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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

The same exact story happened to my son. He also deposited the checked then realized his mistake. The bank said "wait & see". He is afraid to do anything with his account. Once the bank realizes the check is fraudulent, I'm assuming, they'll take the money back, but what happens later? Do the scammers come after you in any way?

I recieve a check to yesterday the same letter we should all get together file a class action suit against them my was for 2,995.

I received a check to from a robbert telling me to purchase gift cards as a secret shopper from Wal-Mart with instructions on everything needed to complete task and confidential on the paper

Thanks for post. I got exact same scam with same name .I could have easily fallen for it if not for your story

I got the same check and unfortunately I didnt realize it was a scam until it was to late.i deposited the check into my account and let it clear.then I did as the instuctions said.five days later the check if found out to he bad but it was to late.now my checking is froze with a balance of -$2949.99

It happened to me also.. I received a check 2780 and instructions from walmart.. the amount appeared on my account. instructed to me to send money orders of 2280 to thomas michael at new jersey.. then after 3 days. I checked my account.. the check was bounced.. and our money was gone..

Mine is at a negative balance right now to

Thanks you for the info. I just received a check for the same scam. I knew it was good to be true!

Wow, thank you for posting. I received an email to my college email as well with same instructions, good thing I did my research first. I really need a side job right now and thought this was perfect. Can’t trust anyone these days. Thank you again.

I got hit to. But they didn't get the money either. I played on some bills to later find out i had 2 pay it back 2 the bank.

Johnson City New York. I just found out that I was scammed out of 1,975 and I’m not a college kid so I have to figure out how to pay the bank back!!

I recently got a check of $2,950 with instructions to do the same thing, got the email through my college email, I deposited the check yesterday into my moms account and the teller didn’t say it was suspicious, did the check ever clear for her to use the money and buy the gift cards? I told my mom that it was fake and that the bank might overdraft her account if it is fake

My 19 year old college student just recieved this same thing yesterday from a Scott Bowman from Nationwide. Because it was an e-mail sent to her school account, she thought she'd give it a try! My daughter was ecstatic to get a check for almost 3 grand! However, after doing my research, I was not comfortable with any of it! Reluctantly, she agreed. I honestly hope no one falls for this but as a college student, its always nice to get money. Its up to us as parents to make sure our children are aware that people will try to take advantage of them and teach them ways of avoiding scams like this.

I had got the same email from 4 different people claiming to go to my school and saying that they tried it too and made a lot of money from it. But what I did was to compare all the letters and they are the same as in the same phrase two of the letters are written the same but different people, they even had the nerve to put on there from Job Placement Student Services which also includes the school's address, all about earning $300. So what I did was to tell them that I was contacting my lawyer to look over the check, and I say that because they kept texting me wanting to know when I was going to put the check in my bank and saying that I only have 24 hrs to do it. First of all, it takes time to get money from a check that the bank has no knowledge. These scammers think that people are really that dumb and don't pay attention, I was scammed last year from people who I thought wanted to help me out only thing they did was to put a check in my account electronically and I was supposed to give the money back for a larger amount for me to receive. The only thing that happened with that was I had taken the money out of my account via MoneyGram and once that check didn't clear the bank to it out of my account with me with a high negative in my account and closed with no way of paying it back. So beware of people supposedly giving you money in exchange for money that they are supposed to give you from a non-existent shop.

Thanks for the info. I deposited the checks yesterday but felt a little eddgy about it. I'll call the bank today to stop the process.

Same thing happened to me. Terrible stuff. Thankfully i didn't deposit it.

Yep, same exact thing emailed to my college email address. Everything definitely looked legitimate. I waited for the bank to release funds before I followed instructions and spoke to someone (the scammer) every day. Still got scammed! Why can't this be stopped? What can be done about it?

This same thing just happened to me I felt very dumb and I’m glad I told a friend about it and he let me know if was a nation wide scam I’m glad I didn’t scammed the whole 3000 or I would be crying on how to pay it back

I just got this same check & he must have changed the last name mine has like 3 different names, David Soto, Steve Beck on the cashiers check & Charles Hoggard on the package it came in. "Check" is for $2,450.00 .

The same happened with my daughter. They even copied in her school logo in the email and she thought it was from her school. Thankfully I am the one who opened up the fake check. Just terrible.

Did your do anything with the check to see if it is real. I am a student and I received the same thing. I just wanted to know if there is any chance it could be real.

I'm sorry, it's not real. Secret shoppers used to be legit 10+ years ago and you didn't make this kind of money. Anyway, DO NOT DEPOSIT the check. If you received this via your school email address please report it to them. I received a similar one from Ben Melvick, Straut Survey LLC, and it is not legit.

my daughter as well was sent what appeared to be a legitimate email from her college in TN in regard to mystery shopper....she received 4 checks all fake...she had deposited one and actually did the shopping...now all of her money is wiped out..... I agree preying on college kids...

I received an email and a check for 1700 today from that same David guy.

Thank you for your post. This same guy tried to scam me and my daughter who is a student.

The same thing happened to me. My college sent out a blast for a secret shopper thing... and I forgot about it, then I get this packet in the mail for a "secret shopper." Which, I would have done... but they sent me a $2,500.00 check with instructions to "go to Best Buy, but a bunch of gift cards, scratch off the back and send pictures of front and back of card." Yeah... okay.
So far, the guy has sent me three checks and has messaged me (with numerous exclamation points) asking me for "the status." His name is "David Sapin."

