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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
Scam Tags:  Job Scams

Comments

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!

Just got my $2950. check from Whole Foods to buy Nike gift cards. I'm taking it all to my local police. They will contact the Attorney General in my state. TIP: whenever I get something like this, if it contains spelling or grammatical errors, you can bet it's not from a legit source. This letter contained several errors which is a tip-off that some foreign person wrote it. Yes, I know, I'm stereotyping, but it's obvious it's composed by a foreigner or less- than- well- educated American person.

To whom do we report this?

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

I had a invite to become a secret shopper from a friend and former coworker of mine. Secret shopper 2500 bucks a month easy money. Well I got the email and a check for $2,428.06. Company called bzzagent. website .bzzagent.com/ mysteryshopping. This email accompanied the check.

Chris,
This is to notify you that the payment for your first survey assignment will deliver today or tomorrow. Its a check of $2428 and its covers your $398 pay and the rest will be used for your assignments. Please proceed to have the check deposited once it deliverand keep me posted once that has been done. Assignment 1
1. Proceed to a CVS store closer to you and purchase anything with $30,the purchase item will be kept by you because it is yours.
2. Attached to this email is a customer feedback form which you are required to fill out and email back to us. 3. Deduct $398 as your weekly commission. 4. Purchase 10 Walmart gift cards. Go to the register and add cash of $200 to ten cards. $200 x 10 = $2000 FYI: Walmart gift card can be purchased with cash, debit or credit card. Attached to this email is a sample of the Walmart gift card required. You can purchase any design or color because it comes in different designs, pictures and colors. The cards will be used to fund further projects/research, by eliminating the need to post you checks for future assignments. After the purchase of the Walmart gift card, kindly peel or gently scratch the silver panel at the back of the cards and then send the pictures of the scratch cards and email to us. (Phone camera accepted) Walmart gift card is only available at Walmart store. If Walmart store is not available in your location or if you can not make it to the Walmart store at the moment,please kindly inform us for an alternative store.
Once the payment has been received, please proceed to get the assignment done at your earliest and revert back to us with the feedback form and images of Walmart gift cards for verification.
Completing assignment fast earns you reward to receive more assignments promptly. I want you to know that Completing assignment and sending in the report as soon as funds are available in your account earns you 30% payment increase on your next assignment. A confirmatory of the receipt of this email will be appreciated as we anticipate your prompt response. Thank you for your time and always stay safe Lisa

Omg! I received the same exact thing on Monday! I was going to show it to my boyfriend tomorrow to see what he thought. I work alot but am broke due to student loans garnishing my checks. I can't even pay my rent now so it would have been perfect timing if I had cashed the check. I decided to Google whole foods market and ended up right here! I'm so glad y'all had this for me to see before I did anything dumb. I hope someone comes up with a way to use their scam against them! That would be great. Good luck to the ones who did fall for it. I hope y'all some how come on top.

Just received this check via USPS was given a tracking number and everything. Very specific instructions to buy gift cards equaling 2500 from 3 separate locations. Keep 450 for myself. Take pictures of the gift cards after scratching off the silver in the back and phone pictures are okay ( of course they are!) and if completed in a certain time frame i get a bonus and to email all this to info@ storeevaluation. ....it had Whole Foods logo on the letter....the check said ACU in Washington State.

EXACTLY!
Except I was stupid enough to buy 2 Nike cards before i went to the bank and they said it was a fake check. Tried to return the Nike gift cards, Gift cards are NOT RETURNABLE. Called Nike, nothing they can do... soooo frustrated with myself.
USPS ACR Services Inc. 330 Berry Street
San Francisco, CA 94158 tracking number and all. He "Mark Henderson" texted me to confirm from 346-366-4252.
Now I have two Nike cards for $500 each, REALLY? out a grand

I received an envelope from Kelton Research Secret Shopper. The individual to contact is Timothy Castagne@833-801-5707. Same instructions but no check in envelope! No way would I put it in my bank account! Wow these people should be arrested for sure!!

Hello everyone just letting you guys know the scanners are back just got a check in mall for 2600 ask me to go to Walmart and yes get gifts cards still trying to scam us.

Thank you for getting this information out, received the same thing just this week and it’s almost convincing...

Same thing happened to me and I’m reporting fraud today

I'm so upset...I received a check and letter priority mail. Received texts and email also for follow up if I got them. I went to bank and put the cashier check into bank. I was given a long list of stores to go to purchasing Nordstrom, American Express or Ebay up to $3500. After I went to two stores, I had this voice in my head so reached out to check with my son. He provided me with info that I should have found on my own. I feel so dumb. Where do I report this fraud to? I'm stuck with two $500 Nordstrom cards and a $200 + $50 Ebay cards. I'm going to go to customer service tomorrow to see if there is anything I can do. If not I guess there's a place that will give me 95% of the value. Lesson learned...

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.

I just got one in the mail with a 2,250.00 check said to buy gift cards .my name is spelled wrong on the check but it looks real .gave me 2 phone numbers (803)994-9724 texts only then (803)402-4154 for calls only and a email -richiewilly2017@
and richiewilly2017@ not sure who to report it to but it's the second one I've got.the other one was to put a sticker on my car and a 5,000.00 check

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

Wow how very crushing... I had the exact same thing happen to me. I deposited yesterday. The letter says not to tell absolutely anyone that's what made me suspicious. Makes me sick. It also said for it to be a mystery shop of my bank and Wal-Mart. I'm gonna cry. This is the third scam I've been hit with within 6 months. Now I have to go back to the bank and explain. I have been waiting for approval for disability for a year and am in the hole terribly. Was really happy because I applied to do mystery shopping. I'm in texas and it says this "Michael" is in Florida. His number is (786)464-6553. Watch out for the one where they are interested in buying something you have for sale online and say they'll send a driver to pick it up ask where to send you the money to and then threaten you. The other one was a girl on Facebook friends you the acts like shell help you out of debt by getting you a check from her boss then asks you bank info and she deposits a check into your account that stolen, tells you to keep 500 and forward the rest to someone else. Omg I'm a sucker. Feeling like throwing up.

I was hit hard once and lost everything with identity theft in 2006. I now take anything which seems too good to be true to my banker and ask them to call and verify funds.verify the check.
99.9% of the time, unknown and unexpected checks in the mail are scams... even from places like Publisher's Clearing House etc.
Bottom line - no one gets anything for nothing.
Protect yourself and your money.

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?

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