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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

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.

The scammers have become creative, using careerbuilder.com monster.com and many job seeking sites. Using these sites to catch many people with "Job offer" in email heading, it is not true.

One scammer used a real company name and address, but error was the numbers did not correspond. I called the companies and reported them via BBB.org

I was hit by this scam on a connection from LinkedIn. She sent me a direct message with a link. Four days later I had a check for $1,980. Then a text message. The check was a legit check written on a bank is PA. They told me that if I can complete the purchase of $1600 worth od Amazon & iTunes cards that I can keep an extra $100. When I went back to check the LinkedIn connection it was gone.

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!

Omg I think I'm being scammed, but I'm not going to fall for it. Supposibly the guy is sending me a check for cleaning service

I got check in mail for me to clean and was told to deposit check in my account and send so much to someone and then keep rest for my self. Creative goods. New york

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.

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