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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

What a coincidence i was assigned the same postal service money order assignment, I needed to evaluate the post office worker for good customer service and then immediately send the money orders a long with the receipt fed ex overnight. I keep $400 and they make out with 2 grand!
I am so glad that I googled it before proceeding

I just received one of those USPS Priority Mail, cashier's checks for $2800, written on ComericA Bank. It looks legit. Inside was also a very copied list of instructions with a signature of Roland (can't read the last name), also copied. The enclosed list of instructions was very professional. I'm suppose to surveying 2 Walmarts stores. I'm support to keep $350.00 and purchase (3) $400 gift cards from each Walmart and also purchase $25 of any products from each store. I can keep those products and hold on to the gift cards and would be told what to do in my next Survey. Oh, I'm supose to text copies of those gift cards and send a copy of the receipts once completed. Okay, so I did sign up to do surveys from Survey Junkie, My Points, and ---gov. Sorry at the moment can't remember. And today a check appeared. I did research and the bank seems to be legit. So, what do I do with everything? Oh, I plan to call the bank tomorrow just to see what they say.

Same here. Just got the same money orders for $2000 to deposit and then go to Walmart and you know the rest. I’m reporting this to the US Postal Service because they’re saying to report it. They are trying to catch these scammers.
Call 1877-876-2455 to report these people.

I got one too! This is crazy! Glad I googled it! So do we just take them to the post office then??

We just received the exact same check amount and instructions. Curious as to who you received from?

Same here received from roldan Walton the check from rollerrena auto sales in east Palestine ohio

Same exact thing. My husband received post office money orders and they look so real so he was telling me that he thinks that it is legit, but after the next few days he was getting flooded with priority mail with checks in them for secret shopping. Trusting my instincts I looked up secret shopper scams and here you are telling my story...Same exact amount on the check! Thanks because I was looking for something similar to determine that they are fake.

Latest scam uses cashiers checks that look legit from Navy Federal Credit Union.
Text number is 773 area code from a guy named Steve. You usually get an email from someone you know via linkedin

Veterans get their checks from the treasury department..regulated by the veterans administration. They dont use credit unions or private banks to send paper checks...our federal government does that...the only way you will receive any compensation from the u.s. armed forces via bank is if you have direct deposit...

Received private message on LinkedIn from someone that I’m aquatinted with...for a mystery shopper stating she had been doin it PT & pat was great.
I filled out info just to see more info & within a few days I received a check for close to 2K...no instructions inside just a check. I tried to contact company on check because it looked like income for property that was sold as the Title Co said Escrow...
Then I started to receive emails & texts from “Karen”. The attachments say all the same thing as others have said: deposit ck Into your account & then purchase gift cards & rate experience & then email gift card info...
Looked here before doing anything!

<headdesk> My invite from Homezone Research also came via LinkedIn from a trusted contact. I should have known it was too good to be true.

I just received a letter with a check for 1300.00 wanting me to deposit and go to CVS and buy 2 best buy gift cards for 500.00 each and take pictures of the back and emails photo of front and back of the card to retail survey@ with a name of David Cutler and the priority mail address is ace consultants Inc ATL ga 1819 main St ste 200

I knew it was fishy do I called the bank where the check from. I took a picture of the check and emailed it to them. Maybe somehow they can catch these people. I feel like doing their report just to mess with them and dear old David Cutler wont ne messing with me again.

Same here. Just got a check for $995.00. Supposed to go to Kroger and buy $700.00 in Itune gift cards. scratch off the pin and email a picture to Peter Anderson. Keep the $ 295.00 for your first Secret Customer assignment.
I knew it was too good to be true. Phone numbers are all from California but the Banks are all in Florida.
Think I will call the local tv station.

I just received the same thing! A money order that looks totally legit,water marks and all..except mine is from a federal credit union bank in Michigan. However I’m supposed to send the pictures of the cards I purchase for 700$ to
Peter Anderson as well. They sure do put a lot of time into this scam seeing as everything looks so real and they even used a real credit union, same address ect. These people are such scumbags.

Just got one from Space Coast Credit Union in the amount of $995. And supposed to get $700 in Amazon Gift cards .....how do we find and become mystery shoppers for legit companies?

OMG! I am also glad I googled before doing anything! I also received “ cashier’s check” in a mail for 2,350.00. Then I texted to 682-237-9633 that I received the check. His name (not real probably) is Ben Melvick. I thought it’s too easy to be true. When I tried to call , nobody answered . I also received e - mail asking me about updates. Where can I report this # and e mail?

