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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 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

If you do the deposit but only spend $100 of the check and repay back the bank immediately will charges be brought against you?

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!

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.

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