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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

Notafool&aol.com
September 07, 2021

In reply to by @instylepieces

I also got q check for $2600 and ask to deposit into my account and only take out $500 and the rest but gift cards . I knew it was a scam so I didn’t deposit . I called the number on the letter and no answer
PFLOYD77
September 08, 2020

In reply to by Dumb me

What did the bank do in this matter! Did they solve the issue or make pay it back...
Got scammed
November 28, 2020

In reply to by Dumb me

What can I do to save my bank account I didn’t know all this for believing that I was getting paid for a survey. It’s like kicking me when I’m down... with this I thought my problems were finally getting a little better
It will be ok
February 03, 2021

In reply to by Dumb me

Your not dumb I fell for this sceem before, when you are desperate you dom think and there are legitimate companies out there
Tmoney
May 05, 2021

In reply to by It will be ok

Does anyone know about the check they send you to put stickers on your vehicle to advertise for them??
Debh56
November 18, 2019

In reply to by RRTorres1951

I just got the 4600 check too. But "James Smith" had a different phone number and area code.
Jesse
January 11, 2020

In reply to by Debh56

I received the same thing but I went to western Union and cashed the cashiers check, will western union, come after me for the money now ? Or am I going to be arrested for fraud ?
Don't use your…
March 04, 2020

In reply to by Jesse

Did anyone come after you yet? Just curious to know because I did the same thing?
Fools the fool
March 29, 2020

In reply to by Don't use your…

I just received a fake check as well and common sense I'm holding on to it and playing phone message tag with the scammer pretending I lost and need another. I'll keep making excuses until whomever playing this game gets bored.
not fooled!
April 17, 2020

In reply to by Fools the fool

Yes and they kept texting me asking me if I'd recieved the check yet.I told them I would let them know when it came and to stop bugging me. lol It came I told them drive through only bank was closed now. Im playing along too. Will see what happens too. Guessing Im bored and will see what the bank says about this check.
Finding out
October 22, 2020

In reply to by Jesse

Did they give you the money.And was the western union at a currency exchange?
Hair color man 1
February 17, 2021

In reply to by Jesse

I received my ck yesterday after reading this I put everything in the fire place . It was a company called market force what a scam keep clear of this it sounds tempting how r they making money? Thk's Randy.
Theylost therecheck
February 28, 2021

In reply to by Jesse

Wesley thomas sent me a check to go shop at Walmart, I took the check to pls check cashing where it was seized and turned over to local police, the cat got out the bag thomas they fbi knows who u are
don’t fall for it
January 20, 2020

In reply to by RRTorres1951

Same here I just received a cashiers check for $4,600 with instructions inside the overnight UPS package , I was instructed to go to my bank and deposit the check and wait for it to clear once it did I was to withdraw $4,000 and head to Walmart and purchase 4 separate money orders of a $1,000 each and keep the rest for gas / transportation and my commission and than to text Sandy back to confirm everything went through and also if I did it within 48 hrs I would receive a $500 bonus gift card for Walmart, so in total I would be getting $1,100 for myself I just had a gut feeling something wasn’t right so that’s why I’m on here searching for similar story’s and WOW!! I was surprised to see I’m not the only one fortunately for me I didn’t cash the check but what should I do ?? Any suggestions would be great I still have the cashiers check
Mcbob6767
January 23, 2020

In reply to by don’t fall for it

I just received a letter in a FedEx envelope... it had a $4800 check and an instruction letter . The check is high quality with water Mark's and embossed seal from a bank in New York state " Josephine Kanis Estate ". As for the instructions ... I was asked to deposit the check into my checking account then proceed to a local Walmart and purchase 5 money orders...totalling $4200 and I was to keep the rest ..also if done within 48 hours a bonus of $300 would be sent to me..I have not destroyed the evidence in case local or federal investigators were going to need it....if it's too good to be true ..it is going to hurt you.
Money233
March 20, 2020

In reply to by Mcbob6767

Do you have the email that you sent your phone number and address to
502girl
March 28, 2020

In reply to by Mcbob6767

I got s check in the mail with indytuctiond i never vashed it I still got it what should I do report it or just throw it away?
Bentleypamela7…
July 22, 2020

In reply to by Mcbob6767

I received a check for 1850 and 370 was mine and the rest was to go to walmart or ebay gift cards. If i did ut quickly extra 100. I qS to scratch off tbe gift cards and se d pics but i was to keep the gift cards for my next assignment.
gullable
February 05, 2020

In reply to by don’t fall for it

I was sent a 4900.00 check. Same exact instructions. So glad I didn't cash it. I'm contacting the FTC.
MandiC.
January 24, 2020

In reply to by RRTorres1951

I got a check for $2950, from WholeFoodsMarket, as a secret shopper, they wanted nike gift cards bought at multiple locations they offered..scratch off the back and send it to them type situation. I contacted my bank, turns out it is a fraud! They will use anything to get your money! DONT FALL FOR THIS!
ToniD
February 20, 2020

In reply to by MandiC.

