Beware of mystery shopper scams

I confess… I once was a mystery shopper. Decades ago, I shopped at stores to see what they were charging for certain products and visited restaurant chains to evaluate the food and service. I wrote up a report, sent it in, and received a check for my work. Nothing I could make a living from, but it helped fill the gas tank.

Back then, it didn’t occur to me that responding to a mystery or secret shopper ad could set me up for a scam. Now I know – if you’re looking to make extra money as a mystery shopper, it pays to do some homework to make sure the job is real.

Recently, we’ve heard about a scam that begins when you get an email offering “secret shopper” jobs with retailers like Wal-Mart, Kmart, Best Buy or Home Depot. If you click through to the website, it looks like you’re on a retailer’s site – but you’re not. You’re asked to provide some personal information to get started, and told you’ll soon get a cashier’s check for around $1,500. You’re instructed to deposit the check into your account to “activate” your employment, keep $300 of that money as “advance payment” to cover initial expenses, and wire back the rest.

Problem is, the “job” isn’t real and it’s not associated with any actual stores. You’re dealing with a scammer. That check is a fake. If you deposit it, you’re on the hook to pay the bank back.

Following these tips can help you avoid a mystery shopping scam:

  • Do your research. Most legitimate secret shopper jobs are posted online by reputable marketing research or merchandising companies. A quick internet search can help you verify the company’s reputation, legitimacy, or flag any complaints. Scammers like to use the names of well-known companies like Home Depot or Wal-Mart to gain your trust.
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Wiring money is the same as sending cash – once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know. If the check turns out to be fake, it will eventually bounce. And since you are responsible for any deposited checks to your account, you will owe the bank the money you withdrew.
  • Never give your personal or financial information out online. Guard your personal information, and treat it as if it were cash. Refrain from entering your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers online or by phone to someone who gets in touch with you.

You don’t have to pay to get into the mystery shopper business. We have more advice on finding legitimate mystery shopping jobs. If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC.

Blog Topics: 
Jobs & Making Money

Comments

Excellent information. These 'Mystery Shopper' scam artists are working while we speak.

Find the List and Names of the Most High Profile Scammers syndicates. Abayomi Arinde (Yomi Vuitton)

Afolabi damilare (Sean)

Samson Ajani (Hush)

Saheed Kareem (creamy)

Kehinde Ariyo Kelvin Bada Faruk ladejobi (Hmoney)

