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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

Filled out an email to be a secret shopper for Walgreens and got a check in the mail for $1900 with instructions to buy a bunch of ebay gift cards and text the numbers to 608-424-5283. Contact was Josh Miller at survey@ meeticresearch. if it sounds too good to be true...

Not just secret shoppers. From an ad on Facebook, I applied for a car wrap advertising job. They sent me a check made out to another person. I told them they made a mistake but they asked me to deposit it anyway. I told them I couldn't because it was made out to another person. So I knew then it was a scam. They asked me to send the check to an address they have me. Instead I called the business the check was from and was told they had many checks stolen and the thieves were scamming people with it. I contacted the person who originally sent the check to me and told him he was busted. Really ticked him off. I took my story and the check to my local police department. Be very wary of ads on Facebook especially advertising jobs. Verify the company first and never put a check in your bank account and then send funds to someone you don't know. That's the first red flag.

I was involved in a scam like this and lost $1700. They sent a fake cashiers check. I always thought cashier checks require an up front deposit. False check looked authentic. I have had money issues since then and I am a disabled person and a veteran. My fault but it hurt badly. Took 3 months for my meager financial account to be recovered from this disaster. I spent all of my retirement money for my wife's medical Bill's. I need a liver transplant, too!

I also received a priority mail envelope with a check for $2400 from Brenden S Larken Gold Coast Bank. I was to deposit the check and purchase $2000 in eBay cards. Taking this to my bank so they can alert others, hopefully these scammers can be stopped.

I got a text from a random number and it looked like an automatic secret shopper reply. I replied and was told I would get a package in the mail and I don't even know how they got my address. I received a check for 2450.52 and it says Heartland National Bank on it. They want me to get Ebay cards and I told them I am forwarding this information to the authorities and they got spooked. First of all if your going to scam someone learn how to read and right because the grammar was horrible!!! I am so sick of these scam artist's ruining peoples lives it's so wrong.I got a text from a random number and it looked like an automatic secret shopper reply. I replied and was told I would get a package in the mail and I don't even know how they got my address. I received a check for 2450.52 and it says Heartland National Bank on it. They want me to get Ebay cards and I told them I am forwarding this information to the authorities and they got spooked. First of all if your going to scam someone learn how to write because the grammar was horrible!!! I am so sick of these scam artist's ruining people’s lives its so wrong.

So I got a package and was sent $1000 in the form of a Postal money order. I was not told to deposit in my account it just says to cash and purchase Ebay ($800) cards send pics, give review and keep $200 for myself. I have not had to give any personal information. I was not planning on depositing in my account I was going to cash at Walmart or check cashing place. Seems very suspicious but from the other stories I am reading cant determine whether or not a scam. Any thoughts

I feel slighted! I only received a Postal Money Order for $1000.
Guess I'm not worth much.
Was asked to purchase EBAY GIFT CARDS for $800. My assignment
is to Evaluate any of the listed stores (CVS, WALGREENS, KROGER,
KWIK TRIP, BESTBUY, ALBERSTONS, HARRIS TEETER, RITE AID).
I received an email today asking why I hadn't deposited the MO yet, I asked i f there was a time limit and not to rush me. Just playing along. WILL NOT deposit MO or buy gift cards. Thanks for the info.

Received a UPS overnight letter from a Roberto Grazia 954-314-2147 with an "Official Check" for $4500.00 with secret shopper instructions deposit the check pull cash only out then go purchase (4) $1000.00 blank money orders then text the number to get the next day air shipping address and keep $500.00 for my work as a spy shopper at Walmart

I got one from Secret SHopper at Walmart. Edward Hargreaves check looked very phony. Along with texts and email, recruiting for the job. SCAM!!

Just got a text offering the mystery shopper/diner saying they pay me to go do a job. I feel it's a scan but hey just in case I'll play along I like messing with the scammers. Lol they are now blocking me.

How do I report this incident? I have received a check in the mail and they said to put it into my bank account and withdraw all the money immediately or the next morning. Asking me to buy several hindered dollars on eBay gift cards. The name of the company is BARNS MARKETING AND SURVEY/CUSTOMER SERVICE NETWORK SECRET SURVEY. Anyone else have this “company” contact them???

