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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

If you think you’ve been targeted by a counterfeit check scam, report it to the following agencies:

Thank you for the tips! Did the scammers who sent my $2,999.99 check & “surveyor assignment“ via FedEx break any laws on par with mail fraud? If not, these folks are learning & evolving.

This happened to me today except that I went to a check cashing store they couldn't verify the check I sent a text message and an e-mail didn't get a reply and the check cashing place immediately wanted to call the police and insisted I leave the store and they added me to their do not cash checks list I am mortified and livid. I have been on the phone reporting to every possible place I can report and then I just got a text message back a few minutes ago saying the check is not fake. I said, "you are a fraud, you will be found -good luck.

So was I - happened just a few days ago. I reported it to the authorities. But sadly, the reason why these people have not been caught yet is because the police refuse to do anything about it and the FTC and FBI are only taking reports yet not actively pursuing the criminals.

I received an email from an email address believed to be a principal at another school in the district i worked. I signed up for it and received a text that i would be sent information in the mail. I came home yesterday to find the check in my mail box and very detailed instruction. I immediately became suspicious. I thought who would send me a check for that amount of money trusting me to do the job and send them money an they don't even know me. I texted the number and told them I received the mail but was nervous about the check. I got an text back asking why. I told them I was concerned if it was legitimate and I received a ext stating it was but I'm not that gullible so I decided to do a little more research and found this information... I knew it was too good to be true!!

I have a long list of phone numbers calling for different reasons plus jobs, large amounts of money left to me all I need to do is send money to get it I just write scamer and send back last call I got wants my banking information number is 323-786-7060 no name no information

Thank goodness for the FTC being on the job and alert to the latest schemes & scams. Great job. Thank you!

any scam alerts about skype? I heard you can get hacked by skype easy

Have had a couple phone calls regarding Irs trying to get in touch with me regarding a lawsuit

That’s a scam people pretend to be the irs and charge your phone bill for calling back them they try to get info from you to scam you more

I have had the same call even to my job many times

The IRS will only send a letter, not calls. Do not call back or give information. I reported the phone number and blocked the phone number.

The problem with this is, every time you get this call....it comes up as a different number. EVERY time. These people have some kind of tool to show on your caller ID, a LOCAL number, that way there is a bigger chance of you picking up.

I have had too many to count for that scam. I don't answer the calls and immediately block their phone number.

Are you still doing the lawsuit regarding IRS scam? If you are I'm interested in the lawsuit.

I put my resume on Career Builder and get an offer from a company asking me to be a Mystery Shopper. I checked to see if it was a real company and it was. So I applied. Then when they sent me the 2nd email I knew that they were a scam. They sent me a check in the amount of $3935 and they wanted me to put this check in my bank. I contacted the Local Police Department but was told this is not a crime and was told to inform these people to just stop communicating with me. They then started to threating me. I still have the check and they have now finally stop texting me.

You can Block that number from your cell phone.

Blocking the call with my phone company only allows 5 FREE Blocked calls. Then I have to start blocking them by going into my phone settings and blocking them myself. When that no longer works, have been advised to contact the FTC! Which I have done. Only good thing about these good for nothing people is that there is a place for them one day!

Thanks!

Give checks to your bank for collection. Don't try to deposit them, however. They should ask for any other paperwork that came it and how it came to you and why. It can be send to the FBI. Writing fake checks is a crime. The more checks they get, the chances increase that people will get caught. Do your best to not touch the check much, in case they left finger prints.

I recently had the same thing happen. Do I contact the FBI or let the bank take actions?

Nov.2010, I was new in the country, I didn't know that scammers in USA are more than Africa. I received 5 checks of $970.00 each which I deposit at Chase bank and after 3 days they allow me to withdraw amounts, but they come back to me after several weeks.
Wish to know what we can do when we receive false checks with big amounts??

Some people destroy the fake checks, some people give them to staff at a bank or a local police office. If you receive a check by postal mail, you can give it to someone at your post office, because they investigate mail fraud.

Thanks Bridget for this info. Will be on the way to my P.O. tomorrow with my $2,900.38 check! Hope they will investigate but suspect there are so many of these misfits sending out these big checks there will be little the P.O. will be able or will do! They will eventually be caught though and when they are, I hope authorities will fine them for every fraudulent check they sent out AND in the exact each time that their checks were written for....PLUS jail time!

Even when a real company asks for a Western Union Shop I just delete it. Better safe than sorry.

Thank you for the information.

