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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

Just recieved two checks for2,950.00 number301-792-7754 contact person is michael plant my salary450 the rest is just as everyone elses. To buy gift cards ect. I fell for ine these tqo i qont even as badly as i meed the money cause im gonna be evicted unless i come up with 400 dollars by tomorroq tbis really sucks

I just received a UPS Priority Mail envelope today with a check for $2,800. and a “Feedback Instruction Sheet. I’m to text “ received “ to a number once I’ve opened the envelope.
Then I’m to do 3 steps: cash the check, deduct $350. for my salary, then to proceed to a Walmart and purchase $50. worth of items for me to keep. Also I’m to buy 3 gift cards worth $400. each, then go to another Walmart a do the same. Then take a CLEAR picture of the receipt, gift cards and purchases and text the other items to: 585-714-2921 or email to surveyjobs @ Signed, “John Simpson”

281-627-6247 number I was contacted from by Mark Reynold Offering $350-$450 Per transaction.

How long did it take for them to send the check once you signed up to be a secret shopper

Like two days

Yeah they used priority mail too. I should have sent it to someone idk who. Or taken photos so these people get caught. I tore everything up. Mine started with a text message then the mail. So idk how they have my phone and current address.

Eva sols,
Dont feel bad about ripping everything up. Chances of these people getting caught are slim to none. That's how they keep getting away with it and new and improved scams are out every year! It sucks and it's a shame for the people they take advantage of but unfortunately I've learned a valuable lesson from it- when it comes to money, nothing is ever free, you cannot trust anyone, and if it seems to be too good to be true, it is! Remember those 3 things and you should be fine. I'm sorry you got hit. I received a similar letter and believe me, I wanted that money too. I am disabled and barely making ends meet so an extra $450 at Christmastime for my grandbabies...hell yeah! But I knew it was fake after reading the letter the first time, I went back and really read it and looked at it, it was so full of grammatical errors and it wasnt layed out like a business letter so I then googled the company that it was supposed from and the guys name at the bottom and it all didn't match up. Always listen to that little voice, the hair standing up on the back of your neck, or that feeling in the pit of your stomach- its telling you something for a reason, listen to and then slow down and follow through. Investigate. If it's on the up and up, the money will still be there the next day. Research, it may save you alot of time and trouble later. Hope this helps.

Same thing just happened to me. I thought it was legit but I see its not. Will be taking checks to local bank to turn them in with letter and screenshots of text messages from person who has been contacting me.

Just received one today for 998.00. Asking me to load google play cards. Haha. I knew it was a scam. In the trash out goes after I take pictures of the letter and check.

interesting, I just received a check today and was solicited by a former colleague of mine via LinkedIn. They only communicate in text and when I asked why the checks were sent with remitters being someones name not their company nor the company of those requesting the research or a contracting firm, they continued to confirm that they were 100% legitimate. What threw me off is the amount of the check and that they wanted me to go buy these gift cards with $2k and then send it back to them scratched off. LIKE WAIT A MIN! This very much felt like old scams back in the 90s that worked sort of the same way, re: Ponzi, where someone sends a check to someone else. The remitter of the check and the sent from address on the priority mail label were even differing names.

Definitely do not deposit this check. I am holding onto the envelope and check, sitting on a shelf while I figure out how to return this to the right folks. I'd like to see how far they are willing to take this if I continue to ask them questions.

I received the same thing today. the check is totaling over $2900.00 and i am just going to trash it. thank you so much for your alert.

Yep just got that one also glad i came here and checked it out.

Just received a priority mail Express 1 day with a certified check for $998.00 and instructions for Google play. Lord knows the money is needed but I am not going to be no one's fool on Mother's day.

I received the same thing in the mail today for the exact amount as yours $998.00. Too good to be true!! Red flags popping up all over the place. Took a Picture of the letter and check and will post it on FB to let everyone know to beware.

