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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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nick_m_26
April 10, 2019
I reseived a e-mail saying that there was an offer to get your car wrapped in adverts for 400 a week for 3 months. Coming from a school e-mail, i thought i was legit so i followed up and then sent me a check for 1950. i deposited the check and then they sent me a text telling me to go to Walmart and get some gift cards. This is when i began to be suspicious. I texted the man and told him that i was not going to go through with this and then he called me. He did not convince me and when i said that, we wanted me to transfer the money to someone named Joann Cox. Needless to say, i did not do it and i came across this when i looked up the phone number. Im going to my bank to see what can be done about this
Not Today
April 11, 2019
I received an email in my college email. It appeared to be from the Work Study program at the school itself. So I replied thinking it would be a good way to make some extra money. However, when i started receiving texts from someone from CODI Survey Services LLC red flags started going up. It felt strange that a company would conduct business via text messages. Anyway I researched survey scams and found this article and I am glad that I did. I received my first mystery shopper "assignment" yesterday and it is almost verbatim the same as what is represented here. The only exception is that my letter states that in the first part of my assignment I am to purchase gift cards from the Apple Store and then in the second part of the assignment I will be purchasing product from the store using the same cards I purchased in the previous assignment. I am further instructed that after I have made the product purchase that a "verified agent" will pick up the merchandise purchased from me once I exit the apple store. Obviously, I'm not going to deposit this check but is there anything else that can be done. I am really worried that younger students from the college I attend may have received this same email and fall victim to this scam. I have emailed my counselor at the school, but is there anything else that I can do?
AKANANNY
April 13, 2019
I almost did this! I applied for a job doing secret shopping. They just sent me a check for $2,468.00! Ebay/Wal-Mart survey program. I was instructed to deposit check immediately without the bank clerk knowing what this was for. Then I was to select stores from their list to purchase ebay cards for$2000.00 then take pics of cards back and front and send them in. I really almost fell for this!! I am so glad today is Saturday and the banks aren't open. I thought I better check it out before Monday. I really hate there are so many people out there that are so dishonest and steal from good people in this way.
michelle
April 13, 2019
Indeed have these people on there ...beware
Cher
April 13, 2019
I got one too, but thought to check here first. Glad I did. Thank you.
Moomoo
April 14, 2019
Im kind of scared... I thought this was a real company through kroger... Sent me a cashiers check for 1890..... 50 for grocieries to buy 40 for a charaitable donations and 1500 for gift cards and 300 for myself.....,.. Im supose to get another chexk monday the 4/15... Tried to find the company for a friend to join and i cnt find it anywhere and then i did a background search on the phone number i was given and it came up with nobody has it..... What should i do? I still have the gift cards and charitable donations and my compenstaion.... And the reciepts bc im a hoarder for those.
anonymousintexas
May 13, 2019
My daughter received an e-mail through her college account and needing a job, she "applied" to be a mystery shopper to Store Survey Support LLC which is NOT a registered Texas LLC. Luckily, she told me about it when she received an e-mail from an iCloud account informing her she got the job and the next steps would involve receipt of advance payments to make purchases. I instructed to block the e-mail and not to respond if she received anything further. Fast forward a few weeks later and in the mail were three checks for $995 each with detailed instructions to purchase gift cards from the Apple Store, text a number for instructions on "how to complete your task with the gift cards" and the purchased items would then be picked up by a "verified agent" at the Apple Store. Not only was this suspect, but potentially dangerous!! Her "salary" was to be $300 for each task. The name on the envelope (a plain white envelope with printed address labels) was Melanie Ottinger from Austin, TX, the company is supposedly Store Survey Support LLC: http:/ /store survey support. us/, the email and instructions came from jeffre yknapp 60@ icloud. com, and the cell number was 904-372-8954.
k.k.
April 17, 2019
I wanna know, since the check cashes and all, what happens if you flip the script on them? Cash/deposit the check, and never do what they tell you after. If they need you to buy gift cards and such and then send pictures of them, they obviously can’t access your bank information. It’s a scam, but it’s not fraud per se. like there’s no identity theft of information stealing.
:(
April 17, 2019
I whish I would read this yesterday. They send me this to my college account, I feel so stupid. what can you do? Apparently it happens a lot with apple giftcards!!! they whould take more precautions.
shay
April 18, 2019
Do anyone know if the free Shopping Place is legit
Wisy
April 18, 2019
I got the same check last week for a total of 2450 dollars. The assignment was to purchase 2 apple gift cards then keep 300 dollars as my payment. I just knew something was not right and I had no intention to deposit that check. It just was too good to be true. The person keeps texting about whether I deposit the check.
