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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

Hello.
Just received a "cashier check" on the amount of $2,835.00, payable to my name, along with instructions on how to accomplish the task requested.
Instead of depositing the check into my account, went to my bank trying to cash it without avail. The check is a fraudulent one!

Just got a letter on the mail with check to deposit in my bank account for 4,900.00. Phone number to text is Gary Howells @ (304) 207-0156 an email of feedback @

Just got a check for $2930 with instructions to buy Ebay and Wal-Mart cards, scratch off the seal and take pictures to send to email: shoplivework@ 505 916-1299. So then they use the cards while you are stuck with the overdraft on your account. *** Putting their info out there so no one gets duped by them. I accidentally sent info because i got a false email from a friend. Glad i didn't totally fall for this.

They are now posting ads through indeed.com seeking shoppers. Everything done through email. Sent me a cashiers check for $3500, told to deposit check and send them a copy of deposit slip. I was to deduct my $400 salary then they would tell me what to do. Check was sent via express mail from California, drawn off a Oklahoma Bank, on a Credit One account. Scammers name was Chris Hutchinson and Barnard Mcintosh. Their English is terrible, they are very pushy and try to intimidate you. I threatened to turn over to USPS fraud department and authorities. Have not heard back from them since.

Just received a check for $2,350 and it had the typical instructions and $300 was to be my compensation. I was excited then sceptic and I started searching online. Typed in the name of the supervisor ‘John Swickerath’ and this site popped up. Read the stories and decided to call the credit union that ‘issued’ the check and they said that there was no account under the name on the check or account number. The check itself had $0 balance on it so it wasn’t good. This a a smart scam but thank God I’m smarter.

I just received a check for 2400 along with a statement on how to spend the money. I would need to buy gift cards for ebay totalling 2100 and an extra 100 for me if I did it in 24 hours. The so-called company is Straut Survey LLC.

Got one today wanting me to compare Cash App and Zelle App. Sent Check for $2450 saying my portion was $450, deposit rest and then of what is left $1000 into each app and transfer to where they say. I am supposed to write a review of each App. Sounds like a new version of the same scam.
Just a thought, deposit check and wait 3 weeks to make sure it is good to verify. Scammer will probably not agree to that.

I got a check yesterday from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union for $2450.42 to do the Secret Shopper SCAM. Bank couldn't tell me if it was real but she said who ever issued that check could do a REVERSE DEPOSIT! In other words, the scammer can get the money from my account even if it bounces AND I get a fee for it all!. The letter accompanied with the check is a form letter. No phone numbers, my name isn't on it and the website they said to go to doesn't exist... www. evaluationresults. The reason they want you to purchase the eBay cards within 24 hrs is because their fake check won't clear and they know it. So they want you to make purchases before anyone has a clue. On the check it says RE: Brad Williams. Im in Upstate NY...just for anyone's info.

I received the same letter as the above with a cashier's check for $3500. I was instructed to keep $500 and then purchase $3000 in E-Bay gift cards. I called the bank that "issued" the cashier's check to verify that it was a valid check - it was not. The cashier's check did not have the issuing bank's phone number and that is something that all cashier's checks must have.

I also received a text message and an email the same day. I have reported "phishing" to gmail, "spam" to T-Mobile, and will take this to the post office to report mail fraud.

This scam could easily financially destroy families and individuals.

I received a check for $2480 to secret at Walmart and western unions and I wanted to make sure it was legit. Found out the funds weren’t available days later. Thank goodness I didn’t spend a penny from it! It was from the website Indeed jobs!

I received a check for 3,450.92 in the mail which is mail fraud!! I called on the check at Michigan State University Credit Union, and of course the check isn't good! These people should be caught and thrown in jail!! I'm a senior and disabled but I'm not stupid LOL!

I just received a letter and check to spend on gift cards. Once I asked the name of their company, I haven't heard from them. How do we do we turn them in?

Today I received an $1800 Capitol One cashiers check from "Market Force Strategies" and a letter telling me to go buy Walmart gift cards and keep the $250 as my 'compensation'. The bank it's drawn on is in Long Beach CA, their text number is in MA, and the return address is an apartment complex in Texas. I texted them to ask about the non existent 'survey form' and got a 'just deposit the check then we'll send you that'. Uh yea... no.

I received an email from a teacher who works at the same school I do. I don't know her, but she sent this email to everyone on the restricted school site, so I thought it wasn't a scam because the school checks this. After I applied, I received a letter telling me to deposit a check of $1,380 into my account and buy 2 Walmart gift cards, $500 each, then to review the Walmart, and take a picture front and back of the two cards (with the scratched numbers), and a receipt, and when I do, to contact them: 678-460-8165 Daniel Michael from Time Code Survery LLC. Now I owe $1,380 because the check was fake and he used both cards. Do not trust this person!