I received a random text about secret shopping at Walmart. Then they emailed me with the assignment. I was to keep 300 for my salary and then spend 50 on anything I wanted and then get gift cards with the rest. After that I was to take pics of the pin scratched off and the gift cards and send them to them. They sent me screen shots of the check and I was to upload my banks app and deposit it that way. Glad I came here and seen it was a scam. As a single mom I can’t afford to be on the hook for $3500!!! Something needs to be done about all these scammers. It’s happening way too much!!!

So glad I researched about this beforehand. I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper; was told to also deposit it in my bank and go to an apple store to purchase 2 gift cards with it and $300 was my salary . It seemed too good to be true so I researched first and low and behold here I am. A few different things though, the company is White Loft Surveys LLC and the mans name is Joseph Rendon. I've saved the text messages as well.

Oh my god ! I’m so happy that I googled it before going to the bank tomorrow morning . I just got a check for $998 and they wannted me to buy itunes gift cards and then scratch the code and send a picture of the gift card code to their email !
The pay was so good to be true ! I mean almost $300 for just going to bestbuy or apples store to buy the gift cards IS RIDICULOUS !

same here

I knew something was fishy. Signed up for that peddle Inc company through my university. And received a check for 2,950. Called all my older friends, and we looked at it and I was like nahh...let me look up the number.

I just got the same amount in a check yesterday through a priority mail from mystery shopper but called better business bureau and they confirmed it was a fraud. I'm so HAPPY my grandma pointed it out once I showed her the check and survey packet , and than my family called and reported it and I also kept all the messages.

I just received a check today for $2997 and my assignment was to go to the Post office and get postal money orders. The overall sound of this made me feel it was a scam but I am glad I looked here to confirm it. I just sent the guy named Jeff Mclever (909-581-4223) an text stating that I shared his name and number with my neighbor who was interested in this as a second job. And that my neighbor's first job was working for the FBI. I haven't received any further texts from Jeff! Thanks for these posts!

What a coincidence i was assigned the same postal service money order assignment, I needed to evaluate the post office worker for good customer service and then immediately send the money orders a long with the receipt fed ex overnight. I keep $400 and they make out with 2 grand!
I am so glad that I googled it before proceeding

I just received one of those USPS Priority Mail, cashier's checks for $2800, written on ComericA Bank. It looks legit. Inside was also a very copied list of instructions with a signature of Roland (can't read the last name), also copied. The enclosed list of instructions was very professional. I'm suppose to surveying 2 Walmarts stores. I'm support to keep $350.00 and purchase (3) $400 gift cards from each Walmart and also purchase $25 of any products from each store. I can keep those products and hold on to the gift cards and would be told what to do in my next Survey. Oh, I'm supose to text copies of those gift cards and send a copy of the receipts once completed. Okay, so I did sign up to do surveys from Survey Junkie, My Points, and ---gov. Sorry at the moment can't remember. And today a check appeared. I did research and the bank seems to be legit. So, what do I do with everything? Oh, I plan to call the bank tomorrow just to see what they say.

Same here. Just got the same money orders for $2000 to deposit and then go to Walmart and you know the rest. I’m reporting this to the US Postal Service because they’re saying to report it. They are trying to catch these scammers.
Call 1877-876-2455 to report these people.

I got one too! This is crazy! Glad I googled it! So do we just take them to the post office then??

We just received the exact same check amount and instructions. Curious as to who you received from?

Same here received from roldan Walton the check from rollerrena auto sales in east Palestine ohio

Same exact thing. My husband received post office money orders and they look so real so he was telling me that he thinks that it is legit, but after the next few days he was getting flooded with priority mail with checks in them for secret shopping. Trusting my instincts I looked up secret shopper scams and here you are telling my story...Same exact amount on the check! Thanks because I was looking for something similar to determine that they are fake.