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

Mine was $4929.00 for USPS secret shopper, Grace Avery is my agent, check was from ECO credit union in Alabama envelope came from Bee Yang from South Carolina, I will be delivering it to my local FBI office

Same scam. Mine came from Ian Bergon. Sent me a cashier's check. I called the bank, they said it may be a fake. They asked me to scan it. To the plain eye it looks perfect, but when you scan it, it says VOID all over it. AVOID AT ALL CAUTION!

I received a PRIORITY MAIL envelope with a check for $3,426.90. The check comes from Park State Bank & Trust, Woodland Park CO.
I Googled the sender Ian Bergon and came upon this message chain. I seriously was going to cash this check and follow the Assignment instructions- The tip off for me was that it stated my pau was $426 and if I completed the task in the 1st 24-48 hours I would earn an additional $100. Always question when there is a time urgency placed on you.
The assignment is very similar to those listed above
1-Cash or deposit the check at your bank
2-Purchase gift cards $100-$500 denomination for Nordstrom or Sephora at 3 or more different stores, choosing from the following Best buy, 7-eleven, Office Depot, Staples, Lowes, Kroger, Rite Aid, Family Dollar, Walgreens, Safeway, Pick n Save, Fred Meyer, Winn Dixie, Stop and shop, Shaws, Ahold, Pavilions and Ace Cash Express.
3- Do not purchase more than $1000 gift cards from each store.
(the claim is that "We are examining the availability of the gift cards and customer service delivery in some of the retail stores in the country".)
4-After purchasing the ards, open the pack, scratch off the silver label at the back of the cards CAREFULLY to reveal code. Capture clear images of the back of each card and send to the email above for verification. Also, Keep the scratched gift cards for record purpose and wait for further instructions on what to do with the scratched ards.
5-Email back the pictures of the cards, Pictures of the receipts, store name, address, date and time of visit , customer service professionalism and your comments about the stores in general, if the clerk thanked me, if the store had enough gift cards etc.
Of course I could use some extra money and would love to help a company that wants feedback but I do not want to be scammed.
Thank you to each of you who posted details.
I am planning on taking my packet to the police office tomorrow.

I didnt receive a check, but I keep receiving an email with the job offer for secret shopper but the info requests address for the USA and not for Canada, in which is where I live.
I only receive this offer after I update my posted ad on Kijiji. I have blocked the email address but it seems to be a different person from "Walmart" each time.
The job offer sounds great.....so obviously it must be a scam!

Recieved a check for $4950 from a "secret shopper" company. First thought. "THIS IS FAKE!." Gave instructions to send money order through Western Union. Give me a break. How stupid did they think I was. Honestly if check was real why would I do that it you trust me to cash a check like that and send you money back? Anyway, took check to bank so they could confirm my suspicions then burned fake check since no one can do anything about it anyways. Do not fall for this mess. It's the holidays and people are looking for gullible naive people to scam. Secret shopper companies would not ask you to try out or test Western Union or gift cards, then ask for that information. They are looking for the companies customer service, help, cleanliness, organization, etc. Not buying something and sending them monetary valuable stuff such as gift cards. Please be cautious and careful.

I received an email in my school from Glovis Sunrise Service to apply for a “secret shopper” position. A week later I received a check for $2K, with all the instructions. I was away on a trip, so txt the number that I will let them know when I got home if I received the package. I got no txt back just this one about 2 more times before I reached home. **Hello , Please we need you to complete your shopper task TODAY, we are finalizing our evaluation report by end of the day. Send a text to the phone number(775-234-5916) on the instruction sheet for further instruction and questions about how to complete the task ....Thank You....Layola Green...Glovis Sunrise Survey Service**
When I got home the package was here.. As soon as I saw the check was from Ohio, and saw the area code was for Reno NV I knew it was to good to be true. They have a website that hasn’t been shut down, so I thought it could be legit. After texting and calling the number provided.. it is out of service. So glad I never cashed that check! Gonna let my school know about it.

same here, I just got a check for $3,345 from Geier & Bluhm to "secret shop" at walmart. That site looks bad, can't even tell what it is exactly they do. I don't even know who the appropriate authorities are to report these criminals...

