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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.

2010 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.

Weezee
January 06, 2020

In reply to by CourtneyB

I think they use different phone numbers. They are probably not even in the USA because they want you to send them the gift card numbers. It's not like they are going to come here and go shopping haha!
Say
August 21, 2020

In reply to by MMOB

I just got one in the mail with a 2,250.00 check said to buy gift cards .my name is spelled wrong on the check but it looks real .gave me 2 phone numbers (803)994-9724 texts only then (803)402-4154 for calls only and a email -richiewilly2017@ and richiewilly2017@ not sure who to report it to but it's the second one I've got.the other one was to put a sticker on my car and a 5,000.00 check
Priority Mail Hacked
February 24, 2019

In reply to by Not In Houston

Our postage.com account was hacked and they stole $1500+ of priority mail stamps, and people are contacting us about the letters they received.
BW
March 01, 2019

In reply to by Priority Mail Hacked

Huh, I've got a priority mail envelope here with a check for $2990 that I'll never touch, guess I know how the envelope was paid for now. *sigh*
CV
March 31, 2019

In reply to by BW

I'm sure glad I found these comments. I received a check today after clicking on what I thought was a friend sending me a secret shopper link. Accion Research Group. Fraud. The Priority media mail came from Suzanne Kessler in Lansing MI. Fake name for that address doesnt match beenverfied site or the assessor office. This Samuel Cook keeps texting me out of Palm Beach asking how my ebay gift card assignment is going. Where should I turn in this fraudulent check, emails and text messages?
i wonder if I …
April 15, 2019

In reply to by Priority Mail Hacked

Kindly Confirm you have received funds and Instructions for your first assignment via USPS. TEXT " ASSIGNMENT RECEIVED " to (201)-771-3621 for Confirmation That’s what they sent to me from 52548 number
Anonymous
June 08, 2019

In reply to by i wonder if I …

Wow glad I saw this they just sent a check and text message to me this morning
FS
June 20, 2019

In reply to by Anonymous

I had a similar experience. A respected Linkedin contact said this was a good opportunity; I received three, $800 money orders to deposit and then had to purchase two $1000 Apple gift cards. Something sounded suspicious and I see my hesitation was worth the wait. Thank you all for warning. PS My Linkedin contact later told me his account was hacked so be careful there as well.
LinkedIn Messa…
December 02, 2019

In reply to by FS

I’m so happy I researched this! Bc I received a link from a contact in LinkedIn with a message that consultants are needed for this assignment. And it seemed so legit until they asked if I had a credit card account with any of these stores- Macy’s, Walmart, Target, etc. And I’ve been conversing with a guy named Jim Smith as well. He is the “Lead Counsel” according to his website at Fielsagents.com. Of course it’s around Christmas when people are trying to make extra cash but wow! It almost got me until I read the email that said, “you won’t have to spend any of your pocket money.” Pocket money is a term used in other regions of the world but not in my location unless you’re around 90 years old. Thanks for these posts everyone!
Kimmy88
October 21, 2019

In reply to by Anonymous

Wow, just received the same. FedEx delivered priority to my house. I'm so glad I researched this. Thank you all for taking the time to comment on this. My check is Dallas Texas and the guy Im supposed to text is david hall@ 316-330-9069. Bummer
can’t fool me
October 24, 2019

In reply to by Kimmy88

I am also thankful for y’all’s comments, otherwise if I had not learned anything from the internet I was thinking about cashing the check and keeping the money.. glad I didn’t.. otherwise I would have been in deep trouble
Nikki0117 this…
July 06, 2019

In reply to by i wonder if I …

This is number they are using 541-238-6956
Jlh121275
August 07, 2019

In reply to by Nikki0117 this…

Well I got the secret shopper ASSIGNMENT IN THE MAIL. I even texted the Received to the number 717-537-1832. They are using also 201-201-4881. I was on my way rushing from work trying to get to the bank and Lo and behold, something just didn't feel right. I just said to myself I'll check it out to see if it is a scan, and I saw these comments. Thank God. I was sleeping in my van last week. It is sad people praying on people having it so hard. They should be away to stop this sort of thing happening to folks.
Ronda
August 10, 2019