Olise Amstrong Ayepola omotaloni (Teemoney) Valentine Osuji (val) Oluwafemi Disu Fasheun Adebola (Rosay)Debo Animashaun (DV8 ) Femi Poshill Samson Oyekunle (Papi Smiley) Osadebay Wilson (Son bay) Abimbola Olarewaju (Abimbola Pepper) Terry Akinyemi Akinola Victor Bruno Roy Oluwatoye Akinde (Morrison) . But the "You can keep your doctor" healthcare scam is so big, affects so many people and has only a political solution, that we've kept it out of our top ten list. Instead, our list focuses on the scams that you could avoid, those reported to the FTC and BBB (Better Business Bureau) rather than those perpetrated upon you by politicians. Nonetheless, medical scams of all types grew in 2013 to become the largest category. For detailed explanations of each scam, how to report a scammer and how to protect yourself, click on the blue titles below for more information! To see federal and select state top 10 scam lists, click here . Medical Alert Scam - This is a telemarketing scam that promises a 'free' medical alert system, that scam targeted seniors and caretakers. The robocalls claimed to be offering the medical alert devices and system free of charge because a family member or friend had already paid for it. In many cases, seniors were asked to provide their bank account or credit information to 'verify' their identity and, as a result, were charged the monthly $35 service fee. The system, of course, never arrived and the seniors were left with a charge they had trouble getting refunded. Easy rule of thumb - be wary of 'free' offers that require your personal information upfront and always verify with the supposed friend or family member that the caller says paid for the service. Ebay / Auction Reseller Scam - Scammers posing as buyers convice sellers into shipping goods prior to receiving payment. Usually the fake buyer claims it's an 'emergency' like a child's birthday and asks the seller to ship the same day. The seller receives an email that appears as though it came from PayPal for the payment, but emails like that are easy for scammers to fake. Arrest Warrant Scam - Scammers create a fake Caller ID, which allows them to call you and appear to be calling from a local police, sheriff or other law enforcement agency. They say there is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges. Of course, these scammers don't take credit cards; only a Western Union Moneygram, other wire transfer or pre-paid debit card will do. Invisible Home Improvements - In addition to email, mail and phone, scammers now just show up at your door. Scammers posing as home improvement contractors come door-to-door sale and target seniors, those who live alone, and victims of weather-related disasters are common targets Casting Call Scam - Scammers pose as agents or talent scouts looking for actors, singers, models, reality show contestants, etc., and use phony audition notices to fool aspiring performers into paying to try out for parts that don't exist. Foreign Currency Scam - Investments in foreign currency can sound like a great idea, and scammers frequently use real current events and news stories to make their pitches even more appealing. They advertise an easy investment with high return and low risk when you purchase Iraqi Dinar, Vietnamese Dong or, most recently, the Egyptian Pound. The plan is that, when those governments revalue their currencies, increasing their worth against the dollar, you just sell and cash in. Unlike previous hoaxes, you may even take possession of real currency. The problem is that they will be very difficult to sell, and it's extremely unlikely they will ever significantly increase in value. Scam Text Messages - It looks like a text alert from your bank, asking you to confirm information or 'reactivate your debit card' by following a link on your smart phone. But it is just a way to steal personal information Do Not Call Scams - The National Do Not Call Registry (U.S.) or the National Do Not Call List (Canada) offer consumers a free way to reduce telemarketing calls. Scammers call anyway, of course, and they've even found a way to scam consumers by pretending to be a government official calling to sign you up or confirming your previous participation on the Dot Not call list! Facebook Fake Friend Scam - Did you ever get a Friend Request on Facebook from someone you already thought was your Friend? If you hit Accept, you may have just friended a scammer. Affordable Care Act Scams (ObamaCare) - Scammers love the Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare'), using it as a way to fool Americans into sharing their personal information. Other common scams: Lottery Scams These include scams which can go under the name of genuine lotteries like the UK National Lottery and the El Gordo Spanish lottery. Unsolicited email or telephone calls tell people they are being entered or have already been entered into a prize draw. Later, they receive a call congratulating them on winning a substantial prize in a national lottery. But before they can claim their prize, they are told they must send money to pay for administration fees and taxes. The prize, of course, does not exist. No genuine lottery asks for money to pay fees or notifies it's winners via email. Internet Auction Frauds - Auction frauds (commonly called Ebay or PayPal scams, after the two largest venues) is a misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale through an Internet auction site or the failure to deliver products purchased through an Internet auction site. Nigerian Advance Fee Frauds (AFF) These frauds take the form of an offer, via letter, e-mail or fax, to share a huge sum of money in return for using the recipient's bank account to transfer of the money out of the country. The perpetrators will often then use the bank account details to empty their victim's