Got a check today.The scammer was Matthew Cole,tel.734-325-4197,I trashed it.If its too good to be true,it probably is

I got a letter in the mail via UPS with a $2470 and followed the letter by purchasing 2 Walmart cards and 4 Ebay cards totaling $2000 as my assignment so it says.Correspondences to Victor Milligan 415-466-350 walmartsurveyreport01@ Unfortunately I lost $2000 by purchasing the cards through my credit card and once it is authorized by me it got processed.So be very careful out there and check carefully.I have no recourse now except to accept the lost. What goes around goes around. May this person have a happy holiday with my money!

I was texted an offer to be a mystery shopper and I responded. Then about a month later I received a USPS envelope in the mail with a check for $2400 and a letter with instructions to purchase eBay gift cards. Once I purchased the gift cards they asked me to scratch the back and take a photo and send to them. As soon as I did that I realized I had been scammed. I called eBay and reported them. You can email spoofy@ ebay. com. I also reported them on ic3.gov and to my credit card. The guy said his name was Mark Henderson and his cell # is (346) 366-4252. It is a verizon cell number. The email linked to the ebay account is kevinjtroxell@

I just received the letter size USPS envelope yesterday with a postal money order for $990. The letter that accompanied it had both MSPA EUROPE and MSPA, as well as a partially cut off logo for the BBB. I was instructed to cash the money order and “purchase eBay Gift card [sic] worth $800 of these denominations $400 in two places.” Then, of course, “scratch the cards and send the PINs, clear pictures of the scratch page of the card along with [my] evaluation.” It also said that I keep the additional $190 for my commission. Also, the letter stated that I was to confirm receipt of the “present package” (?) at their website, but that was immediately followed by what appears to be an afterthought add on telling me what number to text my full name, my cell phone number “for effective texting communication and directives.
I got a text message today telling me to complete my shopping evaluation today. I Googled “Thomas James eBay gift card shopping scam,” and sure enough, it led me here as well as several other websites. I can’t decide if I want to respond to the text with links to all of the websites informing the public that this whole thing is a scam then block the number, or just block the number and say nothing in reply. I’m the type of person who likes to let people know that I know when they are trying to pull one over on me and that they are full of BS and, that they’ve been caught...again.
Oddly, the money order is dated 10/18/2019; I received it yesterday, 12/4/2019, almost 2 months old. It wasn’t just sent to me randomly; I seem to remember it being a pop up for a mystery shopper position, which are actual jobs, but it was my mom who noticed that payment would be made via money order or cashiers check which she pointed out as a red flag.
I’m so glad I found this website before doing anything further as I’m in a pretty desperate financial situation and may have easily fallen for this.
Thanks to everyone for their input!

Glad I checked this out first. I, too, was looking to make extra cash, but it obviously was too easy! Thanks for posting and sorry to those of you who got scammed.

Same thing just happen to me and I tried to put it in my acount and my bank wouldn't take it thank God . I'm going to take it back to my bank with the letter they sent with it so they can take care of it and I have to thank you guy's cause I was still trying to figure out how I could get it cashed it looks so real.

I received an email asking me to be a secret shopping for Whole Food markets. I'm glad I saw this web page.

My motto Is nothing comes free there is no such thing as free it always ends up costing you

Couldn’t you just go to like Walmart or meijer and cash the check rather than put it in your account?

I received a "cashier's check with an assignment letter saying to buy Best Buy gift cards ( 3 for $500 each ). Everything looked legit, BUT my daughter told me NOT to do anything without showing it to the police dept.!! I'm SO glad that I listened to her. I am a care-giver, living on a VERY small fixed-income, taking care of my mom, after a large stroke. I, CAN'T afford scams like this, and TRUST me, it looks VERY real. BEWARE!!!

I did apply for a secret shopper gig, and received my package yesterday. Me being stupid already deposited it. But everything in the letter and the bank and address check out. It doesn't tell me to send money anywhere, the only iffy thing on it is the sending pictures of the gift cards I got. The letter looks legitimate, but if it is a scam, which I'm assuming it is after reading these comments, how do I stop anything from happening? I already called my bank and tried to cancel the check but they said it would flag my account and whatnot and didn't cancel it. The funds aren't in my account, it says pending, but what should I do?