In reply to by Jlh121275

I received a 998.00 dollars and they want me to buy e-bay cards and to scratch the back and take a pic of the no. And pin clearly that set up a red flag for me, cuz they said they wanted me to use the cards for purchases but if that was true why wouldn't the cards from front and the receipt be sufficient.... I don't believe this was legitimate. Scam !!! They also sent me a text telling me I did recieve the mo and instructions and to proceed with professionalism....oh and they wanted me to fill out the mo and put Amber Gate on it in the from part why didn't they fill it out ????? Yep a scam
JJ Home
September 10, 2019

In reply to by Ronda

JJ I just received the same and they keep sending me txt to complete project and notify them by end of day. after a few days I txt them back 417 351-1606 and told them I was notifying the Federal Trade Commission and my local FBI and will be turning the priority mail envelope and contents over to my local FBI.
Catherine813
January 30, 2020

In reply to by JJ Home

Wow how very crushing... I had the exact same thing happen to me. I deposited yesterday. The letter says not to tell absolutely anyone that's what made me suspicious. Makes me sick. It also said for it to be a mystery shop of my bank and Wal-Mart. I'm gonna cry. This is the third scam I've been hit with within 6 months. Now I have to go back to the bank and explain. I have been waiting for approval for disability for a year and am in the hole terribly. Was really happy because I applied to do mystery shopping. I'm in texas and it says this "Michael" is in Florida. His number is (786)464-6553. Watch out for the one where they are interested in buying something you have for sale online and say they'll send a driver to pick it up ask where to send you the money to and then threaten you. The other one was a girl on Facebook friends you the acts like shell help you out of debt by getting you a check from her boss then asks you bank info and she deposits a check into your account that stolen, tells you to keep 500 and forward the rest to someone else. Omg I'm a sucker. Feeling like throwing up.
J. Stoltz
April 10, 2020

In reply to by Catherine813

I was hit hard once and lost everything with identity theft in 2006. I now take anything which seems too good to be true to my banker and ask them to call and verify funds.verify the check. 99.9% of the time, unknown and unexpected checks in the mail are scams... even from places like Publisher's Clearing House etc. Bottom line - no one gets anything for nothing. Protect yourself and your money.
LEGO51
August 15, 2019

In reply to by Jlh121275

I received the same type of message. Received a text from a Mark Johnson 719 347-1106. eBay gift cards and take pictures. That made me really suspicious especially purchasing $2000 worth of gift cards. Also received a message from Linkin. So upsetting
Sompot21
September 04, 2019

In reply to by Jlh121275

We r looking in the mirror . Exactly my story . In addition they also never asked me for my survey Information .
NotFallingForT…
November 04, 2019

In reply to by Sompot21

I received an email in my college account, and since I am unemployed and desperately short on cash, I responded. I received the "Survey" and a cashiers check for $1,950 ( which must be a fake). The instruction letter on the back of the "survey" is not addressed to any particular individual. It directs the recipient to purchase 4 - $400 gift cards, totaling $1,600, if the survey is completed within 48 hours, or if not, then 4 cards totaling $1,700. The same stories I've read here, take pictures of the numbers, after scratching off the strips, send pictures, text and email. The "Secret Shopper" then supposedly keeps an Additional $250, or $350 in cash. Is there anyone to report this to?
MommaT
January 22, 2020

In reply to by Sompot21

Just recieved two checks for2,950.00 number301-792-7754 contact person is michael plant my salary450 the rest is just as everyone elses. To buy gift cards ect. I fell for ine these tqo i qont even as badly as i meed the money cause im gonna be evicted unless i come up with 400 dollars by tomorroq tbis really sucks
Don't use your…
January 29, 2020