Just got my $2950. check from Whole Foods to buy Nike gift cards. I'm taking it all to my local police. They will contact the Attorney General in my state. TIP: whenever I get something like this, if it contains spelling or grammatical errors, you can bet it's not from a legit source. This letter contained several errors which is a tip-off that some foreign person wrote it. Yes, I know, I'm stereotyping, but it's obvious it's composed by a foreigner or less- than- well- educated American person.
I received a c…
October 30, 2020

In reply to by ToniD

Check had instructions to purchase money cards in specific amounts. Check written on Service Credit Union, 3003 Lafaydle Portsmouth, NFL 03201 Check amount $4,920.99
FTC Staff
February 13, 2020

In reply to by WSTD

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.

cem1776
May 22, 2020

In reply to by FTC Staff

I had a invite to become a secret shopper from a friend and former coworker of mine. Secret shopper 2500 bucks a month easy money. Well I got the email and a check for $2,428.06. Company called bzzagent. website .bzzagent.com/ mysteryshopping. This email accompanied the check. Chris, This is to notify you that the payment for your first survey assignment will deliver today or tomorrow. Its a check of $2428 and its covers your $398 pay and the rest will be used for your assignments. Please proceed to have the check deposited once it deliverand keep me posted once that has been done. Assignment 1 1. Proceed to a CVS store closer to you and purchase anything with $30,the purchase item will be kept by you because it is yours. 2. Attached to this email is a customer feedback form which you are required to fill out and email back to us. 3. Deduct $398 as your weekly commission. 4. Purchase 10 Walmart gift cards. Go to the register and add cash of $200 to ten cards. $200 x 10 = $2000 FYI: Walmart gift card can be purchased with cash, debit or credit card. Attached to this email is a sample of the Walmart gift card required. You can purchase any design or color because it comes in different designs, pictures and colors. The cards will be used to fund further projects/research, by eliminating the need to post you checks for future assignments. After the purchase of the Walmart gift card, kindly peel or gently scratch the silver panel at the back of the cards and then send the pictures of the scratch cards and email to us. (Phone camera accepted) Walmart gift card is only available at Walmart store. If Walmart store is not available in your location or if you can not make it to the Walmart store at the moment,please kindly inform us for an alternative store. Once the payment has been received, please proceed to get the assignment done at your earliest and revert back to us with the feedback form and images of Walmart gift cards for verification. Completing assignment fast earns you reward to receive more assignments promptly. I want you to know that Completing assignment and sending in the report as soon as funds are available in your account earns you 30% payment increase on your next assignment. A confirmatory of the receipt of this email will be appreciated as we anticipate your prompt response. Thank you for your time and always stay safe Lisa
Prheflin
February 05, 2020

In reply to by MandiC.

Omg! I received the same exact thing on Monday! I was going to show it to my boyfriend tomorrow to see what he thought. I work alot but am broke due to student loans garnishing my checks. I can't even pay my rent now so it would have been perfect timing if I had cashed the check. I decided to Google whole foods market and ended up right here! I'm so glad y'all had this for me to see before I did anything dumb. I hope someone comes up with a way to use their scam against them! That would be great. Good luck to the ones who did fall for it. I hope y'all some how come on top.
Not today Satan
February 12, 2020

In reply to by MandiC.

Just received this check via USPS was given a tracking number and everything. Very specific instructions to buy gift cards equaling 2500 from 3 separate locations. Keep 450 for myself. Take pictures of the gift cards after scratching off the silver in the back and phone pictures are okay ( of course they are!) and if completed in a certain time frame i get a bonus and to email all this to info@ storeevaluation. ....it had Whole Foods logo on the letter....the check said ACU in Washington State.
Angie
March 02, 2020

In reply to by Not today Satan

EXACTLY! Except I was stupid enough to buy 2 Nike cards before i went to the bank and they said it was a fake check. Tried to return the Nike gift cards, Gift cards are NOT RETURNABLE. Called Nike, nothing they can do... soooo frustrated with myself. USPS ACR Services Inc. 330 Berry Street San Francisco, CA 94158 tracking number and all. He "Mark Henderson" texted me to confirm from 346-366-4252. Now I have two Nike cards for $500 each, REALLY? out a grand
yelyena
April 11, 2020

In reply to by Angie

I received an envelope from Kelton Research Secret Shopper. The individual to contact is Timothy Castagne@833-801-5707. Same instructions but no check in envelope! No way would I put it in my bank account! Wow these people should be arrested for sure!!
Carolyn Rutledge
June 29, 2020

In reply to by MandiC.

