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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 just got another e-mail from “Target” (offer @target .com). The e-mail reads: “We are accepting applications from qualified individuals from all-over the United States to become Reviewer. There is no charge to become a reviewer and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials from us. You will receive a free gift card of USD 300 per assignment. No commitment is made on this job and you would have flexible working hours. We will provide you the funds for all of your evaluations.At least 2 evaluations a week will be assigned to you because this is a part time job and we think this job suits you.”SCAM SCAM SCAM!!!

Just received a check for $967 drawn on from Windmill Farms Nurseries, Zolfo Springs, on a Wachula StateBank Florida check. Letter has a whole spiel about secret shopper for EBay Cards. I almost fell for it until they said deposit through ATMor phone deposit. Also, about two weeks ago I got an email from Kroger Stores asking me f I wanted to be a secret shopper so I didn't think anything of it. Who do I turn this in to. This is also Postal Fraud?

I just wanted to say that I did receive one of those checks and I got taken for $2,400. That was before I was aware of this site. They were from a company called customer 1st. They told me to do a Walmart to Walmart transfer for $2,200 which I did do and lost that much money-- what scammers!

Hi, Today I received a similar piece of mail along with a check for $2070.96. I was offered a Mystery Shopper Job that included going into a Walmart store and gathering detailed information, such as the cashier's name, the cleanliness of the store etc. I was to deposit this check into my bank account and put aside $400 as my commission fee. There were several different steps following including purchasing gift cards, scratch off the back, taking photos of the cards and emailing them. The awkward thing was that the check was from Angelo Iafrate Construction Company, Red Flag! After reading some other stories here it helped me to realize that this was a scam. It is really sad that people would try to put you in a situation that would end up hurting you financially as the end result. I am really glad to have found other stories similar to mine. Also, glad not to have participated in this fraudulent activity.

I got a Check in the mail. what would happen if I went to a check
cashing place and tried to cash the check there.

The same thing happened to me I received two checks in the mail one made out to myself and another made out to Heaven Butler. With instructions PMA evaluation form for me to go to Walmart as a secret shopper buy gift cards iTune cards Etc. I recognize this right away that is a scam. It's a shame how far people go to just to scam other people for a dollar

Got email and text. They sent check by UPS in the amount of 2,380. Keep $300 for myself, purchase 1 item for $80, and purchase (20 )$100 itune cards.
Then send pictures of cards.
I won't be depositing chec. It just was unbelievable

Got a cashiers check from VPPA LTD today. No way will I deposit invisible money!! Scam!! I can not evwn research company.

Received a “cashiers check” for $2380 from Comerica bank. Was told to text received to 585-318-7464. I was to deposit the check then go to Walmart, text “at location” to the same number, buy anything for less than $80 along with 20 $100 iTunes cards. Take pictures of the receipts and the cards to surveyhunterinc2 @gmail. com. I could keep $300 as my “salary”. There were also instructions on what to look for during the evaluation. Glad I found this post!

I had this happen with Gladstone Survey Service Inc. Luckily I did this research before I deposited the check. Thanks for all the advice.

I recently got a check from these scammers as well. They are based in the Houston area. How do we notify law enforcement about these people?

You can report 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.

Before I head for my surgery the scammer name James Anthony 1-662-314-6134 ask me to buy itunes cards $1400 on credit card and he will pay my 1 credit card off. I trusted him and did it. He also sent me numerous of checks I deposited I'm out over $3000 my account was closed. After that he ask me to borrow money from friend I said no then he threaten me and he will come after me and do things so I can go to jail for life. I also report to police but they say is not there problem. I report to FTC,BBB and to General Attorney but they don't do much foe me. I'm now on disability and don't have much to pay back to anyone. I think the bank and credit card should help me they know is a SCAM but no is my fault. Lesson Learn

I was told I was selected as a mystery shopper for Target. I received two checks, each for $1,000.00 . The remitter is listed as Brad Coleman and it is signed by someone named Kelvin J. Harris. They are telling me to keep $500 (they are generous cons) and purchase $800 of ITUNES gift cards in one store and $700 in another store. Of course, I’m to scratch off the codes, take pictures of the PIN numbers and email it to Brad Coleman. He left the phone numbers of (310) 697-7924, 461-4187, and 299-4070. I knew it was a scam because of the ITunes cards and the ridiculously high payday since secret shoppers usually pay $10-50.