Xximb
April 19, 2019
Did anyone get a second check under priority mail that is only the check and no letter but from a company? I never did anything with the first letter they sent me from "Kenny Risak"
Special K
April 22, 2019
I received a letter and check for $1000 from Ricky Ford secret shoppers CoOrdinator I deposited the check did the assignment and survey 1 week later bank said check was fraud. Now I’m out of $1,010 . They next sent 3 $1000!checks for another assignment. Fool me once I was a fool not twice. Who can I report this to.
report
April 24, 2019
I received a check for $3000 I deposited into my bank account and the funds are available but I did not purchase the Apple gift cards. I received several test and one phone call from a guy urging me to complete to assignment. How do I report this and get them arrested?
PeggyM
April 24, 2019
My first approach was in an email . I’m trying to support myself, a car, and my home on 1100 a month Social Security. So I could use a little $. Sender was Opinion Outpost, with an address in Shelton, Ct. ladies name was Alice Montgomery. Filled out an application, got a check in. priority Two Day envelope from Opinion Outpost in Orlando FL. Check inside from Sk Life Science in FairLawn, NJ FOR $2945.00. Keep $300, shop and report on the stores, buy ITunes and Google play gift cards totalling $2600, send the pictures of the codes to them and keep the extra $45 for gas. Anyone wanna bet it’s real?
Mugg
April 25, 2019
I am on my third check from 3 different companies. First thing I checked was the fake routing number on the check. Then brought it all to the police station to report. I'm now just making a collection of the checks and letters. (of course writing void on the checks)
Groucho MarxDo…
December 11, 2019

In reply to by Mugg

It's very simple people. It's another form of money laundry. al i had to do was to google the name of the corporation and popped all over the place, to be a scam.
cate
April 25, 2019
I received a check for 2800. I was to go to western union in Walmart and send a person in Florida 1400. To make a long story short I took the check to my bank to find out if the check was legitimate and much to my surprise the check was stolen from a reputable company, but the company had not reached that check number yet.
Retired Jack
April 26, 2019
As a retired postal employee, I received an opportunity thru email. It all looked legit. I even checked the company Seelevelhx; It was a real company. I went through the whole process and received money orders in the mail, totaling $2,900. What raised the red flag? The return address was from Tamara Colon, from Texas. It was a plain white security envelope. It had a simple stamp on it. I took it to my bank and enquired. I was told it was probably fake. I emailed back a response for clarification to Lisa Hartfold. No answer. So, I never put them in my account and never got a follow-up about the $2,900 in money orders.
DontWantToBeScammed
April 28, 2019
Has anybody got a post office money order?
Lets get them
April 28, 2019
I received the same thing, from "Actionable Intelligence Delivery" from David Soto. A cashiers check for $2450.00, go to Apple I store. & but some gift cards Glad I did my research. A scam!!
Alice
April 29, 2019
I got one from Neighborhood Credit union out of Texas also. Secret shopper thing is still circulating be careful everyone!
The Guardiann'…
May 01, 2019
Two days ago I received a letter with a $2467.00 check and a letter from someone who lives in Oklahoma. As a resident of Luquillo,Puerto Rico an area that was devastated by two major hurricanes in 2017, the arrival of a large check is a God send miracle.Upon close inspection, I noticed several clues that revealed the offer of becoming a mystery shopper for Ebay-Walmart was a fake. First the check has no watermark and has a bank listed in Warsaw not in the United States. Second the instructional letter is a black and white copy and does not have the companies logo in color.Furthermore, the letter instructs the participant not to disclose the bank or anyone the purpose of your cash deposit. It also insists that you deposit the check within 48 hours of receipt and to purchase several gift cards in denominations of $50, $100,$200 and $2,000 at major retail outlets. The problem is no bank in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will clear a large check in less than 2 days and requires that you wait for a minimum of week or two.The scam operators then proceed to send you a text message to your phone number informing you will be receiving a special envelope from Ebay-Walmart and urge you to deposit the check immediatedly.The other clue can be found the word order of the text message. In my case the scammer identified himself as "Scott " and did not use a full name. He added that he was from HR, Human Resources.This reveals that the impersonator is nota bonafide English speaker or is someone who is accustomed to express themselves in their native language and thinks that English uses the same rules of grammar.A check in the internet reveals that many of the scammers or impostors are from Nigeria, Africa whose dialect uses a different language structure than those of North America or the Caribbean. Third clue is that the instructional letter insists that you use their private email account and not from any recognizable business or corporation which raises a big flag. Finally, this fast buck operators obtain your name and e mail when they post false advertising want ads in the internet offering employment as a mystery shopper for Ebay or Walmart.
