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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

I applied for a job as well with a search engine online and got sent something similar. I deposited but never got any money iff of the check bc i researched the Ebony Marketing Company and it was a legitimate company so i waited. My bank called me that afternoon and said it was fraud wouldnt return the check so i could file a police report and closed my bank acct. Ive had my husband check not counted as a result and the bank still got ne owing them to which im now filing a lawsuit bc of the treatment I recieved from the general manager there but I was never asked to do anything like by gift cards. Just do a store survey!

I am surprised that you guys are letting people know about this now. I was scammed by these people back in 2009. the central Florida of educator bank charged me $25 when they acknowledged they are aware of this cam. they treated me like a criminal everytime I come to the branch until I demanded to speak to a manager as a victim

Got a call saying they were from Microsoft and my computer had a virus and they need to log into my computer to fix it but I knew it was a scam so I told them no and I ran my Norton security and there was no virus. It was a scam and they would have messed up my computer and charged to fix it.

This happened to me a few years ago however I researched the bank the check was drawn on and what do you know there was no such account. Be very careful!

I received an opportunity to make $100,000 a year or more. After realizing it was too good to be true, I deleted it and the other "opportunities" they have sent to me. If it is too good to be true---it's not.

I have done Mystery shopping for two real companies. I'd be lucky to get $50.00 + a product sample per trip. Anybody that offers you 1,000's of dollars is an immediate fake. You never get paid until you finish the shopping assignment and fill out the company questionnaires. And yes, plus some shopping expenses.

I would get these at work all the time to deliver. It got to the point that I wouldn't even deliver them and just give them to my supervisor. I could easily tell what they were. One individual tracked me down and I spent like 15 minutes convincing him that it was a scam and how it worked. He thanked me for helping him out. He was struggling financially as it was.

I’m in the middle off a scam right now just finished reporting it to the FTC. But the scammer “David Pullman” wanted a MTCN and I was wondering if there was a way to make a fake receipt or a fake MTCN number that The authorities could trap and somehow catch this guy

I was just sent a check from a "Philip Pullman" he wants me to deposit a check and but 2 Iphone X that are unlocked. He wont tell me where he wants me to send the phones until I deposit the check..

Yeah I got something from him also what's he's email or number I want to report it so it gets blocked

This is really scary - I like to think I am savvy enough to recognize a scam, but honestly the scams get more and more sophisticated every day. Please keep up the good work. We need someone watching out for us.

"If a deal seems too good to be true it usually is."

Thank you
I have only one message concerning a businessman Bruce Moriss who is currently in Malaysia and would like to have the money for his work and allegedly they do not pay in the hand but he must there account and he needs from me 1000 €. Well he can not come if I do not pay him that.
where he allegedly already has the ticket for today.
A businessman doing business and having no money.
No thanks.

I was a victim as well and then prosecuted for forgery as if I knew about this but it was dismissed after a long battle. Although I was still convicted of failure to appear on this charge that was dismissed. We need justice overhaul badly in Texas . I have never been more humiliated in my life .

Please don't tell me that the FTC can be scammed too. I got a check a couple of weeks ago from the FTC for a refund for over payment of something I had ordered online. Was it legit because the bank took it and said it went thru but that doesn't make any difference obviously.

Brob55 Got a check for 3100 told to keep 500 for myself and the rest will be used for a decal for my vehicle for Dr Pepper.Still have the check and the so called instructions.If I send this to you maybe it will help you get these creeps

You can help law enforcement and report this to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations. You can't send the paper check, but if you received the the instructions in an email, you could copy the email and add it to the complaint you file online with the FTC.

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

I saw something on my Paypal Account about a week or so and keep looking at it and try to called PayPal too and really got it item and I was right SOME ONE DID A FRAUD ON ME That they want their money back and actually had my Paypal account money I had in there A SCAM ME OUT OF MY MONEY CLAIMING A SOLD THEM SOME GOODs AND ACUALLY PUT A CASE AGAINST ME AND I KNOW THIS WAS A CRIME AND BIG FRAUD CAUSE I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE SOLD NOTHING ONLINE EVER ON EBAY OR ANYWHERE AND I DO NOT EVEN A SELLING ACCT WHICH ANY WEBSITE like EBAY I ONLY BUY THINGS NEVER SOLD NOTHING AND I AM ABOUT REALLY TO TURN THIS SCAM - PUT CRIME CHARGES ON

Thank You FTC. Theres nothing worse than scumbag scammers who want something for nothing. They need to get caught and put in jail for a minimum of 5 years, or longer

Always make a copy of the check. If it's fake you'll see VOID all over the copy!! Then turn it all into the FTC and the Post Office. Too bad the Bank doesn't do this simple thing. Would save everyone alot of trouble.