RED FLAGS: 1). a) There is a problem with address. I submitted in google maps, and Post Office Address Verification site the address that was listed under the sender info on the postal money order. It kept coming up AVENUE not STREET. For example, 124 Scam STREET, but it kept showing me 123 Scam AVENUE that tells me that 124 Scam STREET doesn't exist. OR it might come up as showing me 124 Scam Street instead of 123 Scam Street. b)There is a different name and return address on the front of the priority mail envelope than is on the postal money order and is different than any communication from the person working for the mystery shopping company. c) But even if the address is verified the name may not belong to that address. They have either used a house that is empty, or torn down and is an empty lot. They may have just made up a name or used a name they found as in identity theft. 2) If its too good to be real...it usually is. Getting paid a big amount of money just to go and buy two gift cards at two different places or whatever is a flag. Think about it...who is going to pay you 185 or 400 to go buy a couple of gift cards? 3) The postal money order looks soooo REAL...its got a watermark and everything! The post office has a site you can call to verify the serial numbers on the postal money order but it can ONLY check back 90 days, anything dated before that can't be verified. Postal money orders do NOT have an expiration date, so a REAL postal money order will be good indefinitely to be cashed in, BUT the scammers know that the post office can only go back 90 days so they use that to their advantage so the date on the postal money order will most likely be over 3 months old. 4) But they spent $3.50 with priority mail sending me the money order! They probably hacked someones priority mail account OR they actually paid for it themselves because think about how many people they send those to and quite a few people will go through with the whole thing so whats $3.50 in the big scheme of things for them if they stand to make a substantial amount of money off of you. 5). Unless you are well off who is going to be applying for a mystery shopper job on the internet.....people who need the money! And the scammers know you need the money, so they play on your emotions and needs. It is done a lot at Christmas when people are struggling to be able to buy presents, but they know people need money in March and August or any month of the year. This is what makes me the angriest of all, these scammers preying on people who need money because who doesn't? I'm sorry for all of you who this happened to whether you knew to check first or you actually got scammed. 6) Lastly, a lot of you said you were freaking out because you cashed the money order. You most likely WILL not get arrested or anything like that. You WILL however be on the hook for the money that you got from cashing the money order with your bank or check cashing store. They will want the money back bottom line because they ARE a business after all. They will freeze your account if at a bank until you pay it back. SOME banks might work something out with you paying it back or even forgive the amount if you talk to the manager of the bank. Check cashing stores will not allow you to cash any more checks with them and might even send it to collections. But talk to the manager at the check cashing store as well. I know this is not what you want to hear because it makes your broke situation even worse. And your only recourse is to report it to the FTC, the postal inspector, or some other agency. To keep this from happening in the future we need to press HARD on our Senators to FIx this problem. For every scammer that is caught and prosecuted, 100 or 1000 more crop up with even more sophisticated ways of scamming you. All you can really do in the end is to say to yourself....does this seem like too easy money to be getting paid for such a simple job? Why didn't they have me fill out a Tax form or a subcontractor tax form? Would you pay someone that amount of money for just cashing a money order and going and buying a couple of gift cards? Then check the internet for scams. You will find pages and pages of them.

Got a letter and check in the mail today to survey 2 Walmart stores near me. Check for $2400. I keep 400 and 50 for transportation. Buy gift cards 2 from each store and text (617)431-5202 pictures of the receipts and gift cards with numbers a scratched off. Must let them know I received the information and go purchase cards within 3 days. Ok packaging came from Florida but check is out of Georgia. And says my name but then under it Re: Debra Hudson and address. But the supposed Task Manager on the letter is Victor Milligan. Email: Feedback @ forrestersurvey.

I received an email saying that my application for secret shopper was approved and they will be sending me the evaluation package which includes instructional memo and first evaluation check plus my commission.

It made me believe that it was for real because the check looks like it's legit. First task was to deposit the check to my bank account and to text Grace Avery after depositing it which I eventually did. Good thing my bank told me that it may take a while for the funds to be available for them to verify or review. So I texted Grace to inform her that it may take 10 days for funds to be available. I never got a reply from her.

My question is, will I be in trouble with my bank after I deposited a fake check? I am really innocent about this stuff and can someone tell me what will happen to me then after depositing the check.

I can't have a peace of mind thinking that I deposited a fake check, please, can someone help me understand what's in store for me.

This will serve as a lesson for me and not to easily trust specially when it involves big amount of money.