Thank you so much for this article. My husband was about to make a terrible mistake

My husband did cash the check

My husband did deposit it and the bank called 3 days later to tell him the check was bad. What can he do now? He has scratched off all the backs of the money gift cards, so they can't be returned. Do we need to get a lawyer? Who do we report this to?

If you told someone the numbers from the back of the gift cards, they  took control of the cards and probably used the value of the cards. You could call the customer service number listed on the card, or find a customer service number online and talk to the company to ask if you could return the cards. You could contact the manager at the store where you bought the cards.

You can report this to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give the FTC goes into a secure database that the FTC uses for investigations.

Hi my daughter's receive a check today from mystery shoppers 2,600 n to deposit into her bank accounts n then ask her to go to Wal-Mart n purchase 4 gift card with 500 each n send them a pic of it so wut happened if we don't send them the card # and use it to shop can we do that

If this is a scam, that check is no good.

You are resonsible for the checks you deposit. If you deposit the check and it turns out the check is bad, you have to repay the bank.

If you deposit the check and take money out to buy gift cards, and then the bank finds out the check is bad, you must repay the bank. If you already spent the money on gift cards, you have to find money somewhere else to repay the bank.

Hey, I recently received the same thing. I deposited the check of $2941.00. Then, it was bounced back. I withdrew $1000 to buy Apple gift cards. Is there any way I can return these gift cards but they're scratched though? Is there anything I can do to get my $1000 back?

Yea but the government is shutdown right now so you can’t file a complaint until they reopen. That’s the messsge I received when I went to that site.

What became of this? My husband did the same thing! Now what? Are we just SOL that money and have to pay it to the bank? What if you don't have that much to give them?

You are responsible for the checks you deposit. If you deposited a bad check and withdrew money, you have to repay the bank. If that's what happened to you, you could talk with someone at your bank and explain what happened. You can report a scam to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint.

How do I check to see if this is legitimate?
I received info from Kevin Berman at info @ shop4survey that I was chosen as a mystery shopper for Kroger and would receive $350 for every shop. Legit or not?
rebrand. ly/ shop 468394 Also this link was sent.

Was he able to receive the cash without any consequences

Receiving a check in the mail for something you never signed up for is very strange same thing happened
To me I did not deposit . Mystery shoppers are not ever to be revealed think about it!! It is a Scam!

Hey may I ask you how did you go by receiveing this check

Received via USPS.

Today I received a Cashiers Check for $1390 and I was congratulated on becoming a member of the Walmart Neighborhood Research Secret Shopper program. In exchange for the check, I was to purchase $90 worth of personal items, then evaluate the customer service provided by the cashier. Then I was to go back the next day and buy 2 $500 gift certificates and rub off the back and email the codes to an email plus send the a copy of my evaluation. DO NOT DO IT!

I just received a check for$2450 I read the the one about Walmart and my daughter advice me that is a fraud thank god

I got the same $2450 check and was all excited. I did deposit the check but it is pending so i will not be doing anything for this scammer company. i don't know what the assignment was but can be sure it was to purchase gift cards. i hope they catch these miserable human beings!!

Yes i received an email asking if i wanted to be a mystery shopper, if course i responded, next i received a congratulations you passed to be a mystery shopper, so excited to have you on board, you will receive you package by FedEx, your first assignment of many, you are assigned to two Walmart stores in your area couple days later i received the fedex package which contained a check for over #2000, instructing me to deposit the check into one of my accounts, let it clear, then take out $50 go shopping for anything i want. Then next day return back to same Walmart go to customer service desk purchase 3 Visa check cards @ $500. Per card, next day go to the other Walmart purchase one card for $500. Then i am to make copy of front and back if all cards, scratch off the silver box, then send them the information along with my survey on my experience at both stores, and i keep the $50 purchase plus $397 which is my cut. I signed up twice to do this, each time i was sent same info, but the detective part of me kept saying this us too good to be true, don't you deposit those checks into your account, you'll be sorry, so I never deposited any of the checks. I started looking into this more, and came upon this site, so glad i listened to myself that money was sooooo temping. I kept asking myself why are they asking me to purchase cards and to give them the info off the cards doesn't sit well with me. Then also why send me a check, then ask for basically the money back but in a different form. So i was never able to take the checks to the bank. Plus the didn't realize i did this twice, bells really went off then. Because one would think they would realize hey we sent you a check previously and you never cashed it, now your requesting it again, why?

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

I received 2 cashier checks both for $2,900 1 was from credit union Becu n Seattle Washington other US bank to get 3 money orders from usps from 3 different locations send back by fed ex karl Rajan was contact person

I received the same thing this last Friday. Same name. He just said to go to one Post Office. I deposited the check but I didn't take the money out yet, so I will be calling my bank tomorrow morning. Thank God for Clombus Day

I received the same thing from Karl Rajan and I thought it sounded fishy so I searched his name on Google and this website came up.

I signed up with the USPS/Walmart secret shopper request and received $2900 in the mail in the form of a cashiers check. I was told to deposit the check and use the money to purchase three separate money orders of $800 each. The check is a cashiers check drawn on a bank in west plains, mo. It all appears to be good but after reviewing and researching this, I see now how seriously bad it could be. The name, Karl Rajan is the same name on my letter which appears to be legitimate. I’m glad I looked things up now! Thank you all,

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