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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 recently received a check for over $2600 check/secret shopper. I did not do anything with the check. The bank in Washington State

I received a check from a bank in Texas. I didn't do anything with the check either. The only way I would have considered cashing the check is if the bank that the check was written on was in my area and I could cash the check at that bank

Even is it is a local bank, it may still be a fake check. Often banks in one State own banks in other States. If anyone sends you money out of the blue and asks you to send MoneyGrams, it is a scam!

My daughter was sent an email from a student from her college in PA in regard to a Mystery Shopper opportunity from Pebble Survey Inc. Deposit check for $2500 , survey local Apple Store & purchase (2) Apple G Cards each for $1,100 . Your compensation for survey is $300. After completed , text picture of store receipt & scratched gift card # to: David Bodin : 530 270 9439. Check is fake , you lose your $2500. Looked very legitimate ....preying on College kids !

I was approached on LinkedIn recently about being a Mystery Shopper by someone I thought was one of my connections. I emailed the contact person she gave me and he wrote back to tell me my first assignment would be the Apple Store closest to me - and that I should watch for information coming in the mail. They sent me a check for $2995 and instructed me to purchase 2 Apple gift cards and 1 iTunes gift card for a total of $2695, with the remaining $300 to keep as my "salary." I knew it had to be a scam so I took the check to my bank. It even took the bank a little time to verify the check was fraudulent because it had a water mark and hologram on it - very sophisticated. Once I told the scammer I never received the check they must have realized that I figured it out, because they quit texting me, and I haven't heard from them since. They are using tactics to throw people off by being "referred" to you by someone you supposedly know. They are also using slightly-altered legitimate research company names & creating very realistic checks. Be careful not to fall for this Mystery Shopper scam!

Thank you! Similar scam just happened to me. They made a website look legit, but when it didn't go anywhere at the end I was on point. Same thing happened, Guess it was worth their $6 to Priority Mail and see if I would "bite."

So glad I researched about this beforehand. I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper; was told to also deposit it in my bank and go to an apple store to purchase 2 gift cards with it and $300 was my salary . It seemed too good to be true so I researched first and low and behold here I am. A few different things though, the company is White Loft Surveys LLC and the mans name is Joseph Rendon. I've saved the text messages as well.

Oh my god ! I’m so happy that I googled it before going to the bank tomorrow morning . I just got a check for $998 and they wannted me to buy itunes gift cards and then scratch the code and send a picture of the gift card code to their email !
The pay was so good to be true ! I mean almost $300 for just going to bestbuy or apples store to buy the gift cards IS RIDICULOUS !

Thanks I just recieved the same one.smh.!! Preying on people in general .should be comprehensive pay for it even coming in the mail.

I recv'd email from my school I signed up. rcvd a check for 2500 to dep and purchase 2 apple gift cards so glad I read this before I deposited it. I will shred

OMG!! I received the same email from my school, so I thought it was legit.. got a text message from David Bodin today saying my starter assignment will arrive today. So glad I researched this before trying to deposit this cashier's check. Went on the BBB site and this company Pebble Survey Inc has a F rating....

Same thing here! Same name, David Bodin. Same amount of $2500 and asked me to do the same thing...purchase 2 gift cards at the Apple store! The number is different though 323-840-1332. I was so excited to see a check for that much money, I almost fell for it! I received the job recruitment email through my school email as well. What a shame, I wish people weren’t so messed up. This really would have ruined my life. Shame on you scammers!

The exact same story happened to me. I deposited the check and my bank reconized immediately it was a fraudulent check. Then I did some research and found this post.

Thanks for post. I got exact same scam with same name .I could have easily fallen for it if not for your story

Thanks you for the info. I just received a check for the same scam. I knew it was good to be true!

Thank you so much for this article. My husband was about to make a terrible mistake

My husband did cash the check

My husband did deposit it and the bank called 3 days later to tell him the check was bad. What can he do now? He has scratched off all the backs of the money gift cards, so they can't be returned. Do we need to get a lawyer? Who do we report this to?

If you told someone the numbers from the back of the gift cards, they  took control of the cards and probably used the value of the cards. You could call the customer service number listed on the card, or find a customer service number online and talk to the company to ask if you could return the cards. You could contact the manager at the store where you bought the cards.

You can report this to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give the FTC goes into a secure database that the FTC uses for investigations.

Hey may I ask you how did you go by receiveing this check

Received via USPS.

Today I received a Cashiers Check for $1390 and I was congratulated on becoming a member of the Walmart Neighborhood Research Secret Shopper program. In exchange for the check, I was to purchase $90 worth of personal items, then evaluate the customer service provided by the cashier. Then I was to go back the next day and buy 2 $500 gift certificates and rub off the back and email the codes to an email plus send the a copy of my evaluation. DO NOT DO IT!

I just received a check for$2450 I read the the one about Walmart and my daughter advice me that is a fraud thank god

Yes i received an email asking if i wanted to be a mystery shopper, if course i responded, next i received a congratulations you passed to be a mystery shopper, so excited to have you on board, you will receive you package by FedEx, your first assignment of many, you are assigned to two Walmart stores in your area couple days later i received the fedex package which contained a check for over #2000, instructing me to deposit the check into one of my accounts, let it clear, then take out $50 go shopping for anything i want. Then next day return back to same Walmart go to customer service desk purchase 3 Visa check cards @ $500. Per card, next day go to the other Walmart purchase one card for $500. Then i am to make copy of front and back if all cards, scratch off the silver box, then send them the information along with my survey on my experience at both stores, and i keep the $50 purchase plus $397 which is my cut. I signed up twice to do this, each time i was sent same info, but the detective part of me kept saying this us too good to be true, don't you deposit those checks into your account, you'll be sorry, so I never deposited any of the checks. I started looking into this more, and came upon this site, so glad i listened to myself that money was sooooo temping. I kept asking myself why are they asking me to purchase cards and to give them the info off the cards doesn't sit well with me. Then also why send me a check, then ask for basically the money back but in a different form. So i was never able to take the checks to the bank. Plus the didn't realize i did this twice, bells really went off then. Because one would think they would realize hey we sent you a check previously and you never cashed it, now your requesting it again, why?

You can report that to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that the FTC and other law enforcement agencies use for investigations.

I received 2 cashier checks both for $2,900 1 was from credit union Becu n Seattle Washington other US bank to get 3 money orders from usps from 3 different locations send back by fed ex karl Rajan was contact person

I received the same thing this last Friday. Same name. He just said to go to one Post Office. I deposited the check but I didn't take the money out yet, so I will be calling my bank tomorrow morning. Thank God for Clombus Day

I received the same thing from Karl Rajan and I thought it sounded fishy so I searched his name on Google and this website came up.

I received a check for $2850. Kroger mystery shopper.
Said to deposit then purchase an eBay gift card for $2450.
Came from an address Galt, CA. The check was a bank in Amarillo TX.

Yes,I just recieved a text with the instructors for 2,350.00 to complete a survey for Walmart.
I'm not going to cash this check. The person just keeps texting me " have you deposit the check?

I was a victim of this scam, the worst day of my life !!

what are you doing about the scam? i know someone who has fallen a victim to them, what should they do?

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

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!

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