Hello everyone just letting you guys know the scanners are back just got a check in mall for 2600 ask me to go to Walmart and yes get gifts cards still trying to scam us.
OMG
July 15, 2020

In reply to by Carolyn Rutledge

Thanks for this. My elderly mom got a check for $2600 and was told to go to WM, keep $600 and buy $2K in GC. I asked how she got that money, who sent her information about this “program” and she couldn’t remember how she got to getting the check. I was suspicious about it, and found this. No touching the money so it will be there when the bank takes it back.
Taylor
August 13, 2020

In reply to by MandiC.

Thank you for getting this information out, received the same thing just this week and it’s almost convincing...
scalhoun4914
July 17, 2020

In reply to by RRTorres1951

I am shocked that these criminals have not been caught yet! It is 2020 and they're still at it. The reason why I am At this site is because I almost fell for the check, in this vulnerable time of economic crisis and pandemic I was looking for ways to earn some cash. Therefore, I applied for secret shoppers assignment. I had forgotten I had applied until a few day ago, I received an envelope with a check for $2,575.00 there was a letter in the package giving me instructions on what to do. The instruction told me that $500 was to compensate me and 75 was for miscellaneous, such as transportation. I was instructed to go immediately after the check was cleared in my account to Walmart or CVS and purchase $2000.00 in visa gift cards, take pictures of the front and back of cards, and have the cashier activate each card and a picture of the receipt. It should have been a red flag for me, when I deposited the check the first time through my mobile app the check did not clear after being in my account for about a week. The check was returned, I was charged $12 for the returned check, so I called my bank they told me to come in, and bring my identification so I did that and the next day the check was cleared. I informed the imposers that the check had been cleared they immediately wanted me to goo Walmart to purchase the gift cards, keep in mind, the time I called the was 7:30 am that alone caused questions, so I ask the person on the other end of the text, why are they in such a rush for me to buy the cards, so their response so I can give you further instructions. I again called my bank and that's when the female teller told me they have had a recent encounter with a man who was taken by a scam such as this and advised me not to proceed with their request and not to touch that money because more than likely the scammers would bounce the check and I would be responsible for paying the bank back the money I used. So, people please be very Careful, for there is a social security scam out there as well.
DF
July 28, 2020

In reply to by RRTorres1951

I'm so upset...I received a check and letter priority mail. Received texts and email also for follow up if I got them. I went to bank and put the cashier check into bank. I was given a long list of stores to go to purchasing Nordstrom, American Express or Ebay up to $3500. After I went to two stores, I had this voice in my head so reached out to check with my son. He provided me with info that I should have found on my own. I feel so dumb. Where do I report this fraud to? I'm stuck with two $500 Nordstrom cards and a $200 + $50 Ebay cards. I'm going to go to customer service tomorrow to see if there is anything I can do. If not I guess there's a place that will give me 95% of the value. Lesson learned...
FrankB
November 26, 2020

In reply to by RRTorres1951

Where did you send the information to? I also just received a text, letter and check via USPS. Thank you.
Mfh49
February 16, 2021

In reply to by RRTorres1951

Hi, I received a United States Postal Service Money order for $997. Do you have any availability of fraud department. The person is very rude. I’m to cash it. Then two gift cards. Only wanted to see that I purchased gc
Char1
July 26, 2018

In reply to by jkatz5303

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 !
PamMc
July 30, 2018

In reply to by Char1

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!
Not In Houston
September 24, 2018

In reply to by PamMc

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."
ChrisT54
February 20, 2019

In reply to by Not In Houston

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
CourtneyB
March 04, 2019

In reply to by ChrisT54

Richard Brooks text my husband about his so called New Job Assignment from ph# 702-425-8511. A Las Vegas #. What a scam.
concerned
March 23, 2019

In reply to by CourtneyB

They stop emailing and sending packages right? or do I have to report them? I'm only 17 and this is freaking me out
Mnmnyc
April 17, 2019

In reply to by concerned

Don’t Let it freak you out. You sound very smart. There is nothing they can do. Either ignore them or tell them to stop emailing. You will be fine
bizzyb
July 13, 2019

In reply to by concerned

What was the email they contacted you from?
matopia
March 25, 2019

In reply to by CourtneyB

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
rtucker
October 09, 2019

In reply to by matopia

Don’t do it you will still owe the bank for the fake check if you deposit it