Received a check for $2950 on Monday and told to purchase $2500 worth of Itunes cards. I was then expected to send a pictures of the PIN #'s.

I was incredibly skeptical considering given the cryptic, flimsy letter, and the lack of contact. Nevertheless, the Priority Mail package threw me for sort of a loop (5% believable). Moreover, I was introduced to this group via a contact on LinkedIn (another 5% of believe-ability).

While I was 90% doubtful that this was legit, it still VERY scary to imagine that there was a 10% chance that I could have lost $3,000.

the letter is what threw me off too! No contact number, hardly any information about the deal whatsoever. I'm SO glad I didn't deposit that check!

Yep, 3 "personal money orders", each for $800 to go and purchase 2Apple store gift cards for $1050 each. Sure looked real...mostly. Of course there was no address for the "bank" name, just a typewritten name for the bank (Fidelity Bank) with "Right By You" just below it and the fact that the "amount" of each of the "money orders" written in digits at the bottom of the check wasn't anywhere to be found nor were the digital scan codes at the bottom of the check either, but other than that, it looked pretty good.

I'm sure it'd fool a lot of people. Luckily, I'm not one of them, thank goodness.

Oh, yes, when I typed in the "USPS Tracking #" on the official looking "priority mail" label on the "priority mail" envelope, it showed that the envelope was delivered on the day I received it in San Antonio, TX which was really strange because I live in WA state, half a continent away. Oh, yes, and that label also said it was "Priority Mail 2-day" that ws shipped on 3 Nov with expected delivery of 7 Nov. Missed the heck out of that time frame!

Tom

I recieved a Cashier's Check for $1,840 from Intouch Insight, drawn from University Federal Credit Union, PO box 9350, Austin Texas......They wanted me to buy three Reloadit cards for $500 each... and keep the balance about $300 for my gas. It seemed fradulent. Is there anyone I can report this too?

You can report 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.

It does no good to report to FTC . I did when I as scammed out of 25000. In an online investment company and received no help of any kind

I just got a check about 20 minutes ago out of our mailbox. It was sent priority mail. It was made out to my husband in the amount of 1,967.00 . Like others here, he was instructed to CASH the check at our bank, go buy $1,600.00 worth of EBAY gift cards from different stores. Doing this as a mystery shopper.....
The instructions then said to scratch the back of the card to reveal the PIN#, take a pic of the front and back of the gift card and send it to an e mail address of ebaysurveyreport @gmail. com
I immediately called the bank this cashiers check was written on Pacific Commerce Bank. I explained what we received and that I was sure it was a scam. I was transferred to the fraud dept of the bank( which that bank is no longer operating under that name anyway) and was informed this is a SCAM and they are investigating this now, since other people have contacted them as well. She ask that I shred the check. She didn't have to ask that, I intended to do that. I am going to send this information to EBAY as well as everyone else the other folks here have listed. Thanks so much for all of you taking the time to warn the rest of us.

Received offer as secret shopper to my student email account. They had my ID number which was very strange. I was mailed a check for $2936 and asked to buy $2600 worth of gift cards to scratch and send them pictures via text. Here is the scammers number and address. 318-480-0262 - 980 NORTH FEDERAL HIGHWAY BOCA RATON, FL 33432. SCAM ALERT!

I also received an offer to my student email account and this is what made me think it was legit. It was sent from a student email and only students are supposed to have .edu addresses. The check is for 2965.00 from Market Research. I have been instructed to deposit and "wait" till the check clears and go to Apple store and buy two gift cards. I have not yet been asked to scratch and send numbers. The bank is First Financial and appears to be legit with routing numbers and all. I'm going to report this to the school.

I received an email from school too and thought it was legit that is why I participated, just got mine in the mail, what happened with you?