Mozummy
May 02, 2019
I received a letter in mid-March from Kroger with a check for $2850.00 and exactly like all the other posts, secret shopper and send them western union in the amount of $2400.00. I put it aside figuring it was a scam of some sort and was going to send it back, not wanting to have anything to do with this. It got piled under paperwork and I completely forgot about it. Good thing I started googling and confirmed my suspicion of it being a scam. I took pictures of everything, guess go and turn it in at my bank as fraud?
Roscoe
May 13, 2019
Was surprised to receive an Express Mail Envelope today containing a "Walgreens Instructional Memo" and a cashiers check for $2,850. First instruction was to send a confirmation email to "brians bock 528 @gmail. com", then shop at Walgreens or Walmart and, finally, test the western union or Walmart2Walmart outlets money transfers - recipient name was "Cathy Odle Adams" at a non-existent address in St. Louis, MO. Planning to take it to the post office on Monday. Definitely seems like mail fraud!
SickofScams
May 13, 2019
I recently received an email that was sent to my university email looking for secret shoppers. The sender had a university email address and included a link to a questionnaire that asked for my name, address, email, and phone number. Two weeks later I received a USPS priority letter with an enclosed check for $1750 and my first assignment to purchase two Apple store gift cards at the nearest Apple store. The letter contained a form to fill out details of my experience with Apple and instructed me to immediately send a text confirming assignment to (323) 840 - 1332. I also was required to scratch off the backs of the gift cards and send photos, purchase receipt and report to report @surv reports. com. If I did this within 24 hours they would include a $100 bonus. David Hesse, the survey co-ordinator (916) 827-7761 was my contact. So many red flags!! The check looked somewhat convincing. TDECU credit union from Lake Jackson, TX. However, the routing number was incorrect (you can check routing numbers from the financial institution's website) and it says: issued by Moneygram payment systems P.O. Box 9476 Minneapolis, MN 55480. What was most surprising about this scam was that I received the email in my school account and the sender also had a school email address. Not only that but the email completely disappeared from my inbox. I could never find it again and did not delete it. Not sure if the email deleted itself or if it was deleted by the university. I feel that because it was addressed from someone with a school email address, this would be more successful at reeling in unsuspecting students who are already strapped for cash. Hopefully, getting the word out will help someone avoid falling for this scam.
alreadybroke
May 13, 2019
my college aged son just received this in the mail... going to the apple store and getting gift cards and keep $300 - such a scam... the guys name is Cole Weber. Careerbuiler 2018 @proton mail .ch. 413-232-1103 is the number - I hate scammers! I hope these young kids don't fall for these types of things!
EB
May 06, 2019
Just received a check for $998 to buy gogle play cards and send them the receipts and to scratch the back of cards and take pictures of them and email it to them! Yeah that all sounds legit!!
Nancy1949
May 07, 2019
4/29/19. I almost fell for the secret shopper scam. I received a cashiers check for $2450 in the mail with instructions on how to go to Walmart and purchase a couple of gift cards. The letter did not have a letter head or any return address, just a guys name and email address. The cashiers check had the banks name on it but no address. I waited until Monday morning and called the bank. It took them a couple of minutes but when they got back to me they said the check was fraudulent! I sent a copy of the letter, the envelope and cashiers check to the bank. They are doing an investigation. I sure hope they catch those low lives! The scam still continues. Beware!
Quins68
May 07, 2019
They are at it again. I just got sent priority mail to me and I wasn't expecting any mail especially a check. I was skeptical deposit the check. I'm waiting for the bank to clear it. I didn't feel right about this check. So I looked up as much information as I could on them and found out that they are at it again with this scam. Please don't fall for this fictitious company. I didn't and will warn everyone I can before it is to late.