I received a fake check on a legitimate looking federal credit union based out of Evansville. Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union is a bank but there is nothing legitimate about working as a Walmart Mystery Shopper Agent. If you believe that anyone would send you a check for over $1,000 to shop at a store and evaluate it just rip up everything you receive. There are so many scams out there. Word to the wise if it seems to be good to be true it probably not true. I would never deposit a check like this nor should you. Your bank has the right to shut down your bank account and you could be without access in the future to banking services. You could be put on Check Systems look it up. You will have no access to a checking or savings account for years.

COMPANY CALLED MULTIVALUE INC.. WILLIAM SPALDING IS THE PERSON WHOM IS REACHING OUT VIA EMAIL. HOWEVER, SENT A CHECK VIA UPS ASKING TO PURCHASE I TUNES GIFT CARDS FOR THE AMOUNT OF 2,000. I IMMEDIATELY REPORTED IT AND TRASHED THE CHECK. 1ST THOUGHT WAS WEIRD. WHY SEND A CHECK AND NO SERVICES HAS BEEN DONE YET.

I received an email from a legit email address from the "job placement center" at my college advertising a survey opportunity. I thought why not, I've done surveys before. Filled out the attached application and was emailed that a package was on it's way. Received my package today with a $2250 check inside. There was also a list of instructions on how to purchase Best Buy Gift Cards, and take pics of said gift cards. Yeah, not today ISIS - I'm not falling for your game! Company was corporate surveys. us Phone # to text pics of GC's is (323) 840-1332. I'll be contacting my local police and college on Monday to see how I proceed with reporting. People will stop at nothing to make a quick buck!!!

I just became a victim of a mystery shopper scam. I received a $4900 check in the mail and was told to deposit it in my checking account. He told me I could keep $900. He then said for me to go to the USPS and buy 4 money orders for $1000 a piece. He also added for me to observe the store, clerk, etc, for a review about professionalism, courtesy, length of time in store, etc. I had a funny feeling about all this but ignored it because my financial situation was dire. He then had my go to the UPS store and pay (out of my pocket) $83 for next morning delivery. I woke up the next morning with clarity and realized this was a con man pulling off an online scam. I quickly called the UPS store in Houston, TX where the package was going prior to being delivered to the scam man, and told them my situation. I then asked if I could STOP the $4000 in money orders from getting to his address. The UPS guy said he could write on package, "Return to Sender." I'm still waiting to get the call saying my UPS store has the package back, and that I can come get it. If it comes back, I'll be out $900, plus $83 (next morning delivery), plus $6.80 (cost of money orders), total of $989.80. I pray I at least get the $4000 back! I'm also reporting this thief to the FTC! These con artists need to be stopped ASAP!

I got an email from a Phillip Morgan about a mystery shopper job. He sent a few emails and then the 'assignment'came. A $3500 check came from FedEx delivered to our home supposedly from a Beauty store in NewYork. Then I was to take that check to an ATM, deposit it, then cash it, and go to Walmart and buy $3200 worth of Ebay cards,scratch off the codes, take a photo of the cards and then send them to the company. I took the check to the bank and just told the teller it was a fake check.

Same story here received a Navy Federal Credit Union cashier's check for $2,437.61. I was supposed to buy $2,100.00 in EBay gift cards and send them information. I called Navy Federal to validate the check before cashing, of course it was a fake. The company on the letterhead is Ardent Services. I love the part in the letter that encourages you to get the cards immediately so you can get an additional $200.00 compensation in the next check. Like they always say if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Got a request from a big time CEO for a major corporation on Linkedin. clicked and accepted, to be a whole foods mystery shopper. sent my email, address. Got a cashiers check in the mail
via priority mail from Navy Federal credit union for over 2k. With instructions to buy ebay gift cards with 2100k. I was told I get to keep approx. 330. I did not cash it yet. Just now got a text from a Mrs. Katy Smith from Ardent Inc/Kroger Groceries Reward Experience asking me to get back with her asap. Doing my research, as I have a lot of questions about mystery shopping, and wondering why there weren't more instructions, information and available staff to answer my questions, I found out this is indeed a scam. Having almost been scammed by a guy on facebook in the past, I fortunately have learned if it seems too good to be true, it is. Not sure if giving this to the police will help. But I am sure I will not be scammed by these people. I am a single mom on a budget, working 2 jobs. I get no child support and surviving financially is a challenge. Shame on them.

They almost had me!! I deposited the check and was in contact with a woman named “Karen” who was telling me that the funds would become available soon.
The directions and check was sent to me via fed ex. The check was made out for $2350.00. $2000. was to be spent on 20 $100 Walmart gift cards. $300 was set aside for me and $50 was set aside for miscellaneous Expenses. I was excited because I am a single mother struggling financially and thought this would be an easy way to make a couple hundred bucks. Days after depositing the check, my bank sent me an email stating they put a hold on the check. Thank god!! I have to remember to google things that seem too good to be true because in most cases it probably is.

