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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

Thank I google it i just receive a check for 2468.24 cents with instructions to go to target,walmart,cvs,walgreens,apple store,game stop,ebay gift cards from Ardent services inc survey program the name of the person is Coleman Smith been texting me and sending me emails the phone that i receive text from is 1231-445-5783i save everything on my phone my salary was gona be $348 and after i was gonna get 200 bonus they told me that it was Kroger they also provide me a ID# as a secret mystery shopper agent becareful with all this' SCAMS'

I was approached on LinkedIn recently by one Mr Stephan Hall 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 $2980 and instructed me to purchase 2 Apple gift cards and 1 iTunes gift card for a total of $2600, with the remaining $300 to keep as my "salary." he used this phone number and texted me +17024258511 what do with the check he send to me befor I got to know that it was scam I took the check to my bank. i cash the check because it had a water mark and hologram on it - very sophisticated. I was not comfortable witding me I immediately returned to the bank and complain to them about that check and ask the manager to please reverse the transaction after explaining what I felt about the check to the bank manager and I show the bank manager the text message the man have been sending to me about the money the manager said I should not worry they cannot reverse the transaction but the manager asked me to wait and give it a couple of days if the check bounced back they will automatically withdraw the money but I will be charged $12 on my account. Once I told the scamer im not intrrested in the job he should send me his information so that i can send his money to him, he 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!

I am so glad I searched about this as I am disabled and live solely on disability. I use to have a thriving career and a six figure income now I barely put food on my table. Let’s just say my sweet dog eats better than I. To top it off I lost my dear sweet hubby, soul mate suddenly. This is all fine and I am going to get by. I despise this type of company as the world is tough enough and there is enough hate already without more greed. The company that has contacted me is Consumer Survey Service; Actionable Inelligence Delivery. The envelop return was from Alex Tawab, 9506 Vanderpool Street, San Antonio, Texas 78251. Phone number/text 940/226/2509. Yet the post Mark is from Dallas Texas. A bit odd. The letter is from Ricky Ford who is “survey Co-Ordinator same phone number used . Letter asks me to take 1,000.00 Check to my bank and only my bank. Then travel to the nearest Apple Store to purchase a gift card. Well you know the rest of the story. Obviously I am not going to do this. I am not going to respond to their correspondence or texts/calls in hopes this is actionable since it is current . Yet it appears from comments none of previous complaints have been auctioned?

I had a LinkedIn connection that send me a private message with the following...

"CONSUMER SURVEY INC is at the moment admitting applicants to become shoppers for their Shop and Earn program. I would not want you to miss out on this offer. This is real and Legit. You will receive a flat sum of USD 300 per assignment. The company will provide you with all expenses needed for the assignment and any other expenses incurred during the course of discharging your assignment. Only USA residents can apply."

**BEWARE, IT'S A SCAM**

I discontinued our professional connection, advised him not to contact me or the supposed SECRET SHOPPER organization. If this was a legit business, he should openly endorse it on his professional page (which he DOES NOT).

I received an email asking me if I wanted to see a mystery shopper. I replied that I did want to be a mystery shopper and provided the contact information they requested. I received a cashier's check for $2,440 from a Harley Simmons. I was instructed to cash my check or deposit it in my personal account as long as I could get the money out within 24 hours. Then I was to go to Walmart and buy 4 $300 gift cards and then go to a second Walmart and buy 3 $300 gift cards and for me to keep the $340 remaining as my payment. then I was supposed to take a picture of the gift cards where I had scratched off the numbers and text them to Harley Simmons. Fortunately I have worked for a bank and know that there was no way the check would have cleared in 24 hours. And I certainly was not going to use my own money to buy these gift cards. This is a warning to other senior citizens who are tempted to make a little extra money to supplement their incomes.

Hi there, I'm so glad I found this site and thankfully my bank did it's due diligence and let me know that the check was fake and is returning it to me before I went through with the assignment. I'm naive but thought that it seemed legitimate since I was notified through a LinkedIn connection and I even messaged with him several times asking him to confirm this was a legitimate opportunity. He reassure me it was. Then I was notified by a company called Intelichek-Market Research and supposedly their Sr Qualitative Director is Nicholas McElroy texting me from 510-972-3217 and the check was for $2980 and I was supposed to purchase gift cards from Apple Store and keep the remaining $300. Again, thankfully my bank caught it as fraud and all I'm out is the $12 return check fee. This scam is a terrible way to prey on innocent people trying to earn a little extra money!! How do we report them and to who?? Please respond if anyone knows because I will be happy to report them and hopefully prevent them from doing this to anyone else.
Thank you!