Mel
May 07, 2019
I just got one of these notices. Is there anyone who could this should be reported to? They get on my nerves
Laura S
May 08, 2019
Want to tell you about a scam I encountered this weekend. Saturday the PO delivered an envelop with a check for $998. Inside the letter said I was chosen to be a secret shopper to purchase Google gift cards. It said if I did it within 24 hours there would be an extra $100. for me, essentially earning $348. to be a part of this program. There was no phone number on the letter just an email and no location of a company? “Red Flags” I did not sign up to be a part of any program like this. Everything looked legitimate. Didn’t think anymore about it until today when I got a text asking if I fulfilled the requirements? After I received the text, I texted back asking for a phone number? They said just text us questions. When I looked at the phone number, (754-216-3217) through google, low and behold this FTC complaint came up with this scam! Remember if it looks too good to be true and you didn’t sign up for it, it’s a scam! Unfortunately scam artist are everywhere!
Blondebutnotdumb
May 08, 2019
Thank YOU!!! same thing with me, I get an email, with misspellings ( had a hunch) telling me my envelope is in the mail. Too easy, I get the envelope overnight from Urban Village, Jeffrey Milani in New York. A check for $3400, telling me I keep 450!! go buy 3000 in Google Play gift cards!! Unzip the scratch off and take pictures of the front and back of the cards and send them.... Too creepy for me to think it was legit. Thanks for the blog... still happening.
VHNELL
May 09, 2019
SHOULD WE REPORT THIS TO THE POLICE?
JBJR
May 09, 2019
I recently posted a SUV on Craigslist for sale for $5500, a couple days later I get a text from a person interested in it, I gave him more info on the vehicle and he was very interested in it but wanted a Car fax report, I gave him the Vin # so he could get his own report, a couple days later he text me to let me know he was sending a bank check thru priority mail and once the check cleared my bank he would send someone to pick up the SUV. The check arrived two days later, it was for $7200.34, suspicions went on high alert so I googled the bank on the check and noticed there wasn't a SunTrust bank in Atlanta Ga with the same address as the one on the check. Again my suspicions went crazy, so I called the first branch listed to inquire about the legitimacy of the check, it was fake. I kept digging and found a SunTrust bank listing in Atlanta with the correct address and a phone number, I called the number which happen to be a Washington DC number and it only ask to leave a message. The so called issuer of the check was a company in Alexandria Virginia called AOC which is also fake but can be found if googled. Beware, scammers are smart and prey on people that do not take time or do not have the resources to check them out before a transaction has started.
too good to be…
May 09, 2019
I received 2 checks at different times. One from Texas and the other from Delaware. I didn't do anything with either because they looked bogus from the beginning. Especially the signatures on the checks looked alike . I believe this can be prosecuted in Federal Court as mail fraud and money laundering because they use the postal service to mail this stuff out. I am going to contact the local FBI office to see what they say? be careful out there, for "if it sounds to be too good, it usually isn't."
chample
May 10, 2019
I just received a check for $2477 .12 I am supposed to get a cashiers check for $37 make it out to American kidney fund keep 400 for myself $30 to cover gas 2000 I am to go to different stores and buy eBay gift cards scratch and send pictures Frank at Store assignments.com and text info to number 516-253-5563 This is coming from Frank Hayes supervisor Store Assignments Inc. also send them a copy of my deposit slip pretty sure that will give them my bank info just glad I checked with y’all first THANKS
Linlexi
May 11, 2019
Well I was hooked on this mystery shopper. It was going to be the perfect job to get me out of the house a little and help with living expenses. It’s hard trying to live on SSDI as I have been disabled for several years. Then the bomb hit, I read about the articles in Consumer FTC and it all sounded like my job was just starting out. I am at the point that I am waiting now waiting for my first pay check and I guess the list of directives that I am to follow. Now that I am aware about the money funding, I certainly won’t cash the check. Thank you for your website an$ your help. Linda S. Florida
Rlinc
May 11, 2019
I received my instructions and a check made out to me for $2900 today. Imagine my surprise to learn that that wasn’t my money to keep… Said with much sarcasm LOL I really feel for the people who fall for the scam’s. The money that they’ve lost I’m sure it was money that they didn’t have in the first place or they wouldn’t be so eager to Join up and follow through with this scams in the first place. God bless you all be safe and always remember… There is no free money.
sunshinebkg
May 11, 2019
I received a letter with a cashier's check for 2350.00 to do an Apple Store Survey. Buy two gift cards and send the numbers to them. Just another scam
Junebug56
May 29, 2019

In reply to by sunshinebkg

I got the same thing thing today. I was pretty positive it was a scam too. Glad I read all of these comments too.