I just got a email saying a person need target gift cards and told me to buy 5 $200.00 gift cards from target and scratch the security codes on the backs and take a copy of the front and backs of the cards and text them to that number for a guy named Bill.

They keep sending me checks, I got 2 today,and they are cashier checks and they come up, smh

Rec’d two checks for $1000 to deposit and be a secret shopper for Target. Supposed to deposit checks and purchase $1500 of iTunes gift cards using two different Target stores — NOT happening!!’ Watch out for Brad Coleman & Target Secret Shopper !!

I received a check today from 'auditor service improving the clients experience' it's a company located out of Mexico at least that's what the website indicates. This check was from Union Bank in the amount of $1770.00, same scam. I'm ripping the check up, the letter attached was full of inconsistencies, misspellings, different fonts etc. I was savvy enough to tell right away this was a scam but worry about those who are not. The letter has a PO Box in Hawaii, was sent from Ohio, return address from California, and the check is from WY. Hope this helps!

These people are in front of you this woman tell you daily .... The Federal Government should look at mark domain. This hustle are in plan cite look past the masked mirror you see how much they stop me .

I just received a check for $2900 with a letter congratulating me for being a Kroger Mystery Shopper. I am to deposit the check and go buy $2500 worth of ebay gift cards. Then scratch off the back numbers and email copies. So glad I checked into this!

Received a Facebook friend request from a Sani Danliti. I added, within seconds the person popped up with a DM having a casual conversation.

Next time I knew I was being presented a business proposal.

Here is the Facebook Messenger conversation:

great idea
i have a nice job proposal for you
it's all about evaluating and commenting on customer service attendant professionalism in your area
all you would have to do is to act as a normal customer at the shop or outlet which i would direct you to and request for services
you will be paid $1000 weekly
it's a 30 minutes job daily
can you do that?
on what would I need to comment on?

we have been getting reports from customers over the slow services at the money gram and we would like to know how true they are

Your job will be to evaluate and comment on customer service in a wide Variety of shops, Stores,restaurant and services in your area. Survey Assistant are needed throughout your area.

You'll be paid to shop and dine out-plus, you can also get free meals, free merchandise, free services,free Entertainment,Free travel and more. Great Pay, Fun Work. Flexible Schedules. No experience required. If you can shop-you are qualified! Survey Assistant It is Very Easy and Very Simple No Application fees

We are a company that conduct surveys and evaluate other companies. We get hired to go to other peoples companies and act like customers in order to know how the staffs are handling their services in relation to their customers. once we have a contract to do so, you would be directed to the company or outlet, and you would be given the funds you need to do the job(either purchase things or require services), after which you would write a comment on the staffs activities and give a detailed record of your experience Examples of details you would forward to us are

1) How long it took you to get services.
2) Smartness of the attendant
3) Customer service professionalism
4) Sometimes you might be required to upset the attendant, to see how they react to clients when they get tensed.

And we turn the information over to the company executives and they would carry out their own duties in improving there services. Most companies employ our assistance when people give complains about their services, or when they feel there are needs for them to improve their customer service. your Identity would be kept confidential as the job states (secret shopper) you would be paid 10% for every duty you carry out, and bonus on your transportation allowance, and funds would be given to you if you have to dine as part of the duty Your job will be to evaluate and comment on customer service in a wide variety of shops, stores, restaurant and services in your area. No commitment is made on this job, and you would have flexible hours as it suits you. You will get your payment in form of Bank Wires

do you understand the job better now?
Sounds to good to be true. But, I am listening, for it is something I would do if I owned a large business/corporation so as to insure Quality of Service.
May I ask why you chose me? Random?

i can across your profile here on FB and since we just started recruitment in the Belize i believed you would do the job perfectly
any further information to verify legitimacy?

you can go through our website to see it's a legit and real job www.secretshopper.com
Secret Shopper - The Premier Mystery Shopping Company
Let us Mystery Shop for you. Mystery shopping programs provide a detailed competitive analysis. A leading mystery shopping company for many years. Mystery Shop for us.
secretshopper.com
what stores in Belize would I shop at?