This just happened to too! Yesterday! The same secnrio now my account is over drawn. What can I do?

I received a us postal check for $945 with instructions to deposit and buy gift cards totalling $745 the phone number when I Google it was in Russian. Company name was Evaluationsurvey team. updateevalreport 2018@ yahoo. Does anyone have feedback on this?

Yes, it's a scam.

I have recently been a victim to a mystery shopper scam. This job opportunity appeared in my school email and that is what made it seem to be real so i signed up and a few weeks later i got a check and survey instructions in the mail. The check was of $1,350.00, all i had to do was deposit the check then go to wal-mart, buy two gift cards $500.00 each and survey the store. Then they wanted me to take a picture of the completed survey, sratched gift cards and receipts. After that i would be paid $300 but this didn’t end well when i found out that the check was fraudulent so I quickly reported it and im now still waiting on what else to do weather i pay it back to my bank or not.

I received a text asking if I received a check for an assignment, then received an email from a company called FTI Service out of Chicago, Il. needing research in buying gift cards. They sent me a check for over $1850, I was to keep $350 for the assignment. I did some research with the BBB and found out a majority of these are scams. Please note they prey on people with money, please do not fall for it, you will get burned.

So I received a check for $2995 with the whole $300 spill from what seemed like a reputable company RBG(reality based group) for Shopping at Apple. My check arived in February but I had not been home until today. I called the bank IberiaBank and pressed three to verify the merchant and I put in the amount of the check. The bank account number and the amount was confirmed with finds available. The name of the company on the check is DLC Mansfield on the Green LLC Construction Account, 925 S Kimball Ave, Ste100, Southlake, Tx 76092. So why did the envelope have no addressee but was stamped as coming from Rochester, NY??!?!???!! I looked up the address and it returned a different company at that location. I tried looking up the company name and the closest thing that I found to it is an apartment complex. I was trying to do my due diligence and warn them that their bank account info has been compromised. However, the bank won’t give me the name associated with this bank account number nor will they at least note the account. My goodness! Smh.

Got a check for $2450, asked to purchase two (2) Apple store gift cards, $1200 & $1100, keep $150. guy named Benjamin Hartfold on the job instructions. Remitter name on check is Rebecca K Webb. FedEx package from Reading, PA. Cashier's check look good. Even called to verify funds, and the Chase auto-system said funds were good. But sounded to good to be true. Did some research, and bam. These crooks are getting good.

I just got a check from some guy in Los Angeles California for secret shopper his name is David Beausoleil the address is 446 S Saint Andrews Place in Los Angeles California I check the address and is an apartment complex for sale so I check in the internet for the name and company and find out of others that this happen to all a scam please be careful and don’t deposit any check that come in the mail like that or fallow their instruction thank god I diside to check first

I received a Priority Mail with a letter saying Mystery Survey also had a check inside 1975.00. It ask me to go Apple Stores, Walmart, Target, Speedway, to purchase Apple Store Gifts cards I was suppose to deposit the check in my account & spend 1700.00 & keep 275.00 for me they wanted me to scrath the cards send the pin. I call the BBB in my city they gave me the phone # for BBB in the city of the return address. They said it was a fraud.

My wife got a check from a real credit union (Fox Communities) for $2,400. She was to wait until check cleared and buy $2,000 worth of gift cards and send photos of the scratched cards... bla, bla, bla. Like many of you something just didn't feel right so did so googling and found this site. The check had "Robert Goodner" in the memo. The company is SMART Survey LLC & Mike Donald is the survey coordinator (both fake I'm sure). She was to email photos to mmikecompany10 @aol. com (why not something@ smartsurvey. com?

I received a check for $2930.00 , the check was drawn on OneAZ credit union with branches all over Arizona. The check was to be cashed or deposited. I was to send a report to a Lloyd Anderson regarding the outcome of my assignments. I was to take 350.00 out as my pay for the task, then purchase a cashier check for 50.00 the cashiers check was to be made out to the America Heart Society ( Should be America Heart Association). Then I was to go to a Walmart and purchase Walmart gift cards totaling 1200.00 3 of each at 400.00 and was told if they ask why I was buying them like that l should tell them they are gifts for loved ones. then I was to go to another Walmart and repeat the same process, scratch off to expose the numbers of the gift cards in picture form. I was also told to spend 60.00 at each store and I could keep the products. They asked for me to note vital and useful information, I asked Lloyd Anderson for examples of vital and useful info and have not heard anything. I'm going to check

to check with that credit union to see what they say about the check. The research company I believe is located in Ohio so I called the Chamber of Commerce but they were closed for the day. I will also call the FTC and fill out a report if I have to.