bank account. Often, they convince the victim that money is needed up front, to pay fees or is needed to bribe officials. **Phishing and Pharming for Identity Theft** The victim receives an email that appears to be from a credible, real bank or credit card company, with links to a website and a request to update account information. But the website and email are fakes, made to look like the real website. Online Dating Scams Fake profiles of scammers posing as attractive men and women, then claiming they need money to help in an emergency, typically when they claim to be out of the country on a business trip. "PASSIVE RESIDUAL INCOME" SCAMS Get rich scheme and scam websites - Make $$$ in your spare time! It so EASY once you get their free book or cd and learn their secrets! Sure... These websites are themselves scams; claiming to offer you a good deal, when at best, their products are worthless, they have no real secrets, and worse, some are identity thieves! Counterfeit Checks You receive a check in the mail - either from a lottery you "won" (without buying a ticker) or from an EBay buyer or other source. It looks real... but after you try to cash it, you find out it is a fake; and you're arrested for passing a counterfeit check! Read more about scam checks on this page and here about the EBay check scam . FreeCreditReport What a scam this one is! The name of the website is freecreditreport, but you'll only get a credit report when you sign up for their paid service. And worst of all there IS a government mandated website where you CAN get a free credit report! Find out more here! Work At Home Scams Work-at-home and business opportunity scams are often advertised as paid work from home. After the would-be worker applies, they are asked for money up-front to pay for materials and, after paying, they hear nothing back. A variation of this is, people are asked to invest in a business that has little chance of success. **Matric and Multilevel Marketing** and **Pyramid Schemes** "MAKE MONEY NOW!" scream their websites! And do it in your spare time! Earn big bucks for almost no work. If that isn't enough to tell you it is a scam, let us explain why it is. These schemes are promoted through websites offering expensive electronic gadgets as free gifts in return for spending about $25 on an inexpensive product, such as a mobile phone signal booster. Consumers who buy the product then join a waiting list to receive their free gift. The person at the top of the list receives his/her gift only after a prescribed number of new members join up. The majority of those on the list will never receive the item. Pyramid schemes offer a return on a financial investment based on the number of new recruits to the scheme. Investors are misled about the likely returns. There are simply not enough people to support the scheme indefinitely. Property Investment Scams Investors attend a free presentation, which aims to persuade them to hand over large amounts of money to enroll on a course promising to make them a successful property dealer, usually involving "no money down". Schemes can involve the offer of buying yet-to-be built properties at a discount. Other variations include a buy-to-lease scheme where companies offer to source, renovate and manage properties, claiming good returns from rental income. The properties are generally near-derelict and the tenants non-existent. 900 Phone NumberScams Postal notification of a win in a sweepstake or a holiday offer in this scam include instructions to ring a premium rate number. This is generally an 900 toll number. Calls to the number incur significant charges, the recorded message is lengthy, and the prize often does not exist. It is a scam that has been around a long time, but it is still in use. Advance Fee Brokers . Often these appear to be very professional operations with attractive websites and advertisements. However, it is illegal for a business to charge a fee prior to providing a loan. Typically, after wiring money to the scammer, the victim never receives the loan. These 'lenders' will use fake physical addresses or the addresses of real companies. Credit Repair Services with Advance Fees . Consumers with bad credit ratings are particularly vulnerable to this scam. Everything a credit-repair operation offers an individual can do personally at little or no cost. Credit repair operations cannot ask for money in advance and they cannot automatically remove legitimate negative reports from your credit history. **Foreign Lottery Scams** . Any lottery from a foreign country is illegal in the United States. Stating a person can win or is a winner already provides a strong incentive; however, people should never send money to obtain lottery money. Scammers using fictitious addresses will request you send 'fees and taxes' to them through a wire service, take the cash and never provide any winnings because there are no winners. Office Supplies - Sale by Deceptive Telemarketing . This scam features fake invoices for office supplies being sent to a business, often for only a couple hundred dollars. This relatively low amount makes it easier for company personnel to quickly sign off and feel it is not worth their time to check the invoice's validity, which would be done if it was for a larger amount. Debt Relief Services (Non-Compliant with FTC rule). The Federal Trade Commission has established rules for debt relief services (for profit businesses that represent that they renegotiate, settle or alter the terms of payment for an unsecured debt). The FTC rule governs disclosures and representations that debt relief services can make and does not allow advance fees. There are legitimate debt relief companies that comply with the FTC rule and the Better Business Bureau is identifying only the non-compliant companies as scams.