we have been getting reports from customers over the poor services at the money gram and we would like to know how true they are
you would be required to evaluate the money gram and get some reports back to you us
Examples of details you would forward to us are

1) How long it took you to get services.
2) Smartness of the attendant
3) Customer service professionalism
4) Sometimes you might be required to upset the attendant, to see how they react to clients when they get tensed.
can you do that?
so you would send money to me via moneygram

i would me making a transfer of the funds you would need to carry out the evaluation and your salary to you through your bank account
it's been transferred so your cover as an evaluation agent won't be exposed at the money gram
how about paypal?
or Western Union?
I don't deal with banks.

so if you are to be carrying out the evaluation as the sending agent then you will be eligible to get the correct informations
do you know anyone who has a Heritage bank account so i can transfer the funds through the account?
I would have to check. So, once the transfer is completed what do I do with the money? Just go and shop and report to you?

once i make the transfer to you then you have to withdraw the money and deduct 10% from it as your salary for that particular evaluation and use the rest to carry out the job at the money gram and report back to me
so what happens if someone decides to just keep the money? How do you protect yourself against that?

we have an insurance company who would take care of such cases but we don't pray to encounter such
Why not send a money order?

when you run a business you check for losses and gains
the bank account is preferred so you can know who you will be sending money to and can contact the bank for personal details if the person runs away with the money
I will get back in touch shortly.

i will be waiting
Chat Conversation End
Type a message...

It happened to me as well today. I got a couple texts saying watch my mail for a check and instructiona for the assignment...and today I received a check from that David guy for 2950$ with instructions to purchase gift cards and send them back. Being I am am experienced mystery shopper, I know you don't send the merchandise back to the company. So that's fyi. Also you don't get money BEFORE doing a job, it's generally a month after.

This type of scam has been circulating regularly on SurveyMonkey the past few months. I report them every time, but SurveyMonkey isn't interested in cleaning up their site.

I received three Money Orders from Fidelity Bank for $995 each. Told to deposit and then buy two Apple gift cards for $1400 and $1250. The balance would be my salary. Those were to be used to buy merchandise and do a mystery shopping at Apple store. As soon as I bought the cards (I never did), the scammer asked for photos of the cards and to carefully peel the silver strip at the back neatly before taking the picture. I texted him that the cards would then be useless to me and that they could use them. I never herd from him after that. The "Money Orders" were turned over to my bank's fraud unit.

I received an email through school so I though it was legitimate. They're using the name Insights Survey LLC and the evaluation coordinator's name is Tony Hoovers. I was instructed to visit an Apple store and purchase $1400.00 in gift cards, The $300 leftover would be my salary. I knew it was too good to be true, I am so glad I researched it before depositing the checks.

Recieved a text message today : +19046005257 Hello, this is Geoffrey from Gartner. This is a confirmation that a task has been approved and processed for you. An envelope will be delivered to the provided address today which contains a cashier check (funds needed for the evaluation and commission) and an instruction letter. Kindly confirm you received this message. - Geoffrey

The letter was a Customer service evaluation assignment with a cashier's check for $2900.42 remitter: Richard Fels signed by Donna A Brand or Bland not sure. Issued by Golden1 Credit union P.O. Box 15966 Sacramento, CA 95852 issued November 05, 2018 with instructions to purchase any denomination of Google Play cards from $50-500 and after purchase of card open pack and gently peel the silver scratch-off area on the card , capture image of card front and back; please do not discard the cards as it will be used for your forthcoming assignment. Here are the details we will need from the SURVEY: - store name address date and time of visit
-name of cashier/attendant (if visible on Tag)
-did the store clerk thank me upon completion of the purchase
-what was my overall experience with the staff in the store
-how long it took to get check out
-captured images of card front and back after scratched (Phone camera accepted)
REMINDER: At any store chosen for your GOOGLE PLAY GIFT CARDS, under no circumstances should you acknowledge that you are evaluating their services as that will deter the purpose of the whole program, so if asked if you are a secret surveyor kindly answer NO as stated above. As soon as the evaluation is completed, kindly have all the details above emailed in your report. Email completed report to - info@ evaluationresuts. org
Regards Mark Jones (no signature) (misspelled words on the instruction letter left as seen on letter)

I got this same thing!