I just got one from james mark (267) 507-7673 Tarra3n@ The amount was for $1960.65 They said 500. Was for me and wanted me to secret shop money gram for two people.
I knew was a scam threw it all away.. Thanks for listening and protecting people from these scammers.

Almost scammed too... But I quickly got on Google. I found out it's definitely a scammer. The bar part is it was referred to you by a legit site. Better safe than sorry. Nothing is free.

I just got one of these check. Isn't there a way to catch them?

I fell for the ole okey-doke. I have names and some addresses... I feel soooooo dumb...

I just received a check delivered from Fed ex for 4900.00 dollars. To be Wal-Mart secret shopper. Want me to get 4 1000.00 money orders to send back and keep the rest.

Yep, received one today in the mail, I was just looking for extra funds during the 4 weeks some of use have off during the holidays. Everything that is written on this scam in the comments is so true everything, the envelope arrived instructions, and the check, I’m not going to lie it looks so tempting I’m low in funds car repo, I have a conscious, don’t believe in taking something that don’t belong to me. Once I received it I google information this page came up thank you.

My mother in law just did this and had me drive her and send the pictures of the gift cards in. I didn’t do any research first. When I got home and started thinking it wasn’t right,I found this site. I them went on Walmart online and spent the gift cards since I had pictures of it and will return everything and get money back. One of the cards already had a $0 balance. But at least I saved her the majority of it! Thank you!

Omg - anybody get scammed by D&M Research - I just gave them my name phone number and email address

Just got a check thought it was true. But my son told me it was a scam. Thank goodness.

Something inside of me said that this couldn't be true. Same idea, here's a check for $2,900. Deposit into your bank account and send four money orders to the address listed in the letter. Then text us with the information that you completed the assignment. I am glad I decided to google this.
NO ONE GIVES YOU FREE MONEY!
This came through my college email as well. I took one look at the check and knew it was fake. I am just going to report it.

Just had someone try to run this on my - sends check for $2,200 - $400 for me to buy $1,800 gift cards Best Buy - When I called Pa bank, First Republic, they confirmed check was fake. "Andrew Poulaos" at 281-972-6651 was guy trying scam - of course hung up when confronted. hes also texted me from 508-689-5610 and email andrew_ opinion @ which was original contact.

Gartner with James had convinced my son that everything was good but with this person it was not. He was a fake and a very deceiving man. Beware it is a scam and you will lose your money to this crook. He will tell you lies such as send the eBay card picture back and front and you will be srcewed if you do. Everything this man tell you to do is in his favor not yours. DO NOT DO IT PLEASE!!! He tried to swindle by son out of money. But thank God he was unsuccessful. Thank God. This man is rich because of stupid money hungry Americans looking for money and jobs. Scam, Scam, Scam. This is not a legit business or job. Please run, run and do not be fooled. He is winning if you do not listen. He is running a scam on you. Yes, he is honey. Tell him to go to get the info from the devil because you are going to be stuck paying the bank back. You can not return the ebay cards either. He will tell you any lie to get what he wants which is money. He is a snake that is FAKE. Do not listen to him or you will regret it.

I just got two checks for $2350.00 each requesting I go to Wal-Mart and buy gift cards, this was after I got groceries from Wal-Mart pick up nd thought the email looked legit. Well I am not doing it of course but should I take the checks to a bank or should I just rip them up??

We just received a check for $3,000 and letter from someone pretending to offer my wife a secret shopper job offer. It felt like a scam from the first minute, and lo and behold, it was. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Thanks for the information and the heads up.

just received a priority envelope with a cashiers check from credit union of texas for 2500. i was told to go to ebay and walmart and purchase gift cards. if i did within 24 hours of receiving the package i would make an extra 100 on top of the 400 for payment. they told me to buy in different increments of 500 200 and 100. i would then fill out a survey and send it to a (617) 6520169 email customerserviceanalysis 45@ Barry Foster. so glad i found this thread. REMEMBER IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY ISNT.

I got two emails from some random so called eBay hiring manager they sent me a 2400 cashiers check. Said to buy eBay gift cards and send picture of the back to some random person and I just laughed when I opened it. Cuz if it were a real check I could just cash it at the local Wal-Mart or Freddy or safeway. I took it to the cops.

Besides the FBI also report to the USPS postal inspectors as this is mail fraud and a Federal offense.

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