I received a text from number 1-615-685-2677, they had texted 10 people in regards to sending out the mystery shopper package and to expect it. Then the next day I received a text from 1-778-706-1011 letting me know that my package had been shipped and to text when I had received it. Signed Mystery Shopper USA, 2 days later they texted to see if I had received the package and when I plan to complete the assignment. I texted that I had not received it but as soon as I did I would let them know. I texted them that evening letting them know I did receive it and would this be David Beausoleil(the name on the check), all they texted back was "yes". I texted that, I am not able to complete my assignment until Monday within 24 hours do to my bank not being open until Monday. Is there allowance for this for the bonus? I NEVER received a response. I then decided to search and found all this horrible scan stuff...I am so glad I looked on here. The check is from Adademy Bank, it is a cashiers check, it is dated March 11, 2019 but was sent to me on 04/05/2019 the total that was sent to me was $998.00. I was to purchase a Google Play card for $325.00 from 2 stores then take a picture of them and email the picture of them to the emails john@ ecommerc eshoppers. net and newell .jess @mail. com. My compensation was the $348.00 left from the check. Is there somewhere I can report this?

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...

Same thing with the same name. FedEx had actually intercepted the pkg and I text them about it. The referral link came from a reliable person on LinkedIn as well...is ftc.gov the only place to report this to?

Lisa almost got us. But we were concerned that the mail address was different from the check address and the envelope was not professional, we sent her a screenshot of this blog and said that we have a family member who needed extra money because of the furlough. But he works for the FBI, so we wanted to refer her information to him. bet we will not hear from her again.

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

I just had the same thing happen when I got my US Mail last evening at my home. Received a check for $2990.45 from A.S.I. Federal Credit Union ( a legit Credit Union), and shopper assignment to purchase 2 Apple Store Gift Cards at $1340 and then keep $300 for going in the store, completing the back one page survey and texting -Larry Walker MBA at 213-725-1717 and emailing shopper s @nationals hopper slink. com or national shopper slinks @ gmail. com the survey "report" and if I rushed it same day, could keep an additional $200 more of the check. The catch is to text and email the gift card purchase receipt and the revealed codes scratched off the back of the cards to them. Weeks later the cashed check would be found fraudulent and my bank account short thousands of dollars that I would be on the hook for to total $2690 from the two gift cards I bought ( If I did this-which I am clearly NOT.) This is a total SCAM and they are doing this to often poor and financially desperate college students as the original email came through my college email at Southern New Hampshire University ( so again seemed legit). This predatory behavior needs to be caught and these persons either attempting or exceeding in ripping off Americans need to spend time in jail and pay all the fines and or payback the amount to the people they harmed in total with fees for the banks. They also seem to defame and use real peoples names found on Linked In and use old land line numbers that are difficult to trace back to who actually owns the number. DO NOT BE FOOLED and report this SCAM to the FTC, ( here), the Post Office ( these scammers use a USPS Priority Mail letter size envelope) -again to appear to be legitimate. They are not LEGITIMATE and will only take your money however they can by scamming you out of it. I am taking my information to trusted people who can find and prosecute these scammers. I will expose this SCAM where ever I can. Please let your college students loved ones know- to be aware and to not take the Bait. SCAM WARNING AND BEWARE! STOP WHITE COLLAR CRIME and help lock these people behind this SCAM SCHEME UP for a LONG TIME!!!!!

I received the text via LinkedIn last week. Then I received the same check for $2995 today. The Survey company is www. service. co (US and UK). I called the number on the website. A standard cell phone voice mail with no introduction of the company. So glad I saw your post. . I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper today; 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. The name on document that came with a priority mail is Wanda Rhodes, PHD. Survey evaluation Coordinator. On my text, I said I would contact BBB before any steps are taken. The name on the text is John Barnes. ph 937 660.5459.

WOW I just received my "check" in the mail today. It also came from LinkedIn. Has anyone ever turned this information into the FBI?

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

The same thing happened to me as well. I emailed the credit union to notify them. Who else do I need to notify?

I called the credit union I received my check from and asked about the funds and gave them the check number and name of sender and so far I’m on hold. Hope it helps but just call the number of that business if you can find it. Hate a scammer to be honest.

What if you deposit that check what happens after that

This is the second time I have received a check. The first time was a month ago and the check was for over$3000 to buy new iPhones. The scammers were Chinese. Now I just got another check for 3,450 to buy google play cards. I took the first check to the bank and they shredded it after telling me it was a hoax. This time I am going to take it and let it go through the process to see if it is a good check (I know it is not).

I am experiencing the same scenario except I deposited the check and I haven't spent any of the money but I realized that it was a scam because I can't transfer any money between my savings and checkings account or cash app others money. It's like my whole account is on hold. They know that I have received the check and I said I would give the full amount back, and they still insist that I keep $70 instead of $300 while returning the money through Moneygram. Please help I'm a broke college student I don't have that kind of money to pay out. I'm just waiting to see when the bank is going to discover if it is a fake check.

I received a check for $ 1950 deposited it until I bumped into this site. I actually bought the 2 gift cards that they asked me to, but I didn't send in the info.I have all the texts from the one of the scammers which I'll keep.

So wen you Deposited your check did you got your money??? I see you said you bout the 2 gift cards, do you still have them or have you used them?

Jean, what happen after you made the deposit and bought the gift cards?

Hey this happened to me!! I need help

Did you get any help? Is there a way to get our money back? Our bank said pretty much we are screwed. They told us they released the funds because we are in good standing with them. Now they are taking the money out of our savings to cover it.