I just received a check for 2,950.00 via FedEx from an "Apple Story Mystery Shopping Survey Assignment" and red flags and ringing bells went off in my head.
First there is no company name, but some man named "Benjamin Hartford Ph.D.
Second, no legitimate company would send me a check for near 3K without checking my background etc.
Third, I've been secret shopping before and it was totally different.
If it sounds too good to be true it often is a scam.

I received an e-mail that I had been selected as a secret shopper. My job was to purchase Google Play gift cards. I was sent a check from Connex Credit Union for the amount of 2,900.42. I was to deposit the check and then buy 2500 dollars worth of cards. I got a text from Timmy Gomez saying he was from the EBAY evaluation company, asking if I had received my package. I called the number and did not feel comfortable with the gentleman on the other line. He hung up on me when I told him this seemed like a scam. He then proceeded to send me two threats. Remember we have your information, if you don't complete the task wait to see what happens to me.
Info@ evaluationresults. org is the e-mail, someone named Mark Jones signed my letter and the person texting threats to me is Timmy Gomez. I am posting the details so this does not happen to anyone else.

Literally just received the Priority Mail envelope with the fake $2490 check and very legit-looking survey assignment to buy the Apple Store gift cards. Came from James Richards & Jeffrey Colleen with a Greylock Federal Credit Union Cashier's Check.
Thank you for posting -- careful out there, people!!!

Got the same Apple Store scam that others here have reported, and didn't fall for it either. One dead giveaway was the poor grammar, plus the letter was printed diagonally on the paper. Lazy scammer spent money on Priority Mail but couldn't be bothered to properly print a page.

Got scammed for 2600 I am 62 and am desperate for a job so went for it. Can’t find any way to get the much needed money back

I fell for it, got scammed just today

I just fell for it. Deposited it too. After reading up on it...I immediately called the bank. Hopefully I’m not charged for fraud.

So far two for two.
Keep getting them by mail and fedex.

People don't be a victim of scammers, I receive a check for $3350.49 with it a letter it said that I have to deposit the check right away then shop at walmart to spend $3000 worth of gift cards. Scratch it and take a picture with the receipt. From that letter alone and the check, I start thinking who will give you money for that amount. I google the address of the sender and I found out it is a shack. Check the name of issuer of the check does not match at all. Then I received a text that once I received the check deposit it right away. Then I respond to the text "not to bother me I know you are a scammer and already traced your cellphone and report you to the authority. Thank you scammers!!

I’ve just received a check for 998 from, Mystery Shopper. On the paper it said 150 for a Walmart gift card and get three of them. Than it’ll be an 450 fee an than this man text me probably a fake name Collin Hickman says his is the manager than he told me to deposit it an I said I’m going to Walmart an get the cash

Just received a check for $2450. Read the letter that came with it. It didnt make sense to me, so I googled mystery shopper scams. Glad I did. I torn up check. Vocal Mystery Shoppers Inc. Charles Cole Task Supervisor 213-275-0506 Www. vocalmysteryshoppers. com Check was from: First Choice Credit Union 1065 South Congress Ave West Palm Beach, Fla 134056

Hi Carmen,
I just received the exact same thing in the mail for $2450. I was looking into all the info and noticed the name is different on the mailer and the letter. The mailer says Charles Greaves with CG Associates and the Signature on the letter says Charles Cole, Task Supervisor. I'm glad I found your comment. What did you search when finding the fraud info? This is the mailer address below. I'm going to search the address as well.
Charles Greaves CG Associates 16464 W. Virginia Ave Goodyear, AZ 85395
Letter Signature Info: Charles Cole Task Supervisor
213-374-1589 www. vocal mystery shoppers. com
That's for anyone who receives this from these jokers. Pretty dang sad.

I saw the ad on CL. Sure enough, secret shopper at Walmart. Going by name of Plexius Survey-Tennessee. Glad I caught it-thx

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