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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

got 1 for 840from cigna h &l ins com to do what everyone is doing. yeah right

I just got a check and knew it was a scam as soon as I saw it, checked and sure enough it is a scam.

I got a check from a mystery shopper job the other day. I was also being messaged by a guy named George. I took all of it to the police and confirmed that it was a scam. He then explained if I deposit the check it will come back fake and I will be responsible for paying the money back. So I went home and tore up the check and I haven't heard from anyone since then.

Does anyone know how or if this can be reported to the FBI? I have the same issue and the contact currently thinks I’m going to deposit the check. I’d like to get him caught.
FYI - this is a Whole Foods secret shopper request from LinkedIn. Asking me to buy Google Play Gift Cards at any store which was a red flag. I got a check over $3k!

I received a check for $2,900.00 with same instruction but buy 2 $1,000 and a $400 money order then send them Fedex and contact Ronald Bales and give him the tracking information. I was told to include the receipt of purchase for the money orders. If I do not respond to him to tell him I received this ups package then a TASK FORCE team will visit me and retrieve the envelope. Now they are sending threats out with the letters. This envelope will be in the hands of the local police department today.

Received a priority mail package from ExtraPack Shoppers Inc. Had a bad feeling about the whole thing from the beginning, so I am yet to follow through with any of the instructions from this fraudulent organization. The check was for $2450 from Georgia United Credit Union. Will be destroying the check. Glad I didn't fall for it.

I received an e-mail offering a job as a Mystery Shopper . The e-mail address is or was henrystrootman 1969 @ gmail. m ,this happened today. I open the envelope send to me a 2 day priority mail letter with a check for $2850, with instructions to deposit in my account, get a $30 cashiers to confirm that check is cashed, that is silly. Anyways, go to a Wal-Mart get 5 gift cards of $500 each, take my $300 plus $ 20 for fuel and send the cards numbers to them or they via text at 347-879-0196. All of this sound to good to be, my English ain't perfect but I been around the block. I am writing here because it is a very cowardly crime from some worm in a cubicle or cheap motel. Be aware, if I could help to contact or apprehend this worms I would anyday. Be careful, stop trusting others most people are good, not all.

Yeah I just received my $ $2740 In the mail today with all the same directions It's pretty pathetic that they'll go through all this trouble to get your money it's ridiculous be careful out guys And gals I think we should all continue to sign up and they keep sending money grams and spend the 6 or $8 priority mail maybe they go bankrupt :)

Got priority mail today with a cashier's check for $2,950 and instructions to cash or deposit it in my bank. From there I was to buy several Wal-Mart gift cards and send pictures of the numbers. Of course I was to keep $350 and spend $50 at each store. Great deal!! Not going to lie, I was tempted but nothing comes that easy so I had to do my research. So glad I did. One reason I thought it might be legit was because I did respond to an article about making money doing surveys recently. I'm sure that's how the scammers got my info. I'm so sorry this happened to others. People are so cruel. Who should I report this to even though I didn't fall victim?

Goodness, secret shoppers only get paid $15-$20 per shop. I just got a "money order" for 998$ to buy Walmart gift cards and yes.. send pics. no way to contact anyone. And "text only" numbers

Is there a class action lawsuit going on? I was scammed $5k, lost it all. Checks cleared and I bought the gift cards at Apple store then later to find out they were fake.

