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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

Unfortunately, I have gotten scammed a couple of times. I I deposited a check and it cleared my bank and unfortunately I am in the hole For about $2600. My checking account has been closed and I am no longer able to open a checking account. They are saying that there is fraud listed under my name. I am disabled and am still receiving Receiving checks and money orders. I have learned from previous mistakes and reported this to the banks and USPS. In all I think I have received a total of $10000 in checks and/or money orders. There are some evil, dishonest people in this world!

Rcvd a check for $2420 to be a Secret Shopper for WholeFoods from a Scott Potter. I had previously replied to what appeared to be a legit advertisement for a secret shopper job. I was glad I took the time to research this because it is obviously a scam. They wanted me to buy $2000 worth of Nike gift cards. DIRT BAGS!

Same thing occurred to me today out of the blue. I had already said all of this when I read the scam note. You really have to put the pieces together 1) you deposit check 2) Shop and get Gift Cards then scratch off the information and give it to them 3) They have all the info they need to shop online 4) Check doesn't clear and you're on the line for thousands. These people never stop with trying to take advantage of people. They actually wasted money and time by sending me a priority mail envelope.

I received a check for $2800 to buy gifts cards at 2 different Walmarts after I deposit it. I was then to take pictures of the cards to send to a certain number. I was to use some of the money on personal purchases for payment. Fortunately, I was unable to complete the task and tried to notify the sender that I had a problem. No answer on any numbers or emails. The return address on the letter is the wife of a state representative in a northwestern state.

Just received a check also contacted Walmart as to how to handle I saved the envelope

I just received a Priority Mail Envelope by USPS with a $2,420.62 check by SAFE CREDIT UNION, RE: Bruce Foggy along with a Customer Service Evaluation Assignment.. Which stated for me to follow these exact steps.. first confirm the receipt a package at the email they provided to me second deposit the check at my own bank third complete assignment within 12 hours will earn me $250 bonus and within 24 hours will earn myself a bonus of $150 next I need to visit Family Dollar, Sams club etc. And purchase for eBay gift cards at the amount of $500 each. Then after I purchase the cards I open the pack and pull the silver scratch off area on the card capture the image of the card front and back it says please do not discard the cards as they will be used for forthcoming assignments and then I am to give the details of the store name address date and time of visit name of cashier. And I am to give all this information along with the pictures of the eBay gift cards via email they provided to me. and they also said to not let the cashier know that I am a secret surveyor if the cashier asks.. the email which was provided on the letter I received with the check is (surveyreportteam@ ) Knowing that nothing comes free to you in life I am not going to do anything with this check at this time but if any of you could respond to me and let me know if you know for sure this is a scam I’d really appreciate it , Thank You

Got a email from them today actually was a text message beware

I responded to one text, got 2 checks. $2600 and $1995. Very adamant i complete the assignment right away. David Murphy speaks terrible English, can only contact via text. Not suspicious at all. Asked him why so anxious, is it a scam? He stopped texting me, lol. Other one has good English skills, insistent I do this right away. Told him waiting until check clears. See how long he will wait.

My mom just received a certified letter for this scam. It totally looks real until I googled it and found this site. Thanks for posting. I didn't think it was a good idea just because of COVID 19 and she's 91 with diabetes.

Yes I have been scammed many times by these survey shopper sites. I had recently signed up for one online that is said to be a legitimate company. I was wondering if anyone had received a Trustmark check from any scammers that looks as if they tore it out of a check book and it has the right routing number for the bank and even the security features included within the check? I’m so scared about stuff like this but I do have a Trustmark bank that’s close and I was going to double check with them but do you guys have any receipts payments from Trustmark bank with all the right security features in it but still was a scam? Please let me know if any of y’all could help me out. Thanks in advance. I seen how all the others I had received before were fake but this one is really darn good if it’s a scam. Everything the banks have told me to check looks pretty legit.

So I did my checking and found out the check is a scam. Thankfully I checked out this web site! Can't believe I almost feel for this. Please beware of easy monies. And mystery shops. Do all the research you can before you move forward.