Latest scam uses cashiers checks that look legit from Navy Federal Credit Union.
Text number is 773 area code from a guy named Steve. You usually get an email from someone you know via linkedin

Veterans get their checks from the treasury department..regulated by the veterans administration. They dont use credit unions or private banks to send paper checks...our federal government does that...the only way you will receive any compensation from the u.s. armed forces via bank is if you have direct deposit...

Received private message on LinkedIn from someone that I’m aquatinted with...for a mystery shopper stating she had been doin it PT & pat was great.
I filled out info just to see more info & within a few days I received a check for close to 2K...no instructions inside just a check. I tried to contact company on check because it looked like income for property that was sold as the Title Co said Escrow...
Then I started to receive emails & texts from “Karen”. The attachments say all the same thing as others have said: deposit ck Into your account & then purchase gift cards & rate experience & then email gift card info...
Looked here before doing anything!

<headdesk> My invite from Homezone Research also came via LinkedIn from a trusted contact. I should have known it was too good to be true.

I just received a letter with a check for 1300.00 wanting me to deposit and go to CVS and buy 2 best buy gift cards for 500.00 each and take pictures of the back and emails photo of front and back of the card to retail survey@ with a name of David Cutler and the priority mail address is ace consultants Inc ATL ga 1819 main St ste 200

I knew it was fishy do I called the bank where the check from. I took a picture of the check and emailed it to them. Maybe somehow they can catch these people. I feel like doing their report just to mess with them and dear old David Cutler wont ne messing with me again.

I got the same thing from the same person. But mine says go to 3 different Best Buy’s and get 3 gift cards for 500 each.

Same here. Just got a check for $995.00. Supposed to go to Kroger and buy $700.00 in Itune gift cards. scratch off the pin and email a picture to Peter Anderson. Keep the $ 295.00 for your first Secret Customer assignment.
I knew it was too good to be true. Phone numbers are all from California but the Banks are all in Florida.
Think I will call the local tv station.

I just received the same thing! A money order that looks totally legit,water marks and all..except mine is from a federal credit union bank in Michigan. However I’m supposed to send the pictures of the cards I purchase for 700$ to
Peter Anderson as well. They sure do put a lot of time into this scam seeing as everything looks so real and they even used a real credit union, same address ect. These people are such scumbags.

Just got one from Space Coast Credit Union in the amount of $995. And supposed to get $700 in Amazon Gift cards .....how do we find and become mystery shoppers for legit companies?

OMG! I am also glad I googled before doing anything! I also received “ cashier’s check” in a mail for 2,350.00. Then I texted to 682-237-9633 that I received the check. His name (not real probably) is Ben Melvick. I thought it’s too easy to be true. When I tried to call , nobody answered . I also received e - mail asking me about updates. Where can I report this # and e mail?

I received a text from number 1-615-685-2677, they had texted 10 people in regards to sending out the mystery shopper package and to expect it. Then the next day I received a text from 1-778-706-1011 letting me know that my package had been shipped and to text when I had received it. Signed Mystery Shopper USA, 2 days later they texted to see if I had received the package and when I plan to complete the assignment. I texted that I had not received it but as soon as I did I would let them know. I texted them that evening letting them know I did receive it and would this be David Beausoleil(the name on the check), all they texted back was "yes". I texted that, I am not able to complete my assignment until Monday within 24 hours do to my bank not being open until Monday. Is there allowance for this for the bonus? I NEVER received a response. I then decided to search and found all this horrible scan stuff...I am so glad I looked on here. The check is from Adademy Bank, it is a cashiers check, it is dated March 11, 2019 but was sent to me on 04/05/2019 the total that was sent to me was $998.00. I was to purchase a Google Play card for $325.00 from 2 stores then take a picture of them and email the picture of them to the emails john@ ecommerc eshoppers. net and newell .jess @mail. com. My compensation was the $348.00 left from the check. Is there somewhere I can report this?