So glad I researched this. I got the identical thing in the mail today. Chase cashiers check with shopping for money orders at Walmart. I knew it was too good to be true.

I received a check ftoday or over $2,000 mailed USPS Priority Mail with a letter with for Mystery Shopping that I did not apply for. Instructing me to buy Walmart and Ebay gift cards and asking to send picture of the gift card with the numbers scratched off in the back!!! Beware!! Check looks real . Letter from Altanta GA

Got one for Whole Foods today.... From Sr Manager David Carlson....

I received check aug 23 after i told them was not interested. Called bank and they said it was a scam. i shredded check and sent email telling them i shredded check and to leave me alone. wait and see what happens.

Yep, they want our money's. But I'm not biting.
I got the FedEx. Envelope about walmart check and secret shopper scam.
I'm not glad that I didn't spend the money, I'm glad I'm not a slave to money. I don't run after money, money run after me.
When real money finds us it starts working for us.
Hallelujah I'm free.

This is getting old quickly!
When is someone going to pit a stop to this? The person "ian Bergon" is communicating with me. On look up, there is even a phone number in PA.

I got scammed I thought the secret shopper company was legit. They sent me a check for 998 and 2475. The bank told me after I spent most of the Checks on comparing gift cards and customer service that the Checks were fictitious. I was mad. There use to be companies that really pay you to shop and you keep the products. I'm trying to find a real one with real checks. If you read and your looking for people please contact me. I know most of the real companies are wealthy and rich and they don't send fictitious checks that they don't cover in the event of something happening it is that they have good insurance and it's a way they filter or give out some of there wealth in business transaction. Please contact me im looking for a shoppers job like that. Thanks.

Received a Post Office Money Order for $1000. Asked to keep $200 and with the rest, buy gift cards from eBay, Amazon, etc., scratch the back of gift card, take a picture of pin numbers etc. and email the picture to either of email addresses: daniellaw payoffice@ or lawrence daniel2001@ . I believe in the maxim that 'if something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is'. Tore off the money order and googled 'Daniel Lawrence', and found this website.
Further information: Letterhead said 'Bestmark Services Inc, 92 Ventura Blvd, Encino CA 91396. The mailing address on the envelope was Jeffrey Gate, 4300 Bellwood Cir, Atlanta GA 30349.

I received at check for $1970.00 from Vantage Credit Union Administration Offices,
The letter had Walgreen Logo

I recently received a cashier's check in the amount of $1978.77. The check was supposedly drawn from Columbia Bank/ Columbia State Bank.
The instructions I received were to "Kindly deposit the funds at your (my) bank or via ATM..." but that it is important to collect a deposit receipt and to send a deposit slip via text/email IMMEDIATELY to (541)848-6694 / BILLPRICE77@ . It went on to say once the funds were available in a day or two, I was to deduct my commission of $300, $37.77 for a charity donation to American Cancer Society, $31 to cover cost of gas/transportation and $1600 for the part two of my survey.

Part two I was to buy $1600 worth of EBAY gift cards at three or more locations such as Walgreens, CVS, KMART, LOWES, Target, and named some other stores. The cards were to be in the denominations of $100 to $500 ONLY. I was then to GENTLY scratch off the silver label at the back of each card to reveal the hidden code which I was then to take a picture of each card with the receipt and text it all to (541) 848-6694 for "confirmation."

From the beginning I was suspicious of this letter and assignment. I haven't done anything with the check and I don't plan to. I just wanted to share my story.
Again the name I was given is BILL PRICE Ph#: (541) 848-6694
EMail: billprice77 @ I don't know, maybe this is a legit check and assignment (Yeah right), but one thing that I know for sure is that NEVER in my 30+ years of life has someone ever sent me a check in the amount of $1.00 let alone $1978.77.
I WAS BORN AT NIGHT< BUT NOT LAST NIGHT!!!!!

I’ve run into potential scammers on apps that allow you to sell second hand items to make a profits. the apps work by taking a commission for the sale, but you get a pretty decent cut. Buyers will often offer to send you $ directly through apps like Venmo, paypall, cashapp, etc. allowing you to receive full funds and ship the item out yourself. Be cautious of buyers who offer to send payment through the mail, and also send payment for their shippers fee. In my personal experience it has been up to 4times the asking price for the item that the buyer would try convincing us pay to their shippers. Ex: item being sold is $500, buyer sends check in mail for $2000-2500 telling us the remainder is to be paid to their shipping agent.
Word to the wise, any reputable buyer/business owner would be paying their shipper directly, or allow you to ship the item out yourself instead of having someone pick it up.