Mystery Shopper Scam called Shoppers Express. Received a priority mail from them with a check that looked legit for 2,350.00 Navy Army Community Credit Union. I called the credit union and they said that there are a ton of calls about this. Mark Henderson from " customer survery" text messaged me asking to confirm delivery and to ask when I would deposit the check and then go and buy 2050.00 to buy MOney Pak cash top up cards.

Mark Henderson..SCAM. Got a Check for Community Bank N.A. for 2350.00 to do a "money-gram" job. luckily I read about this scam before going to the bank.

I just got myself into the same jam. I received the cashiers check today so did you return the check or tear it up?

I have gotten 2 already wanting me to Western Union money to different people wanting me to keep 300 and send the rest .

can u please provide the name of the scam company so I can compare the two, cuz I was also scammed as well.. thank u n adavnce

what do i do with this "cashiers check" ?

I just got the package in mail! Luckily I saw this before I did anything! Got a check for $1930 and ask me to wire to two different accounts. I'm m going to report it!

I just got the same one!!! Bummer!!! Did you report it?

How do you report it?

Please report this to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

I feel so stupid, just wanted to make a little extra money to help out. the check along with instructions to "secret" shop at Kmart or Walmart then to send money to two different foreign addresses. Anyhow, sounded fishy, so I went online, to look this guy up, no such person can be found, emails to his supposed address come back undeliverable. His name lists as Mark L Rodgers, Mark Inc, 1491 Holly Hill Dr., Mississippi S MS 39762-0156. I'm tearing the check up after I post this and hope that others don't end up feeling a fool.

I got a check today in the amount of 2880 I call the BBB THEY TOLD ME ITS A SCAM I didn't TAKE IT TO MY BANK.and that number they Gove you to call it is not working now sorry scamers better luck next time I am " not a foom

What's bbb? In the email it said I would be reported to relevant authorities

BBB is the Better Business Bureau.

I just received a package for Sears/Kmart mystery shopper with a check for $3850.00. Was told to keep 365 and buy 7 reload cards but I was told to keep the cards for future shopping evaluations. They didn't ask for any money back. So idk if it's real or not so I'm calling the bank on the check Monday morning to see if it's a real check or if it's some type of scam. There not asking for anything from me except the evaluation of store I shop at. Anyone else got something like this?

What happened was the check good or was a scam,

I got the same type of check, same amounts of money and instrux, etc. from "Sears Holdings". Gotta be a scam!

exactly ..im so confused

I received the package today. [I had previously responded to what looked like an official eml Amazon Drive from (Charles olsen, mcanthonyconsultant   ) to be a mystery shopper.] Pkg rcvd via US priority mail from Smart Shopper, 20600 Plum Canyon Rd, Santa Clarita CA (address came up as an empty lot when I tried the street view on mapquest). $2300 chk from EFCU Financial Federal Credit Union, Baton Rouge LA (cant read signature, and it looks very real). Instructions say deposit check, buy 4 $500 iTunes gift cards from Walmart or Best Buy (in order to evaluate their service), the $300 bal was my payment. Once cards are purchased, I am supposed to open the pack, peel off back panel, then eml them pics of front/back of cards, along with feedback on the 'purchase experience' to surveyteams@           . But do not discard cards as they will be used for my forthcoming assignment. Too many red flags were going off. if it sounds too good to be true, then it prob is. The envelope is valid USPS, mailed from Panaroma City, CA (I checked the tracking#), chk looks real, but instructions aren't printed on any company's official letterhead & it's a bad copy... why are so many different cities involved?! is that so they cant be tracked down? just too fishy. I will prob call the EFCU credit union just out of curiosity, I wont depost chk, and I will look up the FTC complaint website. I will also spread the word via social media to warn others.

I just received the same package ?? Is this a scam ?

Deffffffffinitely sounds like a scam. I used to work for Publix and we had a high volume of customers performing gift card fraud this way.

If you ever receive a check before you actually do any work, chances are it's a scam. ESPECIALLY if they ask you to send a certain amount back to them, whether it be monetary or in gift card credit.

If you were to email the front/back of the gift cards, the scammers would then transfer the balance on the cards to another card and you would be left with a zero balance card. Don't do it!

Got similar thing. Cashiers Check for $2,400. Told to keep $400 and buy iTunes card for $20 a piece and to keep that they would be used for a future assignment. Not buying it. Will not cash the check. When I told the "texter" that I was validating the check..."Said no problem...have a good day." Then at 11:30 PM got a text that said, "Have you deposited the check yet?" WHAT A SCAM!!!!!!! Don't fall for it.

I recieved the same check and the same information not sure if it is a scam or not going to call the bank in the morning.

Yes- I just got it.

Yes, I jus received a check in the mail from famersbank and trust for 1480.00 cents saying something bout a secret shopper and telling me to deposit it into my bank. So I took the check to easy money telling them the situation and the lady told me that the check was fake and she handed me the check back but made a copies out the check and my ID I jus wanted to know was it real or fake and trying to see how did these people get my name as well as my address to even be able to send me anything of the sort. I'm so confused about everything I jus don't want to get in trouble cause I don't know nothing or how this stuff works.