Received one from Jamie keilholz from Waterford, MI. Mirage systems inc. Out of Deland FL and Mainstreet Community Bank of Florida

Received 2 checks one for 2850 and a second for 3850. Was advised to buy 2500 worth of google play cards....buy one 50 dollar product and keep 300 as payment. The second check was the same. It didn't seem like a scam until they had me email pics of all the Google play numbers. That perked concern from my husband. I've reported them and asked for their company name. They said they are with paid surveys. I'm scared I'll have to repay this money

I just got a second secret shopper fake cheak quest,first was Walmart w/$2,450 cheak,now it's dollar general/$1,960 cheak,guess they think I feel off a turnip truck this morning,ms Inc services evaluation is today's scam,it all comes from Nigeria,africa,Dont go for any of the secret shopper work,its all a scam.

Just got a check for 1,475.00 cant believe that this was the best thay could do.

By Priority Mail, received check issued on Santander Bank for $1825.36 (Nice! It says "Official check!") And a letter from Kenny Risak with my 1st assignment to buy Ebay gift cards - after I deposit their check. The letterhead says Consumer Research Network with phone number 4153906621 - text only! If it seems too good to be true...

I received a Cashier's Check for $2,290.00.Amscot Confirmed that the check was Fake.I'm glad Amscot did Something about it.SCAMMERS BEWARE.

I received a check for $998 telling me to go to Best Buy and buy a card worth $650 for Google play take a picture of the front scratch off the back send it to: reports @CBEVAL surveys. neat! They keep texting me and asking me if I’ve done my project yet

Just got my priority mail today with the check for 1800$ but the guys name is keven porter... I know better..lol checked on here to see how many people he was doing this to... Crazy.. Can't believe they get away with this.. Wow

Mike from Florida. I also received a check on the Mail for mystery shoppermailing I was going to use a family member to deposit it in his account. I've been Job hunting for 5 months thought my drive had came through. Now I see it may as well be a scam.o should know better..thank you guys for your post.to good to be true.damn.

I recieved one from "Diana Gonzalwz" in Garland, Tx via priority mail it was a postal money order for $1,000 said my pay would be $200, send pics of a gift card for $800. bottom of letter says email to: updateevalreport 2018 @ yahoo. com & updateevalreport 2019 @ outlook. com too and text: 501-500-8315 or 310-881-4282 signed: Yours Sincerely, @2018 Evaluationsurvey team. Los Angeles, CA.

Wow!! I'm from MI and received a first class envelope with a cashiers check for $2995.00 with my name and some Jessica name on it and looks very legit and has my assignment to by Walmart gift cards and of course for me to keep $350.00 for my time.. What a joke so glad I found this site. My mom always said "if it seems to good to be true it usually is ":)

I just received so called "first assignment " scammers are sending me check with $1850. email: hznetwork @ comcast. net

I just received check for 2993.00 for Top View Market Survey. I knew it was scam right away. Wanted me to deposit and purchase several gift cards to total 2600.00 my pay was to be 350.00. To send pictures of scratched off gift cards to them within 24 hours. Well, I know that cashiers check will not clear in that time or available in that time. I'm not spending my cash to give away to someone I don't know. I answered text when asked if I finished my task. I will be reporting them. It is to good to be true. Don't do it. There are legit survey options out there. Just keep your money.

I was contacted by Mike from Nike via email to provide all my info. I did provide him all my info and the job was a Product Analyst in store for Nike and Walmart. All the communication was through email and text, which look authentic, but yesterday Mike texted me asked me the details of my bank account to wire transfer the funds, which I said no and I prefer mail check. The wire transfer on Sunday, striked me that this is a fraud. I am still waiting from Mike for any future communications. Thanks for the comments on this site, which really identified the spam/ fraud going on.

Just got a check from Consumer Advantage for $2975. looked very real. They wanted me to cash the check and buy two gift cards at Apple one for $1300 one for $1350, a money order for the American Cancer Society for $25 and keep $300. I thought it was legit since I got the info through my UT email. Best shred that mess. What company hands out $3k in money in hopes you do a job for them??? Without collateral. Please, don't fall for that.

