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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."

Sam exact attempted scam here February , 2019 . Was approached on linked in by a "Richard Brooks last month and then messaged from number 254-307-0221 . The went three checks for (*% each from a return address in Midland Texas. Checks look authentic ! Thanks for your posting which I saw before this went any further

Richard Brooks text my husband about his so called New Job Assignment from ph# 702-425-8511. A Las Vegas #. What a scam.

They stop emailing and sending packages right? or do I have to report them? I'm only 17 and this is freaking me out

I just got the same thing and the same phone number text me earlier and said to let him know as soon as I recieved the check! 702-425-8511. Crazy!
I’m thinking about just telling them I got the gift cards but that I decided to keep them. lol

Our postage.com account was hacked and they stole $1500+ of priority mail stamps, and people are contacting us about the letters they received.

Huh, I've got a priority mail envelope here with a check for $2990 that I'll never touch, guess I know how the envelope was paid for now. *sigh*

Same thing just happened to me. I thought it was legit but I see its not. Will be taking checks to local bank to turn them in with letter and screenshots of text messages from person who has been contacting me.

Just received one today for 998.00. Asking me to load google play cards. Haha. I knew it was a scam. In the trash out goes after I take pictures of the letter and check.

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 !

same here

I knew something was fishy. Signed up for that peddle Inc company through my university. And received a check for 2,950. Called all my older friends, and we looked at it and I was like nahh...let me look up the number.

I just got the same amount in a check yesterday through a priority mail from mystery shopper but called better business bureau and they confirmed it was a fraud. I'm so HAPPY my grandma pointed it out once I showed her the check and survey packet , and than my family called and reported it and I also kept all the messages.

I just received a check today for $2997 and my assignment was to go to the Post office and get postal money orders. The overall sound of this made me feel it was a scam but I am glad I looked here to confirm it. I just sent the guy named Jeff Mclever (909-581-4223) an text stating that I shared his name and number with my neighbor who was interested in this as a second job. And that my neighbor's first job was working for the FBI. I haven't received any further texts from Jeff! Thanks for these posts!

Same here. Just got the same money orders for $2000 to deposit and then go to Walmart and you know the rest. I’m reporting this to the US Postal Service because they’re saying to report it. They are trying to catch these scammers.
Call 1877-876-2455 to report these people.

We just received the exact same check amount and instructions. Curious as to who you received from?

Same here received from roldan Walton the check from rollerrena auto sales in east Palestine ohio

Same exact thing. My husband received post office money orders and they look so real so he was telling me that he thinks that it is legit, but after the next few days he was getting flooded with priority mail with checks in them for secret shopping. Trusting my instincts I looked up secret shopper scams and here you are telling my story...Same exact amount on the check! Thanks because I was looking for something similar to determine that they are fake.

Latest scam uses cashiers checks that look legit from Navy Federal Credit Union.
Text number is 773 area code from a guy named Steve. You usually get an email from someone you know via linkedin

Veterans get their checks from the treasury department..regulated by the veterans administration. They dont use credit unions or private banks to send paper checks...our federal government does that...the only way you will receive any compensation from the u.s. armed forces via bank is if you have direct deposit...

Same here. Just got a check for $995.00. Supposed to go to Kroger and buy $700.00 in Itune gift cards. scratch off the pin and email a picture to Peter Anderson. Keep the $ 295.00 for your first Secret Customer assignment.
I knew it was too good to be true. Phone numbers are all from California but the Banks are all in Florida.
Think I will call the local tv station.

OMG! I am also glad I googled before doing anything! I also received “ cashier’s check” in a mail for 2,350.00. Then I texted to 682-237-9633 that I received the check. His name (not real probably) is Ben Melvick. I thought it’s too easy to be true. When I tried to call , nobody answered . I also received e - mail asking me about updates. Where can I report this # and e mail?

The exact same thing happened to me but the link came to me from a recruiter and so I thought it was a legitimate Mystery Shopper experience which I sent my contact information to. Fortunately for them, I work in the judicial system and will take this to the authorities. I never did anything with the checks but let the Scammer know they had the wrong person. The company is SeeLevel HX Research Group and the woman's name is Lisa Hartfold. File a complaint with the FTC and give them as much information as you can regarding the checks, text messages and phone numbers. I also had another address on the envelope that was sent to me as well.

Wow...she has been texting me for the last 2 days asking if I received my first assignment. It was a bit too desperate why I started researching her name. Once I receive the package, I will definitely report it. Thanks for providing details...