I just received a check in the mail for $1,882.43 lol told to buy 3 $500.00 gift cards take pictures and text message a picture of the gift cards front and back and
$370.00 of that money is mine to keep lol scam alert.

I recently received one of these letters and a check for $2490.00 to do secret shopping at Wal-Mart and CVS for loadable money cards.i also received a text message from them telling me to del.the check it was good to go.I of course went to website of company they are using to scam people and quickly found out about the scam being used.You never get money for nothing and always research the company it came from.I have no idea how they got my name or address or my phone numb.so beware of things you open on the internet.Tore up check and threw it away.

Just received a check for 3345, asking for 3 money orders from walmart. SMH.

I just got one check to mystery shop 2900.00 dustintsylor name on paper

Just received a check from Active Datafocus inc asking me to deposit the check and than purchase E-bay gift cards. I knew it was a scam when they asked me to buy gift cards. The check is a cashier's check from J.P. Morgan bank.

I received a Priority Mail Envelope today with a check inside for $2,575.oo to do the Mystery Shopping Scam. But the check was written on Northeast Manufacturing Co. that also has Salem Five Banking Insurance Investments on it. I worked at a bank for years and recognize these scams. The last one I reported to the local police but nobody wanted to hear about it so it was ignored and now I have another one.

My daughter received a $2940 check today in a priority mail envelope. The scam was thanking here for applying for a mystery shopper position. they use the name MSPA Agency. There is a legit company called MSPA America. The instructions tell you to deposit the check, take your $540 salary and then take the remaining 2500 and go to Walmart and buy 5 $500 kroger gift cards. They tell you to not tell the clerk anything and to keep the cards in a safe place and email them your completed form. They don't tell you at that point that they will ask for the cards or copies of the cards showing the numbers. Like really, a clerk will wonder will question anyone spending 2500 on another merchant card. And even if you have an epiphany, you more than likely have already spent that $540. So when the check comes back bad, you are screwed big time. My late mother got sued by her back and charged with a felony for a similar scam that wss $7000

Received a text yesterday advising me to be on the lookout for a priority mail to do “mystery shopper” work with. Shop at 2 Walmart’s, and purchase $2400 worth of gift cards. Check for 2800 from Bank of Texas. Contact is a John Stewart HR Manager.

They’ve added to the list of things the things they want you to observe including “Is social distancing observed at the store which generally helps to curb the spread of COVID-19” and “we’re you offered hand sanitizers and/or was your body temperature measured.”

However, they didn’t list an actual company that John is working for and the supposed email is an aol email (despite being printed on a gmail email print). All added up to being too fishy for me. Not sure whether to contact FTC or the local police department, though the check looked real, it didn’t have a company name on it or who it was.

A few days ago I kept getting texts I was getting money in the mail and some thing about secret shopping and then lo and behold I get a FedEx with a check from the valley plastics company in Toledo Ohio for $3345 I’m supposed to deposit it wait till it clears the next day take out 3000 go purchase three $1000 money orders from Walmart leave them blank supposed to be evaluating the employees and try to ruffle the feathers of the attendant anything about raising them I’m supposed to send to this person called Matt Powell who is supposed to be my supervisor on this at 657-549-4 660 send the things overnight to the address he’ll provide me afterI confirm the money orders The check is from a valley plastics company in Toledo Ohio drawn on Waterford bank and a McCord Road in Toledo Ohio this is a scam isn’t it I’m sure it is

I recently received in the mail from the Post Office a large envelope saying that it was important. So I opened it and enclosed was a letter along with a check for $ 2,575.00 and to do a secret shopper survey for CVS Pharmacy and Wal-Mart. And that I had to buy a gift card first for $500 and ask how I was treated. Found out that this was a scam so I destroyed the check and the letter. I am going to report this to the BBB.