I received a check for $998 and advised to buy google play card at Walgreens, CVS or a store near me that sell them. Well, I went to bank and was told it was a good account number, but still suspicious. I sent email to the where I suppose to send the survey explaining bank got hold on money and did not receive a response back. Then, I called the GBI office and was told that they are not working on no case. It sounds not legit, but some secret shopper stuff is legit. So he could not make that decision and told me to make it. I waited a couple more days and received a text . I advised that I should be getting the funds on Monday and go shopping then. Then I got a text Monday and asked me when I should be finished shopping. I checked my account and the check was returned. SCAM! I have the letter, texts, email, and mail it was sent to me from as my proof and the contacts I made to make sure that it was legit or not. The bank representative told me to just pay back within 30 days , but no jail. They see this all the time. They can't see if the funds are in the account, but only can say if its a legit account. Cashier's check with water mark. However, the address was a post office box on the check and the bank actually uses their physical address. Thank God, I did not purchase all the cards at one time and they giving me time to pay the money back for the cards that was purchased. The SCAMMERS did not get the money either. Glad, I took my time and did not fall into rush 24 hours to complete the assignment. And, would have been stuck with $998.00 plus bank fees . I only saw this post after all this took place. But, I did research and this article did not come up because of the words that is used.

yeah I'm glad you guys came here to tell your story, I received a cashiers check from a "company" called consumer survey service and I got an email from what I thought at the time was the school itself, (it ended up being a student email with the name job services). They asked me to purchase 2000 dollars worth of apple gift cards and sent a cashier's check to cover the cost and give me pay. Thank you everyone on this board for assuring me this is a scam.

I also received an email from a staff member at my college and it seemed legit. I am not sure how they were able to hack into the email system and pose as a staff member. The link they sent us through email is now deactivated. A check was sent in the male and I was to go to Best Buy to buy gift cards and sent pictures. So awful.

I received a check for $2450 for assignment for Walmart. Called the bank the check was written from. Told the check was a fraud.

Boobear, you are smart.
I wished I had that spark to have called.
I did not. I was taken for all 2871.75.
I commented below and shared my story.

I sadly just fell for this scam. The email inviting me to be a secret shopper came from "jobs@ target. com". I interact with Target often, so it wasn't a surprise to hear from them. Unfortunately, I searched "secret survey agent" AFTER I deposited the check, purchased gift cards and texted a pic of the gift cards w/ PIN scratched off. Even my local police dept was surprised at the legitimate appearance of the email!

I just feel for this scam as well, now my bank has been put in the negative and I have no idea what I am going to do.

Ok so i believe i just fell for the scam! I got a cashiers check ,with exactly those instructions mentioned on scam schemes above, for 3400 to go purchase Wal-Mart gift cards totaling 2950 and the remainder was my salary. Looked totally legit with first class mail letterhead and check. I did feel somethings up but thought if it was fake my bank would know right then and there. The only good thing is i have not withdrew from my account and have yet to receive a message that funds have cleared for availability. My question is what do i do now that i believe it was fake? And am i facing some kind of trouble or going to face a penalty for it?

Do you have any updates on this? What did you do with your bank and what happened? I’m in the exact same situation right now and am super nervous about it.

I received my check from Peter Verrill (614) 699-3310 for $2950 to shop at Apple. The bank is Henrico FCU. The whole package looks gimmicky as it was printed from an ink jet printer with some minor misspellings.

They are everywhere!!!!! I just received my package in the mail today and there was a check in the package for $2,950.00 drawn on an Erie Federal Credit Union out of Erie, PA. After I read the instructions I became skeptical because I was to go to my local Apple store and purchase gift cards in the amount of $1300.00 and then another one for $1350.00, take a picture of the cards and show the numbers from of the back of the gift card. The "representative" that I spoke with, his name was James Richard and his number was 1(323)840-7344. I called to get information on how this work. First, he asked have I deposit the check? I told him no and he told me to read the instructions and contact him once the survey was complete, no information or anything. This guy sounded as if he may have been Nigerian or of Indian descent. I have not deposited this check nor will I ever participate in any Mystery Shopping programs!!!! I'm glad I researched this some more because I would have lost a whole lot of money to this scam and the name of the company was Nationwide Marketing Research Program.

I just recieve a letter, same thing but i always verified scams on internet
An found this and several other similar scams.

Wow! These scams are getting too sophisticated. They found me on LinkedIn, a professional site. The Mystery Shopping Company which they are using is legit and has a website: See Level. The money orders look true and honest. The instructions are the same as so many who have written. Purchase Apple store gift cards and keep $300 plus there will be a $50 credit for the next shopping experience.