Thank you for that comment, I didn't know this. About a year ago someone tried to scam me with an ad to make money by putting a wrap around my car. I answered the ad, realized it was a scam and then had an interesting couple of weeks seeing how far the scammers would go with me continually saying no, no, no. They said they were going to send a check, we said we did not want it. They sent it. We called our Bank who said the check is fine just bring it in. We told the bank the check is no good and the bank said yes it is we just checked it, please deposit it. Had we known about photocopying the check to see if it's real, we wouldn't have had to deal with the bank. As to the scam, we told the police department who didn't care at all, and we sent in a report to the FTC. I still have the complete texts in my phone

I get those emails at least 3 times a day, that dosen't include the phone calls from telemarketers.

I have caller ID. I NEVER(NEVER) answer a telephone call unless I recognize the phone number,name ,their voice message. I never (NEVER) call them back.

I just got my second Facebook messenger hack. They pretend to be the person that messenged you and then tell you about How to relieve grants for anything imaginable. I told him I had already knew he had hacked her and was using i text her a told her to Change her pass words. I also told him to quit creeping around and go get a real job!! He said he was hungry, I told him he must have food, you have a cell phone !!

Since 3/23/2018 I've kept track of unwanted and scam calls. 13 through 5/19/2018. The most frequent is from Computer Tech Support. Different people call using different words, but always wanting access to my computer. There are also robo calls from Elizabeth of Credit Cards Reward Center, Veronica, Credit Card Account, and Can you hear me okay?

My Bank Statements , showed some small amounts were being pilfered from my Bank Account , they always start with small amounts at first , and if you do not question these small charges , they rob your account for larger amounts..My Bank Restored The Amount's in excess of $1,000 and changed my Bank Account Number...Once you report the theft , the Bank will not make a reimbursement , due to the fact that if you learn about the "Scam" and do not immediately complain , they say that "Re-occurrence" is not the Bank's Fault , because it is up to the Bank Customer , to check their monthly Bank Statements very carefully & do a reconciliation of their own accounts , and the Bank cannot be held responsible ! Therefore , I urge everyone , to check their monthly Bank Statement's with a fine-tooth comb , and beware of "Pay Plan" , which is the most often used , by scammer's to scam your personal and business accounts...

I was scammed by someone claiming to be from AppleCare and using their telephone number. Apple never calls their customers. Found out too late !!!

My daughter got scammed on Care.com. They said they were moving to our area from out of town w/ a handicapped child. They mailed her a large check to buy a wheel chair. They pressured her to cash it & once she did, they had her wire money to the wheelchair seller. She saw the check had cleared so figured it was ok. Two weeks later the check bounced. If it seems too good to be true, it is!

I got repeated pop ups on my computer advertising driver update from slim ware. I recently decided to try the drive update and made a purchase online using my credit card. I was directed to call someone to activate the software for me....That was when my problem started. he convinced me to share my screen and after that, my hard drive crashed. The slimware have ripped me off and crashed my system

Tired of all the scam calls for IRS & Law suits does any one have the do not call number.

Here's a link to the Do Not Call registry.

Received a counterfeit check along with a secret shopper letter with instructions. The check was for 2300.00 drawn on a Directions Credit Union. I, of course did not cash it, but wanted to make a complaint. I wish these people would put as much effort in finding a real job as they do trying to rip innocent people off.

You can report the check 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.

Scammers sending checks via US Postal Service (USPS) are committing mail fraud, so report such letters/checks to the local Post Master.

Just as ridiculous is the recaptcha images used here by the US FTC - images with signs in what appears to be German. LOL!

Hello all. I am a Fraud Analyst for a Credit Union, I see scenarios like these on the daily unfortunately. When in doubt about a check, please contact the bank the item is drawn on. That financial institution should be able to tell you if the item is legitimate or not. But bottom line, no one is just going to send you money, especially when you did not request it. As the saying goes, "If it is too good to be true, it probably is!" Good luck to all.

Nataly,

I called the bank that is listed on the fake check I received and they refused to verify any of the information. But I did google the name of the company on the check, and used the phone# from their website to contact them. They are aware of the fake checks being sent. They have closed that account, to protect themselves. I always want to verify if something unexpected appears. The poor guys who sent me a text asking if I received the information are going to be annoyed as hell at me, because I keep asking them questions to verify information. It'll be fun.

But I do plan on filing a report, online with FTC, with the police (hopefully I can do part of that online). I can't really with the post office, since my envelope came via FedEx, but I can let FedEx know about the label.

I was glad to see the State Attorney mentioned on Time Share article. There are scams on top of scams and our government is not taking action to protect us. Sending a communication alerting consumers that may or may not be subscribed to the FTC is not the answer. I was scammed of $11,000 with the Mistery Shopper scam. Rules for banking by the FTC were not followed by the bank yet I ended up paying for the scam. First of all I am a veteran and served my Country for 7 years riding in submarines and away from civilization. I believe in Capitalism and think is the best system around. However, it is the role of government to protect it’s citizens from harm abroad and domestic. How can banks say is your problem if you are scammed. How about the banking industry adapting a check verification system???? Mom and Pop shops have them to minimize fraud. Our banks especially the big ones have trillions in assets. With over 84,000 branches across the USA the cost of implementing this safe guard to PArOTECT consumers won’t even register as a cost at $.16-$.25 per check verification. Lets do the right thing for our citizens. When banks wanted to charge ATM fees they hot what they wanted. Lets remember is our money that makes the macro economy work and banks to thrive.

