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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.

2,010 Comments


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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

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We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

jkatz5303
May 17, 2018

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

Lucy
May 18, 2018

In reply to by jkatz5303

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
lbp78
May 22, 2018

In reply to by Lucy

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!
RRTorres1951
October 11, 2019

In reply to by Lucy

I just received a $4600 check and they asked to deposit to my account and Text a James Smith (707)653-3012 confirming that I deposited the check into my checking account. Then withdraw $4000 cash and go to a local Walmart or two and purchase 8 Walmart Gift cards. Then exit store and scratch off gift card backs and take pictures of all individual gift card backs and receipt and send pictures through text to James Smith. I will be sending all info to fraud department.
Dumb me
October 26, 2019

In reply to by RRTorres1951

Omg, I just fell for this!!!! Please someone tell me what to do!!!! I’m unemployed and wanted to make extra money!! Please someone help me!
Thomas
November 14, 2019

In reply to by Dumb me

I just got taken as well. Please share any info you have learned.
DON'T FALL FOR…
November 15, 2019

In reply to by Thomas

Hey Thomas, This just happened to me today. I did NOT touch the money. Left it in my account and when the check was returned from Fulton Bank(on the fake cashiers check) my bank was able to take the money back right away.
Gretch11
February 18, 2020

In reply to by DON'T FALL FOR…

Thank you for sharing this story! I just received a check for 2,350.00. I deposited the check and had a terrible feeling. I reported it to the FTC and will be calling the bank in the morning to notify them. So, in your experience since you didn’t touch the money the bank wasn’t owed. Did the scammers continue to communicate with you?
YoYo 76
April 11, 2020

In reply to by Gretch11

I just received a check with the amount of $2600.... I have received this kind of mail before so I am going to have some fun with them... lol I am texting with them now, I have received an address so I am going to send them a letter and that the Feds have been contacted.. They have been blowing up my phone all morning about when am I going to FedEx to send the blank money orders totalling $2000.... they will be waiting for it
JM
December 16, 2020

In reply to by YoYo 76

This is still going on. I just received my check for $3450.00, via FedEx overnight. I was shopping on Walmarts official site a few days ago and asked if I would like to be a shopper, I agreed. I was told I would receive $350.00. my instructions are to buy 2 iphone Maxi Phones with 512 GB. The check is a cashier's check out of Pasadena, CA but the company who sent the check was Marsh Electronics Inc from Greenville, WI. They asked to go to Walmart or Apple store. Company phone number is 920-757-0808. Texting was to a person named Jonathan number is 347-343-3468. I wish I could post pics of all documents. I hope this helps somebody not get scammed. Its dispicable people are doing this during these times.
Sophia
December 31, 2020

In reply to by JM

It is so heartless what these criminals are doing to scam people during this critical time. I received a friendly message from a known contact on linked Inc. She stated that she has signed up for over 5 months now and making extra cash. The link was attached. The message was very convincing and knowing that this friend is always telling me about new initiatives, I immediately signed up with the intention of reaching out to her. I contacted my friend bright and early the next day and she said that many of her contacts have been calling her and that she has no affiliation with this company. Her linked Inc account was hacked. The offer was too good to be true so I had my own suspicion. $1500 base salary each month and $350 commission for each assignment. Hmm.. definitely something wrong. Whether you work or not you still get $1500. Crazy.. I decided to go along with the scam to see where it would go.. I got an email stating my check of $1870.30 has been sent priority mail. Attached to the email was the assignment. To deposit check immediately and it will clear within 24-48 hrs. Then to proceed to purchase some gift cards and then to send it to them by way of taking pics. I emailed Kim and told her that she is evil, her acts are cruel and to refrain from communicating with me etc. I further stated that I have reported her to the authorities. I plan to take package to the police upon receiving it. Please be aware people.. these scammers use known people to send you the invite. Don’t get caught up. No company is giving away free money.. time is hard financially for many during this pandemic but don’t be tempted. You will end up losing more and also getting black listed by banks, which prevents you from opening accounts. Please share with friends and familys. Don’t be a sucker for this evil plot.
Rw
July 26, 2021

In reply to by JM

Wow I just got the same letter from the same person for the same thing!! I haven’t done anything yet I was wondering how truthful it was. Glad I found this website!
Sisipp37
May 03, 2020

In reply to by Gretch11

I just receive one and deposit it. Oh lord I hope it's not fake.
Bo
August 02, 2020

In reply to by Sisipp37

I got a check in the mail 2 days ago from a mystery shopping company. The check is for $2,475.00. The check was sent to me from KELTON Research, Survey, and signed by Timothy Castagne. The instruction is for me to cash the check, take $400.00 for my services, and $75.00 for transportation. That I should use the $4000.00 to purchase gift cards from Walmart and CVS, each card costing $500.00. I should make copies of the front and back of the cards and the receipt and send to them along with the cards. I deposited the check yesterday and part of it cleared within 24 hrs. My surprise is that I have received several texts from the Kelton research survey asking me if the check has cashed. I got upset and am now at google search to see if this is a scam. Please what shall I do?
RMC1299
August 11, 2020

In reply to by Bo

I received the check today and they hassled me about checking my mail, I told them I have a full time job of a software developer and I would check it when I can. They replied Okay. Later I replied yes it has been received. I sent them a question for I was not going to deposit it until I heard back. They answered and asked did you deposit the check. I said no I was waiting on your response, I will do so now. They asked who I bank with I told them and they replied back my check will clear in 1 day, when they said that I got worried and started looking on line about this being a scam. I already reported them to the feds and contacted my bank that the check is fraudulent
Don't use
March 18, 2021