Bobbie K
May 13, 2019
I received a check for over $2900 from Empower bank Along with a poorly written letter stating my number was agent 2665 And I was supposed to contact my handler Nick Green at +1 (269) 213-5307 . I was supposed to buy Walmart gift card exposing the number and the pin and text the photo to Nick. When I failed to do so- Nick Texted me if I received the package and started doing my tasks. When I replied back that I knew it was a scam - He stop texting me
IrradiatedMouse
July 20, 2019

In reply to by Bobbie K

I received the same thing from Nick Green, to secret shop "Walgreen". Having been a secret shopper, this seemed fishy from the first email, but I thought I would play along for a bit. I researched the bank-First Light Credit Union in El Paso, TX; and Googleing the return address, phone number, and tracking number. Bank- Texas, Return Address- California, Tracking number- New Jersey, Phone number for "Nick"- Michigan. He sent me a text the day after the envelope was delivered, and I asked who it was. He replied "It's Nick Dean, I'm contacting you in regards to the Walgreen secret shop". I replied, "Oh yes. Hello scammer!" He has not contacted me again. I did report this to the FTC, and have all my documents.
Eddie
May 14, 2019
I have received a mail including a form for “Apple Store Survey”, with $1,950 check from TDECU. Right away I have called TDECU and verified the check, and of course it’s a fake one. Always call a bank and verify the check. No luck for scammers today.
beware of this…
May 17, 2019
I recieved this text message today. I know this is a scam just want to post so others don't fall for it. It came from this number, which is probably fake as well 8593804567 METRO AUTO SERVICE SECRET SURVEY​INTRODUCTION:Wal-mart Inc® is currently in contract with eBay/Google Play and are accepting applications for qualified individuals for eBay/Google Play shopping survey. It's fun, rewarding and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become or take a survey and you do not need previous experience, After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail. Wal-mart Inc® never charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers. Mystery shoppers are either paid a per-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both, The payment for the assignment is $400.00 OUR GOAL:The goal of this survey is to evaluate the efficiency of the human resources of the Wal-mart Inc® network across the U.S given minimal supervision. So you're to walk into a Wal-mart Inc® outlet carrying out your assignment as a normal customer would, not hinting at the fact that you're a secret shopper/surveyorASSIGNMENT AND COMPENSATION:For the sake of this particular assignment you'll be paid an amount of $400 to evaluate Wal-mart Inc® store or other competitors. NOTE: We will provide the fund you'll be using to carry out this assignment. You get paid $400 per assignment you carry out and the minimum you can do is 1 assignment per week. It's possible to take up to 3 assignment weekly if you have the time. And this survey goes on for at least 10 weeks.Click this link to fill your information if you are interested. bitly link. com/ F3ep V Kind regards M Evans
Euskalduna
May 14, 2019
Wow, I am glad I found this site. I just received the money orders with instructions to purchase 2 apple store GC plus a separate money order for $25. Original information posted by one of my contacts. I guess they hacked his account because I asked him about the offer and I received a response. Crazy!!
Faith
May 15, 2019
Well sure wish I had read all of these comments before i deposited and bought the Google gift cards. But I do not send them any info on cards or numbers. I will not. Hopefully I can get cash back on the cards and return money to the bank. Any suggestions on what to do besides don't be so stupid again.
Cotton
May 16, 2019
So glad I checked here before going any further. I was contacted on LinkedIn by a "friend", I assume it was a spoofed profile. Did the initial registration, then received a text from 3362981786 giving instructions from David Schmidt, Accion Research. I just replied saying I was no longer interested. Will post if they contact me any further.
CJ Greene
May 16, 2019
Was surprised when a priority mail express came to my door. It was a scam from Kiss International and the check is issued from a bank in Las Vegas. Found it interesting that I had to complete the Walmart purchase of three $500 gift cards and one $300 gift cards (supposedly for my compensation) within three days and send the codes on the back of the cards promptly. Giving anyone the codes mean they have immediate access to the cash value of the cards. No thank you. Glad I found this site just to confirm what I thought was happening.
Russ
May 16, 2019
I received a cashier's check for 3,500 to be a secret shopper. I went to the bank to have them make sure it was GOOD or BAD check just to be sure of this " Secret Shopper Deal " was legit or a scam.. Well the Manager of my bank looked it up and said SORRY it's a scam DON'T deposit it you will be sorry and be on the hook for all that money when the cashier's check bounce's . So I'm going to do nothing with it.. " WHEN SOMETHING SEAMS TO GOOD TO BE TRUE " Guess what it almost always is.