It's good that you checked out the check, and didn't deposit it. This FTC article about mystery (or 'secret') shopper scams explains how the scam works.

OMG, thank you guys I received the packet yesterday and felt it was too good to be true. I went online to review scams and this came up. It's exactly as described!
I've been on the phone with chase for over an hour and they're trying to help me in case these people try something funny with my account since I already deposited the check.
What a mess
Thank you so much

OMG, what a fool I am, they got me for
$2500.00, now must paid the bank back..is there any hope the bank will be kind?..

Me too - I have now had my stupid moment and it will cost me! Thought it was legit because the add was posted on LinkedIn by someone I use to work with - apparently they were hacked! I feel really stupid - just wanted to earn done xtra money in retirement. Fools rush in. I hope these folks rot in hell!! Can't believe they can't be caught

What did the bank say

What did the bank say

IT IS A SCAM! They will hav yu take a pic of the card's barcode and send to them via text! Or something like that. I received same scam!

Did you hear back from the bank, because o got a similar issue today and wondering if it is a scam

Losing my job and was looking for a small income. Realized what the scam was today and got a text right after that a check was coming to me today. Decided i needed to research and found this. Thank you for sharing and I'm going to report them too. Dread telling my husband how close i got to being scammed.

What was there web link?

So anybody deposited the check? And were charges brought or did they just have to pay the bank back

I cashed a check on my bank account for my son's friend and it was one of these checks.what do I do now.. he's young thought he was doing a job now my account is at risk with regions bank.

If you deposited a fake check and withdrew money, you'll have to repay the bank for the money you withdrew. You might want to contact your bank and explain what happened, and ask how they handle situations like this.

If you or the person who got the check told a scammer your bank account or social security number or other personal financial information, take steps to protect your information. IdentityTheft.gov has tips about what to do if information is lost or stolen.

Today,i got an email from MS company & checked them on Google.

* Welcome to (M/S) Networks * On Jun 18, 2016 12:23 PM, "Sherry Evans" > wrote: Hello, Sorry for getting back to you late. The delay is due to the number of applications we have to treat everyday. Count yourself lucky as your details have undergone background checks and have been processed. We received your mailing details in replication to our Survey/shopper job ad.

Your job is to act like any customary customer and perform a mundane business transaction while you conduct a simple evaluation (without being noticed) and accumulate information about the quality of service by staff, customer service professionalism, comportment of staff and other issues at such locations. Your survey evaluation will be on business locations such as, Walmart outlets / Western Union and MoneyGram outlets / Financial institutions. There have been reports about lapses in the services of their management and some of their staff. This evaluation is necessitated predicated on reports which their customers forwarded anonymously and phone calls, which were also made to the head office. A package will be sent to you, inside the package you will find your Emolument payment of $200-$300 and other funds you will utilize to carry out your surveying process. The funds will be sent securely to your mailing address you have given down in form of a Check which you would cash at your bank and use for the assignment. You must not use your personal money to consummate any of the surveying processes and there will be no reimbursement of any kind since we are providing you with all the funds you will require to carry out the survey. However, you are allowed to use your personal money in a situation where you want to promptly accomplish your assignment if you are capable to do so as bonuses are paid for timely execution of assignments and it enhances new tasks to be designated to you expeditiously. An Evaluation Instruction will be sent to you through email, this will tell you what to do at the store location and how to expend the funds at the location. I would optate you to confirm how your name should appear on the check, give down a working cell phone number where you can receive text messages.

Additionally, I would want you to state if you have done this kind of job before and what your experience was when you did it? You are also to confirm your mailing address and give down your apartment number if there is any, so there won't be issues when the courier service wants to deliver the package with your payment. Please note that you are to act Cool, Calm and Confident throughout the period which you will be carrying out your survey at the Outlets in order not to arouse any suspicion. Your swift response would be highly appreciated, replying with the Subject THIS IS ACKNOWLEDGED. Best Regards, Sherry Evans 703- Task Coordinator Survey Shopper® Copyright © 2016

Don't know if it's scam, but may be spam. What can I do?

You can forward spam to the FTC at spam@uce.gov. Please include the entire email.

The website that you need to complain is www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/.