In reply to by Sisipp37

Seriously. Don't spend the money
jlou
October 12, 2021

In reply to by Don't use

Just received a check for $2600.00. Found it odd for several reasons. 1. No real contact information, nor was there a real website for the company. A few clicks and I ended up here. 2. They want you to put this check in your bank account and then immediately spend it and send them the card information. It immediately gave me red flags. 3. The instruction sheet looked very unprofessional, cheap copy paper and clearly a printer that was running out of ink! Of course I was curious, and who couldn't use extra money....My car is going in the shop this weekend which is a $800 bill so I would have loved to have the extra money, but I knew it was a scam. Good luck everyone. My check is going in the shredder!
Lily
May 12, 2020

In reply to by Gretch11

Oh my God! Got Th we check and deposited it. But I said I will not touch it until it is cleared should I contact my bank about it?
FTClizart
November 24, 2020

In reply to by Lily

Yes, notify the bank immediately. Keep copies of everything.
SunlitUnicorn78
July 12, 2020

In reply to by Gretch11

They won’t once you confront them. They usually will have the fake phone number deleted from whatever app their using. I lost my account with Wells Fargo that I had for 15 years because of these assholes.
TeeBrn143
November 29, 2020

In reply to by Gretch11

Wow I just recieved a check Friday thank God I did not deposit the check into my bank acct..I took it to a currency exchange and tried to cash it to find out the check was fake..I am so glad they didn't call the police on me..wow! I usually don't fall for scams but this one got pass me..i will be paying more attention to detail from here on out..
DandereEve
November 19, 2019

In reply to by Thomas

I'm going to throw up, I got scammed as well. What do I do?
AJ
December 07, 2019

In reply to by DandereEve

I also just did this and I am a broke college kid who was just trying to pay my health insurance.. stupid me
Blawndee81
October 26, 2020

In reply to by AJ

What happened in the end ? What happens if u cash it and do the job? So noone has went by instructions it gives? I applied for a secret shopper job and got this in the mail by FedEx....is it real or not?
Tbrekken
November 23, 2020

In reply to by Blawndee81

It is a scam read above the check initially clears because the bank has to it's looked at further one or two weeks later and finds it fraud all that money is now on you. DONT DO IT
Cardio 20
January 21, 2020

In reply to by Thomas

I just received a check for 2600, was told to deposit the check and then in 24 hours it would be good. Then keep 600, then go to Walmart and buy something personal for me and then get 2 Walmart cards and send them to them via pictures. Figured out was a scam, glad to know. They don't have my acct number or anything. Came through USPS. Glad I checked it out and then contacted my lawyer.
Lmt
February 03, 2020

In reply to by Cardio 20

Did your attorney say to turn it in - to the police/is there an open investigation? I just got one Saturday
Meinbulverde
July 29, 2020

In reply to by Lmt

I just received letter and ck. My sis referred me this website and saved me the anguish. To tear and throw away. Me in Bulverde
Did nada
May 08, 2020

In reply to by Cardio 20

I received a 2400 dollar check last week from fedex i think i actually threw it away and text the guy due to coronavirus and I'm high risk i wouldn't be participating no response ever.
rdrsr37
June 23, 2020

In reply to by amberrose

I have a friend that works for Walmart Security I turned it over to them
Snoop Dawg
December 07, 2019

In reply to by Dumb me

Yip - Fernando texted me!!!!! I half knew it was a scam and googled it and here we are!!!!!!!!!!!! Never ever trust anyone who is offering to give you money!!!!! The world is evil - remember that!!!!!!!!!! Always be alert!!!!!!! NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO GIVE YOU MONEY EVER!!!!!!
scammedguychicqgo
December 25, 2019

In reply to by Snoop Dawg

I just got scammed back in September. Fell for first class mail with name, routing number and water mark including really good fake check. Bank of America contacted me not long after to say it was charged off and I owe balance of $2,240. It was such a good fake that the teller didn’t know the difference.
Ac
January 21, 2020

In reply to by scammedguychicqgo

And what happened next. How did you handle the situation? I just got scammed.
Linda
January 27, 2020

In reply to by Ac

Me too. Buy giftcards and we'll reimburse you after we get pictures of the display, receipt, cards, etc. $1000 before I Ran into a cashier who warned us about this scam. I feel so stupid!
Don't use your…
May 09, 2020

In reply to by Linda

I was scammed 3600 dollars yesterday. I feel so freaking stupid. Since the virus Uve been out if job and I signed up fire secret shopper job. The check looked real, and the check was cleared and I was told by the guy "Alex" he'll fix it. I dont know what to do.
Weezee
January 06, 2020

In reply to by Snoop Dawg

Never ever trust anyone who is offering you money to BUY A gift card, gift certificates, money orders. OK?
Kirk
January 21, 2020

In reply to by Snoop Dawg

I'm from tampa florida recieved a cashier's check for 3600 dollars and asked me to deposit and wanted me to buy gift cards and text him the codes. I didn't because the force told me not to.
Beto
April 16, 2020

In reply to by Kirk

I've just gotten a check for $2432.27.... What did you do? I live in Tampa too!
THINK
January 08, 2020

In reply to by Dumb me

To all of you. Sorry but Truth never changes. IF ITS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE? IT IS! Except for Jesus of course.
Not today
March 31, 2020

In reply to by Dumb me

They sent me the same thing. 4600 said I could have 5 and an extra 100 for gas. Wanted me tob7y gift cards. The nerve people has really blows my mind! Thank you for your story because I about did it.
@instylepieces
May 18, 2020

In reply to by Dumb me

The best you can hope for is the bank close your account and take your remaining deposits & hope they you off their hook if they can prove you've been defrauded by a scam artist. It is happening to me as I write this. Not sure if I should give this scam check to the FTC or police.