In reply to by MommaT

I just received a UPS Priority Mail envelope today with a check for $2,800. and a “Feedback Instruction Sheet. I’m to text “ received “ to a number once I’ve opened the envelope. Then I’m to do 3 steps: cash the check, deduct $350. for my salary, then to proceed to a Walmart and purchase $50. worth of items for me to keep. Also I’m to buy 3 gift cards worth $400. each, then go to another Walmart a do the same. Then take a CLEAR picture of the receipt, gift cards and purchases and text the other items to: 585-714-2921 or email to surveyjobs @ Signed, “John Simpson”
Kristin
October 21, 2019

In reply to by Nikki0117 this…

281-627-6247 number I was contacted from by Mark Reynold Offering $350-$450 Per transaction.
Mr.curious
July 23, 2019

In reply to by i wonder if I …

How long did it take for them to send the check once you signed up to be a secret shopper
Eve sols
April 14, 2019

In reply to by Not In Houston

Yeah they used priority mail too. I should have sent it to someone idk who. Or taken photos so these people get caught. I tore everything up. Mine started with a text message then the mail. So idk how they have my phone and current address.
Learose3
November 17, 2019

In reply to by Eve sols

Eva sols, Dont feel bad about ripping everything up. Chances of these people getting caught are slim to none. That's how they keep getting away with it and new and improved scams are out every year! It sucks and it's a shame for the people they take advantage of but unfortunately I've learned a valuable lesson from it- when it comes to money, nothing is ever free, you cannot trust anyone, and if it seems to be too good to be true, it is! Remember those 3 things and you should be fine. I'm sorry you got hit. I received a similar letter and believe me, I wanted that money too. I am disabled and barely making ends meet so an extra $450 at Christmastime for my grandbabies...hell yeah! But I knew it was fake after reading the letter the first time, I went back and really read it and looked at it, it was so full of grammatical errors and it wasnt layed out like a business letter so I then googled the company that it was supposed from and the guys name at the bottom and it all didn't match up. Always listen to that little voice, the hair standing up on the back of your neck, or that feeling in the pit of your stomach- its telling you something for a reason, listen to and then slow down and follow through. Investigate. If it's on the up and up, the money will still be there the next day. Research, it may save you alot of time and trouble later. Hope this helps.
ddj
October 02, 2018

In reply to by PamMc

Same thing just happened to me. I thought it was legit but I see its not. Will be taking checks to local bank to turn them in with letter and screenshots of text messages from person who has been contacting me.
Larchave
April 03, 2019

In reply to by ddj

Just received one today for 998.00. Asking me to load google play cards. Haha. I knew it was a scam. In the trash out goes after I take pictures of the letter and check.
Definitely a scam
April 17, 2019

In reply to by Larchave

interesting, I just received a check today and was solicited by a former colleague of mine via LinkedIn. They only communicate in text and when I asked why the checks were sent with remitters being someones name not their company nor the company of those requesting the research or a contracting firm, they continued to confirm that they were 100% legitimate. What threw me off is the amount of the check and that they wanted me to go buy these gift cards with $2k and then send it back to them scratched off. LIKE WAIT A MIN! This very much felt like old scams back in the 90s that worked sort of the same way, re: Ponzi, where someone sends a check to someone else. The remitter of the check and the sent from address on the priority mail label were even differing names. Definitely do not deposit this check. I am holding onto the envelope and check, sitting on a shelf while I figure out how to return this to the right folks. I'd like to see how far they are willing to take this if I continue to ask them questions.
abu Tahani
December 24, 2019

In reply to by Definitely a scam

I received the same thing today. the check is totaling over $2900.00 and i am just going to trash it. thank you so much for your alert.
Tracy
April 29, 2019

In reply to by Larchave

Yep just got that one also glad i came here and checked it out.
Mgarrett
May 12, 2019

In reply to by Larchave

Just received a priority mail Express 1 day with a certified check for $998.00 and instructions for Google play. Lord knows the money is needed but I am not going to be no one's fool on Mother's day.
Cook
May 13, 2019

In reply to by Larchave

I received the same thing in the mail today for the exact amount as yours $998.00. Too good to be true!! Red flags popping up all over the place. Took a Picture of the letter and check and will post it on FB to let everyone know to beware.
Sarah
May 23, 2019

