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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.

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 think all you can do is report it.

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.

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

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 ?

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."

Sam exact attempted scam here February , 2019 . Was approached on linked in by a "Richard Brooks last month and then messaged from number 254-307-0221 . The went three checks for (*% each from a return address in Midland Texas. Checks look authentic ! Thanks for your posting which I saw before this went any further

Richard Brooks text my husband about his so called New Job Assignment from ph# 702-425-8511. A Las Vegas #. What a scam.

They stop emailing and sending packages right? or do I have to report them? I'm only 17 and this is freaking me out

Don’t Let it freak you out. You sound very smart. There is nothing they can do. Either ignore them or tell them to stop emailing. You will be fine

What was the email they contacted you from?

I just got the same thing and the same phone number text me earlier and said to let him know as soon as I recieved the check! 702-425-8511. Crazy!
I’m thinking about just telling them I got the gift cards but that I decided to keep them. lol

Don’t do it you will still owe the bank for the fake check if you deposit it

I think they use different phone numbers. They are probably not even in the USA because they want you to send them the gift card numbers. It's not like they are going to come here and go shopping haha!

Same exact thing, money's orders arrived today.

Same exact thing, money's orders arrived today.

Our postage.com account was hacked and they stole $1500+ of priority mail stamps, and people are contacting us about the letters they received.

Huh, I've got a priority mail envelope here with a check for $2990 that I'll never touch, guess I know how the envelope was paid for now. *sigh*

I'm sure glad I found these comments. I received a check today after clicking on what I thought was a friend sending me a secret shopper link. Accion Research Group. Fraud. The Priority media mail came from Suzanne Kessler in Lansing MI. Fake name for that address doesnt match beenverfied site or the assessor office. This Samuel Cook keeps texting me out of Palm Beach asking how my ebay gift card assignment is going. Where should I turn in this fraudulent check, emails and text messages?

Kindly Confirm you have received funds and Instructions for your first assignment via USPS. TEXT " ASSIGNMENT
RECEIVED " to (201)-771-3621 for Confirmation

That’s what they sent to me from 52548 number

Wow glad I saw this they just sent a check and text message to me this morning

I had a similar experience. A respected Linkedin contact said this was a good opportunity; I received three, $800 money orders to deposit and then had to purchase two $1000 Apple gift cards. Something sounded suspicious and I see my hesitation was worth the wait. Thank you all for warning. PS My Linkedin contact later told me his account was hacked so be careful there as well.

I’m so happy I researched this! Bc I received a link from a contact in LinkedIn with a message that consultants are needed for this assignment. And it seemed so legit until they asked if I had a credit card account with any of these stores- Macy’s, Walmart, Target, etc. And I’ve been conversing with a guy named Jim Smith as well. He is the “Lead Counsel” according to his website at Fielsagents.com. Of course it’s around Christmas when people are trying to make extra cash but wow! It almost got me until I read the email that said, “you won’t have to spend any of your pocket money.” Pocket money is a term used in other regions of the world but not in my location unless you’re around 90 years old. Thanks for these posts everyone!

Wow, just received the same. FedEx delivered priority to my house. I'm so glad I researched this. Thank you all for taking the time to comment on this. My check is Dallas Texas and the guy Im supposed to text is david hall@ 316-330-9069. Bummer

I am also thankful for y’all’s comments, otherwise if I had not learned anything from the internet I was thinking about cashing the check and keeping the money.. glad I didn’t.. otherwise I would have been in deep trouble

I had David too..lol

This is number they are using 541-238-6956

Well I got the secret shopper ASSIGNMENT IN THE MAIL. I even texted the Received to the number 717-537-1832. They are using also 201-201-4881. I was on my way rushing from work trying to get to the bank and Lo and behold, something just didn't feel right. I just said to myself I'll check it out to see if it is a scan, and I saw these comments. Thank God. I was sleeping in my van last week. It is sad people praying on people having it so hard. They should be away to stop this sort of thing happening to folks.

I received a 998.00 dollars and they want me to buy e-bay cards and to scratch the back and take a pic of the no. And pin clearly that set up a red flag for me, cuz they said they wanted me to use the cards for purchases but if that was true why wouldn't the cards from front and the receipt be sufficient.... I don't believe this was legitimate. Scam !!! They also sent me a text telling me I did recieve the mo and instructions and to proceed with professionalism....oh and they wanted me to fill out the mo and put Amber Gate on it in the from part why didn't they fill it out ????? Yep a scam

JJ I just received the same and they keep sending me txt to complete project and notify them by end of day. after a few days I txt them back 417 351-1606 and told them I was notifying the Federal Trade Commission and my local FBI and will be turning the priority mail envelope and contents over to my local FBI.

Did they contact you again after this

I received the same type of message. Received a text from a Mark Johnson 719 347-1106. eBay gift cards and take pictures. That made me really suspicious especially purchasing $2000 worth of gift cards. Also received a message from Linkin. So upsetting

We r looking in the mirror . Exactly my story . In addition they also never asked me for my survey Information .

I received an email in my college account, and since I am unemployed and desperately short on cash, I responded. I received the "Survey" and a cashiers check for $1,950 ( which must be a fake).
The instruction letter on the back of the "survey" is not addressed to any particular individual. It directs the recipient to purchase 4 - $400 gift cards, totaling $1,600, if the survey is completed within 48 hours, or if not, then 4 cards totaling $1,700.
The same stories I've read here, take pictures of the numbers, after scratching off the strips, send pictures, text and email.
The "Secret Shopper" then supposedly keeps an
Additional $250, or $350 in cash.
Is there anyone to report this to?

281-627-6247 number I was contacted from by Mark Reynold Offering $350-$450 Per transaction.

How long did it take for them to send the check once you signed up to be a secret shopper

Like two days

Yeah they used priority mail too. I should have sent it to someone idk who. Or taken photos so these people get caught. I tore everything up. Mine started with a text message then the mail. So idk how they have my phone and current address.

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