Thank you all for your comments. I was about to go to the bank to deposit the check but luckily I looked it up and here I am. Rec'd a check for $1,750 and go to the Apple store and purchase 2 gift cards for $750.00 and that once I am done , I was to scratch the back of the gift cards to reveal the codes and send a clear picture showing all 4 corners with the purchase receipt. Really cant be fooled by this.

I received an email from my school about a part-time job so I believed it to be legit.
Got a Bankcorp South check for $2,990.30 to buy 2 itunes gift card and keep $300 as my secret shoppers fee. Sender's name: Coffee Artista( A coffee shop in Mission TX with location address as senders address too.). Such a shame that they are now targeting innocent college students looking for part time job.

Just got a check myself yesterday for $2335.00. Looked really legitimate. Like others reported here, the instructions were to deposit the check, and when the funds became available, to pull out my fee of $250 plus $37 in processing fees, and take the rest to go to Walmart and use Moneygram to send out moneygrams to 2 people listed on the letter attached. The check is drawn on Santander Bank NA, and from the routing number on the check, I was able to check with Santander Bank, and the account number and name on the account are legitimate, and the funds are available. So, isn't that interesting? So then, I googled the account holder's name, who happened to be a doctor, and the doctor appears to be reputable and legitimate too. That tells me that the doctor (the person who owns the bank account) probably had their account hacked, and the hackers are using this method to get money out of the doctor's account. So, since the doctor seemed legitimate, I called her, and she will call her bank to take protective measures. Hopefully the doctor has not already been hit with other checks. If this was happening to my bank account, I would appreciate being advised asap so I could avoid getting my account drained!! And no, I did not deposit the check! :-)

They tried to scam me too with this exact scenario, and here's what you should do to help bring these criminals to justice:

1) report 'em to the FTC: ftccomplaintassistant.gov
2) report 'em to the FBI: ic3.gov/default.aspx
3) report 'em to your local police dept (if they'll take the case)
4) report 'em to the USPS Inspection Service for Mail Fraud: postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactUs/filecomplaint.aspx
5) report 'em to the bank whose name appears on the (fake) cashier's check (for example: Bank Of The West, Huntington Bank, Wells Fargo, etc) -- call the corporate/toll-free # for the bank and ask for their fraud dept or security team, and tell them exactly what happened; they darn well SHOULD be concerned if some scammer is mailing out counterfeit cashier's checks with the bank's name on it!
6) if your cashier's check was delivered by FedEx or UPS, call THEM up and ask for their corporate fraud dept - the point here is that SOMEBODY had to pay some $$ money to ship the envelope to you, and wherever that shipping label was created, on whatever computer, using whoever's credit card #, the security team at FedEx or UPS can (or should WANT to) pin-point exactly where that happened, and investigate from there!

I did even one step further and looked up the name/address of the "sender" of my USPS Priority Mail envelope, she was someone named Elaine in Glenview, IL. I found a phone # for her online, called it, and it turns out SHE was a fellow scam-victim herself! She had no idea who I was, didn't send the envelope, knew nothing about a cashier's check, etc. She said a suspicious person on the OfferUp website (kinda like Craigslist) had maliciously obtained her full name & address, after claiming to be interested in an item she was selling. So apparently this scammer used HER name & address on the return shipping label for the cashier's check I got mailed, just to make it look legitimate.

I tried reporting this crime to my local city police dept, and even the county sheriff's office, and both of them refused to even bother to take a report unfortunately. But in case anyone finds this comment via Google, I'll type out all the particulars of the scam as it was tailor-made to me: the supposed company name is Accion Research, person's name is Samuel Cook (Senior Scheduler) and it's a 571-area code phone # and their website accionresearch.com gives the name of a David F. Swanson.

When I talked to the bank this cashier's check was drawn off of, I scanned it and emailed a copy to someone there, and he said a giant red-flag that it's a fake/scam check was that next to the word "Purchaser" there SHOULD be a name of a company or person there, the one who's paying you. But on my check it's left blank. Huge tell-tale sign there of an amateur scam-artist.

I Just received via Priority Mail Express addressed to me, a check inside for $2,950. Looks real but I know I have nothing to do with the company so I called them and they don't send out checks like this. Phone number on check told me to download an app for free text and calls. I didn't. Needless to say, I'm not depositing it. Be aware.