I have right now a check for $3628 to deposit in my bank and wire money........ No way jose

I was on LinkedIn and I responded to doing a mystery shop. I have worked for Mystery Shoppers before so I thought LinkedIn was on the up and up. I received an express mail package with instructions and a $2900 Community Credit Union out of Houston, TX. I was supposed to buy eBay cards that I was to take pictures and send to Radius Global Market Research. I did nothing with the check.

I looked up the bank 800 number on the check, and they thanked me and had me send photos.
I was to buy eBay cards and send to them. The bank said the crocks would use the numbers on the eBay cards and buy on eBay. For my bank would have cashed the check and then later discover it was fraud.
They want you to go to your bank for it would cash it before realizing it was fraud.
I have no idea how they got my address to send this to me.

I get at least one of these secret shoppers cashier checks once a week ! This is Crazy ! There should be something done about this , maybe there is! I mean this gets old ! Hope every last one of these low life's are caught . And should be punished to the max ! Evenditenly they are not or there wouldn't be so many of them ! Come on people . REALLY....

In regards to Mystery Shopper scam, on May 22, I received a cashier's check for $2,294 (via Priority Mail) and a letter w/assignment to wire 2 money people in Chicago (all of money except $365) -- which I could keep as compensation. I reported this scam to the FTC and my State Attorney General's office. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.

My husband and I have been scammed recently by someone or a merchant! Someone was able to withdraw $75 from our WellsFargo checking account with recurring payments of that amount. We reported and got reimbursed, but had to get all new cards because the account is compromised. The weird part is the bank has no idea who the thief is and couldn’t tell us so we don’t shop with that merchant anymore. My husbands Cap One has also been compromised from charges for Apple ITunes. He doesn’t have an IPhone and never uses the Apple App period. His account was compromised, they sent a new card only to have new charges for Apple ITunes before he even activated the new card. So Cap One is sending the second card because they have no idea how this is happening. We think it’s an inside job from the company’s. So everyone look at your online checking and savings for unrecognized charges because the thieves are getting more and more savvy with all their scams.

Just received two checks from an address in New York for a mystery shopper opportunity. Checked the address - it's a home for sale. Called Service Sense as well and they confirmed the scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Got another check for.a mystery shopper. 2600 plus. Amazing why can't anybody put these people out of business ? Who do I turn this stuff into?

We encounter these scams quite frequently. 4 today at my branch alone. If you ever have questions about the legitimacy of an item....1.) Stop and ask yourself, "Does this sound to good to be true?". 2.) If still unsure stop by your local branch and ask, but do not leave details out regarding the terms of the "employment". Bank representatives are very familiar with these types of fraud schemes and can offer valuable advice, or at least place appropriate holds to make sure the funds actually clear the originating institution before they are released. We would never take negative action against someone trying to help us prevent fraud. 3.) Keep and provide any correspondence from the fraudsters.

I just got one in the mail last week for $2450. The address was supposedly from Blistex Inc but the address on the envelope doesn't match the address when you search Blistex Inc. I deposited the check and it showed it would be made available that Monday. Checked and it wasn't. Says the check status on hold because it appears the check was altered. Mind you the check came with instructions to text when they were available so they could send me directions on my task. I texted them letting them know that the check was on hold until the 25th because it appears the check was altered. Never heard anything back until I asked if they wanted me to keep checking the status. They said yes. Now I have a $12.00 charge on my account for the check being returned unpaid. I'm going to go into the bank with the letter and see if they can get the charge reversed. Hopefully they can start an investigation of fraud using that check.

got a fake check from Arizona for over 2,000 dollars I deposited it into my bank account and screwed it all up. Don't except anything from this mystery shopper Jessie Miller its a hokes Also I get calls saying can you hear me now I hang up just after saying if you can hear this I guess I can hear you and hang up. Don't give any information on the computer phone etc. there are real jerks out there.

I got a $2500 check in a Priority Mail envelope but my bank isn't to open now so I will have to go visit them tomorrow. It's a real shame that the potential job isn't a real one.

I get these checks all the time from answering the secret shopper application. When I get the check I follow the instructions.except I communicate with them via text.i tell them that my bank has a 5-7 day hold on releasing the funds.so I tell them I go to the casino in my area that I have an act with and they cash the check right away.i then say I decided to gamble with a portion of the funds.i tell them I hit on slots or black jack or poker and now have $1000 dollars extra.boy do they get mad!!!!! I thank them for letting me be a secret shopper and don't disclose I'm scamming them!!!!

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