I received the scam check yesterday and I called the bank to report it. I am also going to report it to FTC. This is a shame, that people don't have anything postive to do but try to scam people out of their money.

I got an email regarding application for Kmart Secret Shopper. Heard about them, applied. But I discovered I got the job when I found priority mail in my mailbox with a check in it. WHAT I DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO HAVE AN INTERVIEW?

The envelope had a letter explaining I got job, go to Kmart do one task and email back my report. This part is exactly how the real Kmart secret shopper is done, except they use forms, I had no form. 2nd and 3rd tasks were not for Kmart. They wanted me to go to Walmart and use their 10-minute moneygram transfer and make 2 separate transfers. RED FLAG Why am I going to Walmart and evaluating them if I am hired by Kmart? The check I received was large enough to cover my purchase, all fees, moneygrams, etc. and left $300 for me.

I verified the cashier's check was written by a valid bank, signed by the correct person, however, the amount of the check was not the amount the bank said that cashiers check # was made out for. The check did not look like it had been changed in any way. Whoever did this scam is very good at changing numbers and amounts on checks. People please be aware. Scammers are getting real good. I got suspicious because the job came to me too easily. One other clue, there are different names everywhere and different locations. Florida to report by email, New York for return address on package I received, Texas for moneygrams, state of Washington for bank used.

I decided to do a background check for the heck of it on the names that I was asked to send money to. One has a record as well as an alias (entirely different last name). I did as recommended in some of these post. Took check and letters I got to bank. They took copies of the check and letter and will notify the authorities. I will also contact FTC. For you all, here are names and emails to look out for: ljones012         and jmiller2021 , Rod Franklin, 4209 Fox Court, Arlington, TX 76001 and Jason Waddle (alias-Jason Bagwell),1574 Edwards Blvd, Braunfels, TX 78132, and Aaron Merriweather, 1248 Jefferson Dr, Port Arthur, TX 77642

Got an email 5/06 from Kmart about job opportunity, make$400 a week, or more. Asked for name and address for info. Sent it and didn't hear back. May 18 received cashier check for $2945 with instructions to cash check and call 917747-0003 to get address evaluation site. Was to keep $445.00 for myself and purchase 5 Relodit cash cards at $500 ea. Send them picture of cards ,to be used later. This was 4:30 pm. When l searched address given it was Wells Fargo bank. Got text asking how long would it take do evaluation and send report. Told first thing in a.m. That seemed to upset them, got text asking if I realized I was being paid $400 for 30 min work, yes and that sounded suspicous. Told them eval site was closed. Check really believable, bank wouldn't cash it but deposited it until it cleared.still on hold, after texting that info to "boss" haven't heard from anyone. I'm sure bank will not clear check and I will have a returned check fee. But not sure how scammers will benefit from the deal unless they hoped bank would give cash and they get the cards eventually.bank was legit and signer was v.p. of bank. Bank in Texas, check from Pa. phone #N.Y

I got the same exact scam check in the mail the other day. Also sent from PA but the bank info was from Woodforest National Bank. Walmart # 8015 in Beaufort SC. I called the bank and gave them the check numbers and they verified it was false. I gave them the senders information and they are investigating.

I got a cashiers check today from Woodforest National Bank,The Woodlands, TX it also has 8015 Beaufort Walmart also sent from PA and was told to but 7 $500 Reloadit packs. It seems to weird so I check on line to find this. I will call the bank tomorrow,but I'm sure it is a scam.

I got the same in the mail a couple of days ago. Check from Woodforest National Bank, The Woodlands, TX, in the amount of $3,945. Letter enclosed told me to deposit the check and cash $400 as my commission, then proceed to the location to purchase 7 $500 Reloadit packs. I thought this was rather odd because the original email I received was from Target to apply to become a secret shopper. The offer was to receive $200 to evaluate a Target store. Didn't think it was of any harm, until I received emails and a text from Sears/Kmart saying that my application was approved and that I should be getting a check in the mail by Priority Mail. I didn't know that Sears/Kmart had anything to do with Target, but when I opened the package and found a check for #3,945, along with the instructions attached, I was very skeptical. Glad I googled and found this article and blog. I will be preparing a report to FTC. Grateful for finding this!

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