I received 2 checks on the same day for $998.00 asking me to purchase Google Play cards. i thought it sounded to good to be true, today i received a text from 754-216-3217 asking when I would complete the assignment and to deposit both checks and I would get a paid $400, so happy I googled the name David Beausoleil and Secret Shoppers.

Scam received by Big Sky Beverages using a fake bank cashier's check. Suppose to get $150.00 to display decal on vehicle as a marketing campaign. They sent a fake check for $1950.00 and stated you were to text 951-582-4369 when the check was deposited and past that point they would only take via text messages. The $1800.00 was supposedly for "expert contracting fee and advertising materials" for sending money to another person. The scam was delivered via priority mail to make it seem like it was legit, but it is NOT!! DO NOT FALL FOR THIS SCAM!

I received the same scam with the same details, instructions, and number! Except the check was for $2,260.55, and salary of $300. Two came in the mail with the same letter, format, and check; however, the checks were from two different places.

Received an email through my university from someone with my university email offering mystery shop job. I applied, got it and a check came in the mail today with 2k on it. Everything seemed legit to me until I saw I had to purchase gift cards and scratch off the back and send pics???? That’s when it got fishy and I decided to do more research.

The guys name is “George Taylor” of Winmark Retailers sent a cashiers check from a credit union that doesn’t exist in California, the return address on the mail is in Texas but the tracking system online says it came from San Diego. It all looks incredibly fishy now that I put all the evidence together.

The same thing happened to me! I almost went through with it! It didn’t hit me that it could be a scam until I’d already bought the gift cards. I talked to my bank, explained the situation, and they said it would take about a month for the check to clear. The moment I realized it could be a scam. I started doing research (I’m not sure why I didn’t do this before, I think I was just really excited). Nothing but this came up. I kept trying to contact this “company” called WINMARK RETAILERS SURVEY INC, but no one ever answered until yesterday. His name was George Lindor. No phone introduction and a bit awkward. Thank you so much for posting this! This helped confirm my suspicion!

thanks to the postings here, averted a scam involving a legitimate company, MIS Group, that was hacked by the scammers. The initial correspondence looked legit, but suspicion arose once the money orders arrived and subsequent communication was all by text. Money orders were from a credit union, that I googled and discovered it had only $40 in the bank.
Beware of this group!

I got a Secret Shopper Cashier's Check from Comerica Bank today for 2800. To buy and text photos of Walmart gift cards. Check looks pretty real. No phone number on it though. It will take a lot more than this to scam me. So far Equifax breach screwed me the most.

I got 2 Priority mail envelopes. One had a postal money order for $998, the other was a supposedly cashier’s check for $2400. Both had instructions to deposit the bogus funds in my account, get cash and purchase some store gift cards. Good thing I’m not stupid enough to deposit the checks. Debating whether I should hand the envelopes in to the Police Dept. Or contact FBI. It is a federal offense to use bogus checks.

I just received 3 checks for $950 asking me to go to an Apple Store and buy computers. After checks cleared my account, the claim was when I went to the store to buy the computers, the person who I was to report my mystery evaluation to would be named. I knew it was a scam. Will turn checks and senders information over to my county, state and local AGs, as well as the FTC.

What if the cashiers check IS cashed at Walmart (and the instructions on the letter NOT followed) Does that mean that the check was legit? And, who is responsible for the funds and how can a check clear from a fictitious bank account. How can a victim be held accountable for a fraudulent check that clears and is cashed at a Walmart or check cashing place? Why aren't all these complaints raising a red flag and warrant ing an immediate infestation. It's not like Walmart doesn't have high powered attorneys who have coffee dates with FBI and FTC agents who could be putting a stop to all this before hundreds more share the same fate. These scammers need to be stopped and the authorities have the ability to do that but obviously aren't focusing their limited budget this direction. Probably because they don't face the same financial struggles that we fall victim to out of desperation to feed or family, or by a car so we can get work and get parenting time with our children etc. There is a definite need for a Class Action Suit. Please authorities....step it up because it's the scammers fault and who should be held accountable; certainly not the victims nor the store that cashes it.

You are responsible for the checks you cash. If a bank cashes a check, that does not prove the check is good.

Federal law requires banks to make money available to you within a day or two after you deposit most checks.

If you cash a bad check, and the bank finds out later that the check is no good, you have to repay the bank. This article explains more about fake checks.

I just received 3 UPS envelopes with my company name as the sender, all 3 had checks for $2,900 each, two from Bank of Springfield and one from Bank of America, with the same letter (poorly copied) with Walmart letter head to buy money orders.

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