Darn it! I’m usually more savvy than this, but I got this scam in a text that appeared to be from Whole Foods signed from “Project Manager - David Mark”. I am enrolled in Whole Foods’ rewards program with my cell number, so it made it seem more legit that they would have my cell number and my permission to text me. I clicked the link and provided my basic info online before going back and reading the text more closely, growing suspicious and googling it to find this post. I’m glad I caught on before they gave me any checks or instructions, but I’m kicking myself for even filling out their form. They’ll probably spam me for years now. Ergh.

I received a check in the mail of $2452.61. It says I need to go to Walmart, Walgreens, Target, ect. and buy $50, $100, $200 or $500 gift cards. Then send a pic of all the numbers. I would get compensated $352.61. At the bottom of the letter it says, "You are not to make either the cashier at the bank or anyone aware that you are carrying out an evaluation. Make sure you execute this assignment in a timely manner, no later than 2 days after you receive the Check and Instruction Letter." PLUS they keep texting me to do this assignment! I'm glad I know this is a scam. Poor people who fall for this...

I'm getting very upset with these scammer I have been receiving checks for a while from them and I deposited it cleared and I assumed it was good to with draw part of it and now I am in dept and I will turn everything into the authority Ii still don't know how the bank could clear. It if it was not good. I waited to see if it was good before I withdraw it

well the scam is going around again.
I came home tonight looking at my mail and wa-la I had a check for $2950.00 and a check for $1950.00.
Instructions to deposit the check from m&t bank, and it all came priority 3 day mail from USPS

So beware they are at it again

so i just recieved a check as well with an instruction letter that looked as though a it was made on an outdated word document saying to deposit sum of 2950.62 into my bank keep 400 and then purchase 5 gift cards and then scratch the back pin and send picture proof and if done in timely manner id get a 200 bonus next time i knew it was a scam because they wanted me to purchase gift cards and send them the info to use them red flag here ive done secrect shopping this is not how it works so i didnt cash the check im taking it to the police department but iam gonna have fun and scam the scammers i have some old gift cards from my birthday so im gonna send them those let see how they like it !!!

I was just sent a check for 2600 in mail and told to shop Walmart and buy 1000$ worth of gift cards and another 1000 at another Walmart. I feel it's fake and though almost 500$ of that money it would be nice but I think it's a scam

I'm ever so greatful for this site!!! My husband received a cashiers check in the amount of $1,995.00 issued from Hawaii Community FCU a few days ago along with a mystery shopper instructional letter advising him to text to 317-449-9672 once info. been received. They wanted him to purchase 4 gift cards at Wal-Mart @ $405.00 each along with other purchases. I actually called the bank in Hawaii and talked with a representative which stated the cashiers check is a scam and they were aware of the situation. I'm glad we did the research before moving forward.

I received a check of $3345 from Waterford Bank, with the instruction to buy 3 money orders of $1000 each and mailed it to the address Mr Peter Seibert my supervisor will provide,once I text him that i deposited the check. I did not deposit the check. Thanks for the feedback

I received a check yesterday for 2450.00. I was instructed to text someone when I received it. It said it wanted me to go cash the check then to go to two different Walmart’s and purchase 5. 200.00 walmart gift cards at each walmart totaling 2.,000.00 and then to scratch them and take a picture of them and send it to someone’s phones and then I could keep the 450 remaining and that I would be instructed on what to do with the gift cards on my second job. I knew it was a scam soon as they said scratch and send them the codes. People watch out!! It is a Fraud

Yes this information was sent to home, We knew this was fake so we rip it up and burned it.

My sister and I just received a check from American Express to be their secret shopper . It ask us to cash the check. The check was issued by Members First Community Credit Union. Its for $2390.73. The instructions ask to confirm the receipt of the letter and check with ht@ branch sresearch. and questionnaires will be sent to me. The Fedex mail looks so legitimate. But I'm not cashing and definitely not depositing it in my account.

I just received a check fro
1st members credit union signed by elizabeth tlacho check number263195 this people should be in jail

Hook Line and sinker.

$2600 was the check amount.

Walmart gift cards bought by me...

What a sucker I was.

Now my bank account and my reputation is ruined.