I am in shock. I am a business woman and although I wasn’t taken in this scam, they sure look professional and legit.

Please be careful folks.

Received a check for $2998.76. Did not cash. It felt off though to me so I started searching on the web and found this. Thanks for adding your information!!! Will not cash.

I received an email from a man named Micheal Guenther, shopping survey coordinator for SURVEY & EARN INC. As a college student, you receive several spam emails daily and I had recently received a couple emails from this Micheal saying that you could make $300 a week by becoming a mystery shopper. So I replied, of course being a broke college kid, a little bit of money like that looked pretty good. There was a link that the email told me to go to "apply" for the job. A couple of days later I received an email saying that I had been approved and was now a part of their team of retail shoppers. In this second email, it said to reply with my physical mailing address and they would send you your first survey packet. Once again, a couple days later I received an envelope with some instructions and a check for $2950.00. In the instructions, It said to go to two the local Walmarts to purchase 4 $400 gift cards at one location and at the second location it to purchase 2 $500 gift cards. It then instructed me to send pictures of these revealed codes to this number. Also in the instructions, it said that if you complete this survey within 48 hours then on top of the $300 you would receive a $100 bonus. This sounded way to good to be true so I did some research and found out the mailing address was a hospital in New Jersey and the number that I was supposed to text this information to was from California. So thankfully I had done some research before actually depositing the money and purchasing the items. It is sickening to think these scammers are preying on college students such as myself.

Hello All,
I want to share my experience. This happened on my birthday just a coincidence. I first began to receive a text saying that my application had been approved by a one Dr. Scott Dean, and I was instructed to go to my email and sign the employment terms. Because I had been looking at ads specifically for mystery shopper roles, I was not surprised by the text, in fact, relieved that finally one of my applications bore fruit! On the 11th of February, I received a check for 2871.75. The instructions were for me to buy 2 giftcards, one valued at 1200 and one at 1300, and to keep 300 for my salary and the remaining amount to be used for a future assignment , fair enough. I did not consult with anybody, not even my sister. Had I, I would not be writing my story in tears right now. I followed everything this so called "Dr. Dean" told me to do on the text. I even walked in the bank to deposit the check. The teller commented on it being a bit blurry on the top, but ended up giving the full credit of 2871.75. In my head, nothing unusual. I then texted the Dr. who texted back to tell me to go to Apple and purchased the gift cards. I did that. He reminded me not to tell anyone that I was a mystery shopper and if asked I was to say that my sons were going to come back and purchase something with the gift cards.
As soon as I left the store, I was asked to peel off the sticker and take a snap of the front and back of each of the card. He thanked me for a job well done and asked me to immediately fill out my survey once I got home. I filled it out and sent it to him. He texted back that he needed a money order and a cashiers check made out to AppLe Inc. I informed him that the banks were now closed since it was 8pm.PST. He apologized and told me to do it in the morning. I was back at my bank the following morning and made these purchases. He asked me to snap a front and back pic of the text which I did. The third day, I was at Starbucks, purchasing a 2.55 cup of coffee. I couldn't! My card was declined. I could not understand why? I logged in and saw that I had a negative balance of the check amount! His check had bounced. I could not believe it. I also could not believe that the bank gave me all the credit 2 days ago. If anything, they should have just given me partial credit. Afterall, all I had in there to begin with was 120 dollars. I am on my last straw just trying to find odd jobs here and there, so when this gig came along, I thought God had answered my prayers. He in fact was just testing my stupidity or naiveity. and I FAILED miserably.
For the next few weeks I will be without a bank, way way behind than I already was in bills, and way way depressed than I already was before this whole thing began since I am not able to find a job yet. I really wished that I had consulted with somebody, my sister, the barista, somebody... instead of keeping it hushed like the imposter instructed me to do. I am writing this on the 15th of February, 2019, so it is very fresh in my head and in my heart. I feel like the world's dumbest girl. I thank everyone who contributed to the above post. I wish there was some way to stop these evil people. It is not right. The worst is the prey are actually people who are looking for that home-based role, the moms, the poor students, the career-changers. I feel so sad and helpless. For the past two nights, I have been just crying and praying myself to sleep, and I have woken up with a piercing headache twice in a row. I did finally go back to Apple to tell them my story, and the manager I spoke to was kind and felt so sorry for me. He checked the value of the cards and as expected the values had gone down to zero. He told me that in his meetings he often includes Gift Card warnings to the associates. If there is a lesson to be told here, I think it would be that consult with people, close friends, families, neighbors...someone was bound to have put a stop to my actions, but I did not consult with anyone and I wish I had.