Same thing with the same name. FedEx had actually intercepted the pkg and I text them about it. The referral link came from a reliable person on LinkedIn as well...is ftc.gov the only place to report this to?

Lisa almost got us. But we were concerned that the mail address was different from the check address and the envelope was not professional, we sent her a screenshot of this blog and said that we have a family member who needed extra money because of the furlough. But he works for the FBI, so we wanted to refer her information to him. bet we will not hear from her again.

I just received a check for 2,375 from consumer insights LLC and I'm like....woah it says the remitted is Deanna Jones. Cashiers check ...definitely a scam

Same thing just happened, received the checks yesterday and the info. Jokes on them, I have the entire envelope with the return address (in Texas) and the "instructions" from a guy in a different state. I'll be filing a formal complaint with the PO, the credit union on the money order, and the proper gov't agencies--I work in financial literacy for a living

The same thing happened to me as well. I emailed the credit union to notify them. Who else do I need to notify?

I called the credit union I received my check from and asked about the funds and gave them the check number and name of sender and so far I’m on hold. Hope it helps but just call the number of that business if you can find it. Hate a scammer to be honest.

This is the second time I have received a check. The first time was a month ago and the check was for over$3000 to buy new iPhones. The scammers were Chinese. Now I just got another check for 3,450 to buy google play cards. I took the first check to the bank and they shredded it after telling me it was a hoax. This time I am going to take it and let it go through the process to see if it is a good check (I know it is not).

I am experiencing the same scenario except I deposited the check and I haven't spent any of the money but I realized that it was a scam because I can't transfer any money between my savings and checkings account or cash app others money. It's like my whole account is on hold. They know that I have received the check and I said I would give the full amount back, and they still insist that I keep $70 instead of $300 while returning the money through Moneygram. Please help I'm a broke college student I don't have that kind of money to pay out. I'm just waiting to see when the bank is going to discover if it is a fake check.

I received a check for $ 1950 deposited it until I bumped into this site. I actually bought the 2 gift cards that they asked me to, but I didn't send in the info.I have all the texts from the one of the scammers which I'll keep.

Hey this happened to me!! I need help

Did you get any help? Is there a way to get our money back? Our bank said pretty much we are screwed. They told us they released the funds because we are in good standing with them. Now they are taking the money out of our savings to cover it.

Thank goodness I found this website. I also got a message on linkedin from a colleague saying that this company was legit and he made between $4-7k a month. I used to do legit mystery shopping about 10 years ago so I’d thought I’d give it a try. Then I got contacted by a Richard Brooks who said there would be a package in the mail. The following Monday I received a check of $2980 with my first assignment to go to a local Apple store and purchase 2 $1000 gift cards and the rest would be used in second task and $300 salary. Well yesterday I googled Apple store and drove 1 hr thinking it was the Apple technology store and it turned out to be a store where they sold fresh apples! So I called the Richard Brooks number and was directed to Google Voice who instructed me to leave a message. So I left a message saying I went to the wrong place and then they texted me to go to Walmart instead to buy 3 $500 gift cards and a different Walmart to buy 2 $500 gift cards and use the rest for gas. Well I went to Walmart and didn’t buy any because the manager at Walmart said it was a scam. I thought it was weird that Google Voice kept answering when I tried calling multiple times. I also got a call from my bank questioning my deposit. I have to call the bank on Monday. This Richard guy keeps texting me to see when I can finish the task. I’m pretty much a single mom so it’s difficult to leave the house to do a simple task. I was so tired yesterday after running around trying to do this task and then my toddler was tantruming so I just went home. I told them so and they wanted to know if I could finish yesterday but I said that she was throwing tantrum and is napping and then I had plans and there was an ice storm coming. I told them I could just return the funds to go them if it was time sensitive and they keep saying “its fine. Just complete it as soon as possible”. Today I was too busy blowing snow and slush off my driveway and now I’m tired and don’t want to go out so I think I’ll just tell them I’ll have the bank return their funds. Now that I know it’s a fake check and a scam. Thanks for these posts. I almost lost my tax return otherwise because I wouldn’t have the funds to cover a bad check.

Same linked in contact by Chris Stapelton. Right. Easy money is ALWAYS a scam. There is no such thing.

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.

The same exact story happened to my son. He also deposited the checked then realized his mistake. The bank said "wait & see". He is afraid to do anything with his account. Once the bank realizes the check is fraudulent, I'm assuming, they'll take the money back, but what happens later? Do the scammers come after you in any way?

I recieve a check to yesterday the same letter we should all get together file a class action suit against them my was for 2,995.

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