Ok so I'm a little late to the party but being a victim of this scam before I will say that you have to try and see if you can claim fraudulent deposits or anything of the sort. I managed to get out it because I told my bank that I didn't make that deposit and someone used mobile depositing in hopes to move money faster. I also ask to make an entirely new account to prevent someone from ever doing this again. I'm leaving this here for someone who needs it

Thank goodness I found this website. I also got a message on linkedin from a colleague saying that this company was legit and he made between $4-7k a month. I used to do legit mystery shopping about 10 years ago so I’d thought I’d give it a try. Then I got contacted by a Richard Brooks who said there would be a package in the mail. The following Monday I received a check of $2980 with my first assignment to go to a local Apple store and purchase 2 $1000 gift cards and the rest would be used in second task and $300 salary. Well yesterday I googled Apple store and drove 1 hr thinking it was the Apple technology store and it turned out to be a store where they sold fresh apples! So I called the Richard Brooks number and was directed to Google Voice who instructed me to leave a message. So I left a message saying I went to the wrong place and then they texted me to go to Walmart instead to buy 3 $500 gift cards and a different Walmart to buy 2 $500 gift cards and use the rest for gas. Well I went to Walmart and didn’t buy any because the manager at Walmart said it was a scam. I thought it was weird that Google Voice kept answering when I tried calling multiple times. I also got a call from my bank questioning my deposit. I have to call the bank on Monday. This Richard guy keeps texting me to see when I can finish the task. I’m pretty much a single mom so it’s difficult to leave the house to do a simple task. I was so tired yesterday after running around trying to do this task and then my toddler was tantruming so I just went home. I told them so and they wanted to know if I could finish yesterday but I said that she was throwing tantrum and is napping and then I had plans and there was an ice storm coming. I told them I could just return the funds to go them if it was time sensitive and they keep saying “its fine. Just complete it as soon as possible”. Today I was too busy blowing snow and slush off my driveway and now I’m tired and don’t want to go out so I think I’ll just tell them I’ll have the bank return their funds. Now that I know it’s a fake check and a scam. Thanks for these posts. I almost lost my tax return otherwise because I wouldn’t have the funds to cover a bad check.

Same linked in contact by Chris Stapelton. Right. Easy money is ALWAYS a scam. There is no such thing.

My friends LinkedIn was hacked, and I received a message from his account with this same offer - secret shopper with an email very close to the legit secret shopper network company. $2600 check, my 'salary' is $350, they want Walmart gift cards with pictures of the cards and the pins revealed from the back.

One of my connection posted a job on LinkedIn for a secrete shopper job. Looked legitimate. As she was a well known connection.
Like a fool I sent them my info. And they emailed me back and stated I could earn 300 dollars for buying products and mailing them back . They stated they would make payments on my CC. And I would have enough to buy the product plus the 300 salary.
Like I said I was a fool. It sounds really liget. Payment showed up on my CC. Went and purchased the the product mailed it back . and a couple of days looked at my CC account and it showed that the payment was returned for invalid account.
I received a post on LinkedIn from my connection stating that her account was hacked and th job posting for secret shopper was not from her.
I was a fool now I have to pay over 4000 for the products that i bought .
I will be submitting all the information to The local FBI.

I too was approached on LinkedIn about a part-time Mystery Shopper from a hacked LinkedIn account. A contact person emailed me twice about a so called assignment, including several text messages after receiving a linkedIn contact message that their account had been hacked. After watching a San Francisco local news station regarding this same scam, I checked to see if my LinkedIn account had been hacked...and true enough it too was hacked on that same day. I contacted LinkedIn about my hacked account which they suspended immediately. However, after not replying to three more text messages, I received a check in the mail for $1806. I quickly put it back in the large postal envelope making 'return to sender' and personally took it back to the post office the same day. I received another text message which I blocked the number, as it did with the email address. As you stated, they use the same tactics to throw people off by being 'referred' to you by someone you know - in my case, a member in my LinkedIn group. I would have not known that it was scam until this LinkedIn group member mentioned (before my LinkedIn account was hacked where I could not sign in) that if they receive a message from them about a part-time job from this company disregard it. Wow...if it really sounds too good to be true, beware!

I received a check in the mail today as well asking me to do the same exact things everybody's describing here in this form however the I was first contacted via a text offering a secret shoppers job. It's been a couple of weeks and I received the check in the mail today looks authentic had me excited. Until I thought about it a little more. Why would somebody trust me with almost $2,000 then I Googled the eBay Walmart survey program and got all this information on how it is a scam. I was almost suckered into it

They now send money to your credit card account! I was approached the same way and rather than being sent a check, I was credited in my account. Once I sent the phones off, I was paid the balance of what they owed me. Then they asked me to complete a second task. Since the first went over well, I did it again. As soon as I completed the second job, the payment from the first job was reversed. I was left with over $9,000 charged to my account and my account was shut down because of scam activity.

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.

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