The exact same thing happened to me but the link came to me from a recruiter and so I thought it was a legitimate Mystery Shopper experience which I sent my contact information to. Fortunately for them, I work in the judicial system and will take this to the authorities. I never did anything with the checks but let the Scammer know they had the wrong person. The company is SeeLevel HX Research Group and the woman's name is Lisa Hartfold. File a complaint with the FTC and give them as much information as you can regarding the checks, text messages and phone numbers. I also had another address on the envelope that was sent to me as well.

Wow...she has been texting me for the last 2 days asking if I received my first assignment. It was a bit too desperate why I started researching her name. Once I receive the package, I will definitely report it. Thanks for providing details...

Same thing with the same name. FedEx had actually intercepted the pkg and I text them about it. The referral link came from a reliable person on LinkedIn as well...is ftc.gov the only place to report this to?

Lisa almost got us. But we were concerned that the mail address was different from the check address and the envelope was not professional, we sent her a screenshot of this blog and said that we have a family member who needed extra money because of the furlough. But he works for the FBI, so we wanted to refer her information to him. bet we will not hear from her again.

I just received a check for 2,375 from consumer insights LLC and I'm like....woah it says the remitted is Deanna Jones. Cashiers check ...definitely a scam

I just had the same thing happen when I got my US Mail last evening at my home. Received a check for $2990.45 from A.S.I. Federal Credit Union ( a legit Credit Union), and shopper assignment to purchase 2 Apple Store Gift Cards at $1340 and then keep $300 for going in the store, completing the back one page survey and texting -Larry Walker MBA at 213-725-1717 and emailing shopper s @nationals hopper slink. com or national shopper slinks @ gmail. com the survey "report" and if I rushed it same day, could keep an additional $200 more of the check. The catch is to text and email the gift card purchase receipt and the revealed codes scratched off the back of the cards to them. Weeks later the cashed check would be found fraudulent and my bank account short thousands of dollars that I would be on the hook for to total $2690 from the two gift cards I bought ( If I did this-which I am clearly NOT.) This is a total SCAM and they are doing this to often poor and financially desperate college students as the original email came through my college email at Southern New Hampshire University ( so again seemed legit). This predatory behavior needs to be caught and these persons either attempting or exceeding in ripping off Americans need to spend time in jail and pay all the fines and or payback the amount to the people they harmed in total with fees for the banks. They also seem to defame and use real peoples names found on Linked In and use old land line numbers that are difficult to trace back to who actually owns the number. DO NOT BE FOOLED and report this SCAM to the FTC, ( here), the Post Office ( these scammers use a USPS Priority Mail letter size envelope) -again to appear to be legitimate. They are not LEGITIMATE and will only take your money however they can by scamming you out of it. I am taking my information to trusted people who can find and prosecute these scammers. I will expose this SCAM where ever I can. Please let your college students loved ones know- to be aware and to not take the Bait. SCAM WARNING AND BEWARE! STOP WHITE COLLAR CRIME and help lock these people behind this SCAM SCHEME UP for a LONG TIME!!!!!

I received the text via LinkedIn last week. Then I received the same check for $2995 today. The Survey company is www. service. co (US and UK). I called the number on the website. A standard cell phone voice mail with no introduction of the company. So glad I saw your post. . I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper today; was told to also deposit it in my bank and go to an apple store to purchase 2 gift cards with it and $300 was my salary . It seemed too good to be true so I researched. The name on document that came with a priority mail is Wanda Rhodes, PHD. Survey evaluation Coordinator. On my text, I said I would contact BBB before any steps are taken. The name on the text is John Barnes. ph 937 660.5459.

WOW I just received my "check" in the mail today. It also came from LinkedIn. Has anyone ever turned this information into the FBI?

Same thing just happened, received the checks yesterday and the info. Jokes on them, I have the entire envelope with the return address (in Texas) and the "instructions" from a guy in a different state. I'll be filing a formal complaint with the PO, the credit union on the money order, and the proper gov't agencies--I work in financial literacy for a living

The same thing happened to me as well. I emailed the credit union to notify them. Who else do I need to notify?

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