back and email the codes to an email plus send the a copy of my evaluation. DO NOT DO IT!

I just received a check for$2450 I read the the one about Walmart and my daughter advice me that is a fraud thank god

Yes i received an email asking if i wanted to be a mystery shopper, if course i responded, next i received a congratulations you passed to be a mystery shopper, so excited to have you on board, you will receive you package by FedEx, your first assignment of many, you are assigned to two Walmart stores in your area couple days later i received the fedex package which contained a check for over #2000, instructing me to deposit the check into one of my accounts, let it clear, then take out $50 go shopping for anything i want. Then next day return back to same Walmart go to customer service desk purchase 3 Visa check cards @ $500. Per card, next day go to the other Walmart purchase one card for $500. Then i am to make copy of front and back if all cards, scratch off the silver box, then send them the information along with my survey on my experience at both stores, and i keep the $50 purchase plus $397 which is my cut. I signed up twice to do this, each time i was sent same info, but the detective part of me kept saying this us too good to be true, don't you deposit those checks into your account, you'll be sorry, so I never deposited any of the checks. I started looking into this more, and came upon this site, so glad i listened to myself that money was sooooo temping. I kept asking myself why are they asking me to purchase cards and to give them the info off the cards doesn't sit well with me. Then also why send me a check, then ask for basically the money back but in a different form. So i was never able to take the checks to the bank. Plus the didn't realize i did this twice, bells really went off then. Because one would think they would realize hey we sent you a check previously and you never cashed it, now your requesting it again, why?

You can report that to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that the FTC and other law enforcement agencies use for investigations.

I received 2 cashier checks both for $2,900 1 was from credit union Becu n Seattle Washington other US bank to get 3 money orders from usps from 3 different locations send back by fed ex karl Rajan was contact person

I received the same thing this last Friday. Same name. He just said to go to one Post Office. I deposited the check but I didn't take the money out yet, so I will be calling my bank tomorrow morning. Thank God for Clombus Day

I received the same thing from Karl Rajan and I thought it sounded fishy so I searched his name on Google and this website came up.

I signed up with the USPS/Walmart secret shopper request and received $2900 in the mail in the form of a cashiers check. I was told to deposit the check and use the money to purchase three separate money orders of $800 each. The check is a cashiers check drawn on a bank in west plains, mo. It all appears to be good but after reviewing and researching this, I see now how seriously bad it could be. The name, Karl Rajan is the same name on my letter which appears to be legitimate. I’m glad I looked things up now! Thank you all,

I received a check for $2850. Kroger mystery shopper.
Said to deposit then purchase an eBay gift card for $2450.
Came from an address Galt, CA. The check was a bank in Amarillo TX.

I received the same “Kroger” secret shopper scam. A guy by the name of Bill Smith (horrible fake name) that was sign number one. He emailed me, then texted me, and now I received a USPS mail with a fake check for $2900 and my first assignment to purchase $2500 with of Giftcards from eBay and keep $400 for me as my fee. Thank God my bother knows a few criminals and they told him it was a scam. Lol

Yes,I just recieved a text with the instructors for 2,350.00 to complete a survey for Walmart.
I'm not going to cash this check. The person just keeps texting me " have you deposit the check?

Yes I just received a check too and they beep texting me asking y haven’t I cashed it. I had no clue what it was for told myself you best leave that alone. Thank god I did. They wanted me go do money grams. But they need to stop texting me. I just blocked them.

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

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