Yes! Thank you for letting us know! I just got one with a check for $2800 and was told to go to 2 Walmart stores and buy 3 $400 Walmart cards at each. I was really interested, but felt like it was a bit off and am so glad I checked online and found this website. Thanks, again!

Here's a fake one - Survey.Application@ .

Are they supposed to ask for your user name and password

Thanks everyone for posting your experiences as It just saved me a lot of problems. Just recieved the $2800 check with same instructions as mentioned here. It's important to share these scams online because it might not save everyone but it DOES SAVE SOME!

I received that exact letter today with a check for $2,800.
from “John Simpson” to Wal-mart shop, total scam. Thank you for having him already on here so people do not continue to fall for this scam.

I received a check 4900 dollars from Villa lighting supply mo,are they under the scam action are what

Mine was a bit different. I was contacted online to be a Walmart mystery shopper. Today I received a priority mail check for $2284.00. The check looks very real with watermark and a hologram. It was from a group called Superior Capital Funding LLC, out of Shelby township MI. My instructions were very simple. Deposit check in bank and email a copy of deposit slip. Then go to two of the nearest MoneyGram stores near me and send two separate money grams for $995 & $992. $47 to pay the MoneyGram fee and I was to receive $250. It specifically says not to take to a check to a cashing place(deposit in bank only). Was also instructed to lie to MoneyGram when asked if I was a mystery shopper to say no, when asked if I knew recipient to say yes (I don't know either recipient). I did my due diligence and believe this is a scam. They want me to text them when it's done at 773-789-5020. The person who sent instructions and person who signed check are not the same and it has nothing to do with Walmart. There is a website connected to this scam. It is survey@ mymystery shopping .com. I was going to rip up the check, but I'm hanging on to it. In case it's needed to catch these guys.

Received a check for $1,935 to check on Best Buy and purchase 4 Best Buy gift cards. This wasn’t anything I signed up for so I checked the web. Thanks for the Information. The one I just got 5 days ago was from San Diego County Credit Union by survey.us, George Badin (972)904-1209 . I hope this helps someone!

I work at a university and was sent an email through my university email, which I typically never get spam emails through. I clicked on the link and filled out the information. Just got a $1900 check in the mail and was asked to purchase $1600 in Ebay gift cards and send a picture of the back of the card to the "company." Obviously, I am not going to deposit the check or do this assignment, and will be reporting this to the FTC.

I recently rcv'd in a USPS Priority envelope a $4900.00 check drawn on Citibank requesting I purchase 4 money orders in the amount of $1000.00 & mail them off with purchase receipts via overnight processing... emails & phone calls... The Scam is that I will be employed as a Secret Shopper & report on behavior of Walmart employees when selling me my money orders.

just received a check in the amount of 2250.00 from this place. Marcus Williams in California is who it said it was from.

It's still happening! Got an invitation from a business colleague on LinkedIn for a Secret Shopper gig. Sounded legit. Today I received USPS Priority Mail envelope with a Cashier's Check for $2,960.52 with instructions to visit one of several stores to purchase $2,500 worth of eBay cards, scratch off the code, take a picture and send it to an email address provided. I could keep the balance of the money as my pay! Yeah, right. This had scam written all over it. Came to this site to check it out and as I thought, it's a repeat of an age-old scam. Didn't fall for it but I am certain there are those that do. This was much different from the innocuous "Secret Shopper" email via LinkedIn that I received. It has been reported to LinkedIn. Where else can I report to best shut down this operation???

I received a $4900 check today. The letter said I could either deposit it or cash it (fee for cashing the check) I would never deposit a check from a stranger. If I cash it at a check cashing business, could that end bad for me? Also, question. Are there really secret shopping legit businesses that send out that kind of money? I could take $4900 and never be heard from again, ya know? Can you tell me what a legit secret shopping would be, like an example story of how it would really be if it weren’t a scam. Thanks so much, definitely keeping my eyes and ears open and doing research before get stuck with a $4900 debt.

How do you report this scam? Is there a place to send the check with all contents of the "assignment" package?

Just got my check as well from TN. The letter is definitely of bad quality with a scanned picture of Walmart on top. I am so glad this information is out here. I knew it was a scam as soon as I saw the letter. The check was for $2650. Delivered by FedEx.
Be careful folks and that you FTC for this information.

Hi! We got an email from my husband university , I send all my info to Apply for the secret shopper job, they send me yesterday a check for $ 2350, my assignment was buying $2000 in Walmart gift cards, and send them the pictures of the codes, everything look very Suspicious, so when I text the guy ant told him that I wasn’t going to do it, and that I was going to destroyed the check he got very mad at me, and start texting me in not the nicest way. I have no idea what to do with the check right now???

I just received one today

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