In reply to by Cook

I received a random text about secret shopping at Walmart. Then they emailed me with the assignment. I was to keep 300 for my salary and then spend 50 on anything I wanted and then get gift cards with the rest. After that I was to take pics of the pin scratched off and the gift cards and send them to them. They sent me screen shots of the check and I was to upload my banks app and deposit it that way. Glad I came here and seen it was a scam. As a single mom I can’t afford to be on the hook for $3500!!! Something needs to be done about all these scammers. It’s happening way too much!!!
IrritatedinWI
October 29, 2018

In reply to by PamMc

So glad I researched about this beforehand. I JUST got a check for $2995 to be a mystery shopper; was told to also deposit it in my bank and go to an apple store to purchase 2 gift cards with it and $300 was my salary . It seemed too good to be true so I researched first and low and behold here I am. A few different things though, the company is White Loft Surveys LLC and the mans name is Joseph Rendon. I've saved the text messages as well.
Mel
November 05, 2018

In reply to by IrritatedinWI

Oh my god ! I’m so happy that I googled it before going to the bank tomorrow morning . I just got a check for $998 and they wannted me to buy itunes gift cards and then scratch the code and send a picture of the gift card code to their email ! The pay was so good to be true ! I mean almost $300 for just going to bestbuy or apples store to buy the gift cards IS RIDICULOUS !
glkikuni
December 07, 2018

In reply to by suzy q

I knew something was fishy. Signed up for that peddle Inc company through my university. And received a check for 2,950. Called all my older friends, and we looked at it and I was like nahh...let me look up the number.
Bob
December 20, 2018

In reply to by glkikuni

I just got the same amount in a check yesterday through a priority mail from mystery shopper but called better business bureau and they confirmed it was a fraud. I'm so HAPPY my grandma pointed it out once I showed her the check and survey packet , and than my family called and reported it and I also kept all the messages.
Sam
December 20, 2018

In reply to by Bob

I just received a check today for $2997 and my assignment was to go to the Post office and get postal money orders. The overall sound of this made me feel it was a scam but I am glad I looked here to confirm it. I just sent the guy named Jeff Mclever (909-581-4223) an text stating that I shared his name and number with my neighbor who was interested in this as a second job. And that my neighbor's first job was working for the FBI. I haven't received any further texts from Jeff! Thanks for these posts!
Alayne
October 24, 2019

In reply to by Sam

What a coincidence i was assigned the same postal service money order assignment, I needed to evaluate the post office worker for good customer service and then immediately send the money orders a long with the receipt fed ex overnight. I keep $400 and they make out with 2 grand! I am so glad that I googled it before proceeding
Charlo
October 28, 2019

In reply to by Alayne

I just received one of those USPS Priority Mail, cashier's checks for $2800, written on ComericA Bank. It looks legit. Inside was also a very copied list of instructions with a signature of Roland (can't read the last name), also copied. The enclosed list of instructions was very professional. I'm suppose to surveying 2 Walmarts stores. I'm support to keep $350.00 and purchase (3) $400 gift cards from each Walmart and also purchase $25 of any products from each store. I can keep those products and hold on to the gift cards and would be told what to do in my next Survey. Oh, I'm supose to text copies of those gift cards and send a copy of the receipts once completed. Okay, so I did sign up to do surveys from Survey Junkie, My Points, and ---gov. Sorry at the moment can't remember. And today a check appeared. I did research and the bank seems to be legit. So, what do I do with everything? Oh, I plan to call the bank tomorrow just to see what they say.
Mack55
February 27, 2019

In reply to by suzy q

Same here. Just got the same money orders for $2000 to deposit and then go to Walmart and you know the rest. I’m reporting this to the US Postal Service because they’re saying to report it. They are trying to catch these scammers. Call 1877-876-2455 to report these people.
missied
August 29, 2019

In reply to by Mack55

I got one too! This is crazy! Glad I googled it! So do we just take them to the post office then??
Ritch
January 12, 2019

In reply to by Mel

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