Did anyone go to jail for being tricked like this whats the penalty

I just received a FedEx package with a letter of instructions to go to a local Apple store to purchase 2 Apple gift cards an a iTunes card. With the enclosed check for 2,950.00 netting a salary to myself for 250.00. It just didn’t make sense because the FedEx package is from cricket Express in Greensboro, North Carolina. The check is drawn off of a company called R. T Express Int’l in Baldwin Park California and the letter of instructions has SSS Level Human Experience on the letterhead. I received a message on LinkedIn from someone that I once knew. The text messages and emails are from a John Barnes.

Be cautious. I plan on calling the company that this fake check is drawn off of tomorrow.

I received shoppers survey and check from getting green out of pembrook FL for $2989 and was told to get iTunes cards. Lol tearing this up ASAP.

I just received a check for $3,446 to be a mystery shopper purchasing 3 $500 Amazon gift cards from 2 different locations after either cashing or depositing the check. I figured it was a scam & checked to see if the bank was real and it is. The bank is in WI, but the priority mailer was from MS. That also threw a red flag up for me. I work hard to support my family & if it wasn't for all these comments I may of made a HUGE mistake. I will be emailing this "person" and let them know I know this is bs. Thank you all for your comments.

So I have been reading these and I am so glad that I did. I recieved a text message asking if I recieved my first assignment. Since i was out of town i told them that i couldnt check right now and i would get back to them (ignored them for 3 days before I replied). Then when I got home I had a letter from Ardent Service Inc. (Which according to a website is a legit company). Still felt a little fishy so I went to Ardents website and they said that their employees go through extensive training and recieve a complete package on the company they are evaluating. This raised red flags since the letter told me to cash the 2,486.24 dollar check and go to ANY store that sells Ebay cards. And the rest is what everyone else was saying above. So just wanted to let yal know to double check the company and their policies even if it is a legit company on the letter.

Got my first assignment from Ardent today with $2367 check. Was instructed to buy $2100 ebay gift cards. Scratch off the strip, snap pictures front and back. Then report back the following info:
Store name:
Store address:
Date of visit:
Time of visit:
Name of cashier:
Was I thanked upon completion of purchase?:
My overall experience with store staff:
Check out duration:
Gift card images front and back (after scratched)
Email report to:
Text report to:
The letter was poorly printed, the strange urgency incentivised by acting quickly were ALL red flags.

I just got my package in the mail
2995.00 ....offering me 350 + 45 for gas
Asking to cash or deposit check at my bank ...buy iTunes scratch the back and send codes..same M.O. I'm reading here
Seemed too good to be true do i
checked internet for scam info.
and found this site

Yes I received my package on Monday. I reviewed the information, text the number told the guy to call me because the instructions were not clear he called and kept giving me the wrong name and when he realized it he tried giving me the name that was on the letter. What a loser. I will be reporting this incident.

I just recieved this I was like whooaaa I need 2,000 bucks luckily I did nothing with the checks what can I do with it though?

I was scammed and lost $7000. 1 printed all the correspondence made copies of the checks and can't find anyone who can help me get my money back.
Now I've been contacted by a secret shopper received a check and let me I'm not depositing that check I'm going to my local police department tomorrow and turn it over to them.