Just received a CSET Survey for Whole Foods with a Check for $2,950. Requesting me to purchase Nike Gift Cards. Thank God I saw this thread before going to the store

Glad I read this forum . Have a texting
me today purporting to want
me to pay his Walmart workers. wants
to know if Ive Paypal or cashapp to pay
their workers thru

Mom received this over a month ago and just opened it. From snap 360. Now if it was a fake check from work or 401 with my name, I’d prob fall for it. But this? I thought about praying this was a real number, cashing the check Instead of depositing it, and taking off with the money and not doing any of the gift card stuff. That’s what they get for scamming. But then I realized these names on these checks are real people. Who might lose money. And could try to kill you or sue you over $5500. They have been scamming me for years and I’ve been trying to collect as much proof as possible. Very hard. When they target you, it’s very tightly clad and they forward your calls. Always one church involved.

I just received a check from Pennsylvania for $2400. They asked me to buy $1000 dollars in gift cards and send a $1000 money gram while being a secret shopper. I would be paid $400 dollars for my help. I was supposed to text a number or email. Taking pictures of the cards and send them to the number.

I also received a referral through LinkedIn from a trust business partner to make extra money through secret shopping and that he has referred me to Connected Response Research Alliance and they sent me a check for $1868 and was told to keep $350 as my compensation. I electronically deposited the check but Thank God, did my research without going through the assignment. I found this warning and called my bank to report it. They said even if I get charged $12 for returned check, they will reimburse back. LinkedIn is a trusted space and it is disheartening that they hack into peoples accounts for that purpose. I feel bad for all that fell for this and wish more can be done to stop these activities. I was spared.

Just got the same scam this morning. USPS Priority Mail. Cashiers Check. Mystery Shopping at CVS. Wants me to purchase AMEX cards for $500 each. Hr@ Darwin Whitton is the name on the letter. Shell Federal Credit Union is the Cashier's Check. Check for $2390.73. Commission was $295. Scam!

I just got the same letter from Darwin Whitton and same amount but the check is from PENFED CREDIT UNION

Received the same type of thing today- From Darwin Whitton, same amount but the check is from Penfed Credit Union. I hope no elderly gat caught up in that scam.

same here smh! I from darwin whitton, check from shell federal credit union $2390

I just got the same scam from our buddy Darwin. Totally tick me off because I could use the money right now. Darwin has been texting me insisting I complete the task. He's about to get a piece of my mind...

I rcvd a $2,500 cashier check and were supposed to deposit it, then purchase gift cards, take pics of the cards, and email the pics to the sender. Their correspondence never actually provided the name or address of the business. I was suspicious, of course, and googled "CUSTOMER SERVICE EVALUATION TOOL" - that was the title of the letter that came with the check, and "$2500 cashier check". The search quickly found the info on this FTC site. So I still have the check... wish I could figure out a way to bring justice to the people that sent it!

I just received a check for $2700 today telling me to get girtcards and take pics and send them to her and she gave me her number. Is there any way we can get her busted by having her phone number?

I just received a cashier's check from a fake company called "Inter Link" . After doing a little research I can tell it's fraud! Be aware of this Company

Received this scam "secret shopper" text from 281-627-6247:
Happy Sunday !! Realways ® is starting  an exceptionally huge research project in your area. This project happens each week, so we have to select Shoppers to function as a store evaluator. You will get $400-$550 on every task. Every task requires 20-30 minutes of time at the store in addition to time to review your post-visit reports. CLICK THE LINK BELOW TO PROCESS YOUR APPLICATION: / 123formbuilder. -5456823

Regards Manager - Global Operations Daniel Scott You will expresses gratitude toward us for this.

I received a check for over $2600.00 today offering me what seemed to be a cool job to have. I went to bank to verify it was indeed a scam and it was. This is still happening people, PLEASE BEWARE

I received a check in the mail today for 2,620.00 from national Penn Bank and wanted me to text Marcin cells on 352_900_1336 after deposit has been made.i called the number and its a texting app number , no one dont respond and a email marcincelinski89 @

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