Fake checks deserve fake gift cards.

Save your used up and expired gift cards. Send them those numbers!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA

I once got a check for the secret shopper job for $ 19,000.00. It was drawn on a Wells Fargo Bank! Not only did I not ” cash” it I went to a Wells Fargo Bank with it. The poor employee went nuts. You didn’t try to cash this did you? No, I just brought it to you to see it! I then shredded it....what a scam!

I was also taken by this scam...they are so smart that they even sent me a contract for employment. It was an energy company.

I've seen many opportunities to be a Secret Shopper at Walmart. Continous IRS threatning lawsuits,Thanks for the heads also. Keep up the good work.

I use to get calls like this all the time but i never acted on any of them.but the only way i was able to stop the calls from coming i start telling them i accept cash only.

I was scammed by this dude called himself Marcos Coletti, a real scammer with the fake job offer, I-Tunes, Amazon Gift cards theft ring. STAY CLEAR, BE VERY CAREFUL!

i just got scammed doing this is there any way for me to fight this i don't have the money to give back to the bank ?

You are responsible for the checks you deposit. If you deposited a fake check and withdrew money, you must repay the bank for the money you withdrew. You could talk to someone at the bank about repayment and report the scam.

I'm sitting here with a check for a $1,000.00
Very tempting, down on cash, but ever thing about it said SCAM.
Glad I came to this web site first.
As the the saying goes, if it's sounds to good to be true,
then it truly is to good to be true.

I got 4 checks, $2,500,$3,500, $5,000 &$9,000. I sent the largest back to sender. It came back to me with undeliverable, no such address. The 2 smaller ones had the same return and the other a PO Box. Thank God I didn't fall for it. Then I got the one from the Federal Reserve Bank.a go back to school grant. I think they are getting names from public records of anyone who has ever used a form of public assistance.

THANKS, FOR THE INFOS. Werner

When I had some items up for sale on the Internet, after communicating with a gentleman for weeks, we agreed on a price. I told him I would not send the items to him until I received the money. A week later he sent me a check for $3500 more than we had agreed on, so I went to my bank and gave them the check , only to find out it was a scam. I learned very quickly.

Just had the same scam attempted on me. $2750 sent to be a Mystery Shopper. Used a lumber company address and SunTrust bank on the check. I called the company and they asked for it to be sent in. They have had this happen before. Fake checks using legitimate companies on the check with address and all...

You can help law enforcement by reporting your experience to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

The comments you put here on the blog don’t go into the law enforcement database.

I get those "work at home" emails and other weird looking emails which I DON"T OPEN. You figure if someone really wants to hire you, etc., they can send you a letter. This gives you leverage in hand. FTC is just great in offering emails explaining all the scams old & new. I subscribe and read diligently to keep safe.

Free cell phone use medicaid card, SCAM conspiracy from NAtionalGrid in NY with scammer IDT and other are really killing people pocket book. Nationalgrid still keep saying their SMART SCAN work well, this dump ideas make VC laught..

Should I get rid of the free phone. Please reply back?

First of all, legitimate Mystery Shopping companies DO NOT pay you in advance. Secondly, the way it works is you use your money first, submit your report and they will refund you the money. There's no advance money.

There ARE real secret shopper companies; I have worked for them and received pay for the jobs I took. They NEVER ask for any money from you; they send you money for doing the secret shop. It was fun and you get some free meals etc. when you review their clients who are fast food chains.

I received a check ALLEGEDLY written against a valid Missouri bank from a real business. I googled the bank and the business to verify as I didn't know why I received the check. It was made out to someone with a similar name but addressed to me.
I called the business's Accounts Payable Manager and she confirmed they've had calls coming in for days. I emailed the check copy, the scammer emails and then the text messages from him! Hope they contacted the FBI!

I just reported which I received in the mail and think it is a total scam. but forgot to put in user name so don't know if it got sent. The website which I did not go to is www. BankCodeProfits. com It claims you put certain codes in and then will receive money from banks. It also states will talk to you soon when you visit the web-site. It came from a Jim Samson 1220 Winter Garden Vineland Road Winter Garden Fl.34787

I have called the banks that the checks were issued from and reported them as fraud, as many of the checks were frauds.

I have encountered many scammers and have been vocal in catching them. It is sad to say that it takes one dumb move and realize how bad the company or people were.

Thank you so much for reporting on these scams. So many calls,letter,therats on voice mail it's a war zone out there. I'm about out of blocking call space.

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