I did the same thing a couple years ago. Lost about $7000 myself. Super sad and ruined years of hard work to get where I was at. No one could help me get my money back either. I'm sorry to hear this happened to you as well. :/

I received a check & a letter yesterday saying the same thing except they told me to by Ebay cards and send a picture of the front & scratch the silver part off and take a picture of that. Then today someone text me asking me why I hadn't did it yet and I told them because it's a scam!! And to stop texting me!!

I have the same thing happen but I was a fool. Answered an add for a mystery shopper. Spoke to people who have heard of it working. Received my $2895 for 2 $1200 Apple Store gift cards. Was so excited and it seemed okay cause I reached out. Wish I wasn’t so desperate for extra money cause I fell for it :-( George Taylor was his name with TX and CA numbers to report to. Filed a police report but still wiped out of all my money to pay for this gift cards.

I just received a check from the American Endowment Foundation. its for 2337 dollars and the same thing. They asked me to put the money into my bank account and it would be ready in a couple of days. Its for a money gram evaluation at Walmart. I know for a fact this is a scam because I used to work at Walmart and I know all about how scammers use this tactic to do money laundering. Please BE CAREFUL everyone. These people are sneaky and like to pray on vaulnerable people.

I just got a check via fed-ex from ‘Nationwide Marketing Research Program’ with a check for $2,950.00 from a Delaware bank. It for the Apple Store mystery shopping assignment to buy $1,300 and $1,350 Apple gift cards then instructions to send a pic of the card numbers upon completion. It looks so real with the form to fill out about the shopping experience, but decided to check it out for possible scams, and here I am. Guess they’re still at it. The contact’s name on the letter is James Richard. I hope nobody ends up falling for this scam. It really does look legit. Glad I googled it!

I heard about this through LinkedIn as well, and signed up via a company claiming to be "Retailer Innovation". The check they sent came from Merrimack Valley Credit Union for $2,865. The thing that tipped me off was that they wanted me to buy gift cards and text the redemption numbers to them. I also noticed that the return address on the envelope didn't match the area code of the phone numbers provided. Glad I caught this before cashing the check or buying the gift cards. My only concern now is that they have my phone number and are using it to text me.

Just received a package with a check and some instructions to use the money after depositing the check. I immediately looked for scams on the internet and found this site, thank God! I am taking this to local law enforcement and sending copies of everything to my government officials. I will return the envelope and contents to tbe post office too. My Priority Mail envelope had a return address of Foster Home Health Care in Arizona!

Is there any recourse?

Yes I received a text from "Kroger Surveys" telling me I was selected to do a secret shop for Krogers. When the mailed me the check and directions to buy $2050 worth of EBay gift cards I got suspicious. I asked them to call me so I could ask some questions. They just texted me back and asked what questions I had.. I texted again to request a website or some other verification of legitimacy and Brian replied that it was legit and to "do the shop quickly so I could get more shops." Glad I found this forum.

I’m in the middle of one now - waiting for my first check and assignment. Consumer Survey inc was referred to me as legitimate through a Linkedin contact. I even messaged him and he said it’s legitimate. We shall see. Thank you all for your postings.

I wish I would've done my research on this. I fell for it. and I sent the giftcards. I went to the police and made a report.
I am a college student and received the job offer through the school (SNHU online School) and received the cashier's check. It seemed to be too good to be true, but I went ahead.. just to make an extra $450. SO with that being said the person texting me kept on trying to rush me and texting me to let them know about my every step, he was very pushy.. shame on me for not doing my homework on this. Now I have to pay $2900 for some guy that can't get a damn job. :(

Soo glad I looked deeper into this I just received one too mines came in this nice fancy USPS package the check was from LA me being all the in NC I knew something was not right thanks everyone.

Got my check yesterday. So glad I researched this fishy assignment. I emailed the company they were claiming to be and was told to report this to the police. Definitely a scam!

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