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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.

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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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Granny Buffalo
June 27, 2020
I received 2 checks by priority mail with instructions to deposit one for $1950, and hold on to the second one for $2950. I was to buy gift cards from Walmart and CVS. The "Official Checks" appear to be on a drawn from am M&T Bank account. This all arrived in a Priority Mail envelope. After carefully reading the enclosed letter, it was apparently a fraud. No actual business would release such a grammatically flawed document. Furthermore, it is drawn from the financial institution at which I do my banking. The "Remitter" and the signature don't match. This isn't the first time I have received a check like this with similar instructions. I will do as I did last time; take the checks, letter and envelope to the bank. They need it to help their fraud department help federal officials find the people who are perpetrating this fraud. I am younger than most who receive these. I am very sceptical, and my daughter formerly worked at M&T. I am one of the fortunate ones who seeks advice before I do anything. This time I Googled the email address. During this time of the Covid-19 pandemic it is dangerous to be out and about, especially for people willing to go to a bank possibly putting themselves at risk, because they may see this as a Blessing. This is infuriating, not just for myself, but for the others who have this fraud perpetrated on them.
Almost scammed
June 27, 2020
Got a 4,7700 check today with a secret shopper job at 2 Walmart’s and a ups. Was to cash check from Fresh Insights Survey and get 4000 in money orders. Send them thru ups as quickly as possible. Check looked legit. Had Rabonank on it and ACT Commodities-both real. I would get 600 to do this. Luckily, I found this website.
June 28, 2020
I'm so glad that I checked this out first. What you described is just what I received today. I got the info from a text. These people are serious and they will do all they can to make their info look professional, but when you have to deposit checks or money orders, its always a red flag.
June 28, 2020
I received an email saying that I requested to participate in a store review project and they will pay me $300 if I complete the assignment. The person that emailed me is Ted Greene and he assigned Daniel Cook as my consultant. He said that I will receive the money check in the mail (priority). I received $1890 and an instruction paper. They wanted me to cash the check in my bank and keep $300 for myself and use the rest to shop. They want me to visit 3 stores and buy ebay gift cards worth $500 in $100 and $200 denominations. Once the task is complete they want me to email Daniel for more instructions. The instructions also said that if I was asked if im a secret shopper, to answer NO and if asked why Im purchasing gift cards is to say that they are raffle items.
Doug W
June 29, 2020
My wife received the Priority package today with a cashiers check allegedly drawn on Naval Air Station JRB Credit Union (Navy Federal) for $1900.52 and instructions same as all others, but to specifically buy Sephora gift cards. I am taking this directly to them as well as reporting it to the FBI as this is a Federal issue and military jurisdiction may apply as well. DON'T FALL FOR IT!!
June 29, 2020
I got one today from Mark Herderson with a Whole Foods logo. They want people to buy Nike gift cards. $2,950 was included.
Juan C.ena
June 29, 2020
Prexius Surveys do this as well
June 29, 2020
I was just hit 2 weeks ago check in the mail deposited did what they asked I'm on the hook for the three grand just got another one in the mail today with legitimate looking emails the check written on a established Bank Bank
July 01, 2020
I 'joined' a group in AL back in Feb. 2020 to be a Wal-Mart mystery Shopper. Their $2617.00 money order was no good. Took our bank and myself weeks to clear up that fiasco. Online one night in early June, I signed up for one using the heading 'Consumer Resource Center Unit. Never heard back from them but got home from work on Mon.6/30 to find a cashiere's check for $2630.00. This time, I went online, got the phone number for the banks' main office in Roff, OK and called them. They said the check was fraudulent. I wish it were possible to shut down and penalize ALL scammers.
July 01, 2020
I got a check from 502-625-8995, not sure what to do
July 02, 2020
We recieved one in the mail today addressed to our minor Grandchild. Sent Priority mail. Turned over to USPS. The odd thing about it is this Grandchild doesn't live here just visiting. Be careful police said lots of these scams out there.
Free money to …
July 14, 2020
I got an email from "Walgreens Secret Shopper" offering me a $50 gift card to shop at Walgreens. I was drooling and responded with my phone and email address. I got a follow up text from "Alex Tyler" saying my assignment packet was mailed. I called the text number and no one answered. I received a USPS envelope today with a check for $2350 asking me to buy gift cards at Walmart and photograph the cards and send the pictures to them at shoppingonlinealways101@ . The very real with a watermark cashiers check is from Hunnington Bank in Ohio. Thank God I goggled secret shopper scams and found this website. Guess I will not be getting any free Depends. :(
July 04, 2020
Unfortunately, I have gotten scammed a couple of times. I I deposited a check and it cleared my bank and unfortunately I am in the hole For about $2600. My checking account has been closed and I am no longer able to open a checking account. They are saying that there is fraud listed under my name. I am disabled and am still receiving Receiving checks and money orders. I have learned from previous mistakes and reported this to the banks and USPS. In all I think I have received a total of $10000 in checks and/or money orders. There are some evil, dishonest people in this world!
July 06, 2020
Rcvd a check for $2420 to be a Secret Shopper for WholeFoods from a Scott Potter. I had previously replied to what appeared to be a legit advertisement for a secret shopper job. I was glad I took the time to research this because it is obviously a scam. They wanted me to buy $2000 worth of Nike gift cards. DIRT BAGS!
Money Out OF T…
July 07, 2020
Same thing occurred to me today out of the blue. I had already said all of this when I read the scam note. You really have to put the pieces together 1) you deposit check 2) Shop and get Gift Cards then scratch off the information and give it to them 3) They have all the info they need to shop online 4) Check doesn't clear and you're on the line for thousands. These people never stop with trying to take advantage of people. They actually wasted money and time by sending me a priority mail envelope.
July 07, 2020
I received a check for $2800 to buy gifts cards at 2 different Walmarts after I deposit it. I was then to take pictures of the cards to send to a certain number. I was to use some of the money on personal purchases for payment. Fortunately, I was unable to complete the task and tried to notify the sender that I had a problem. No answer on any numbers or emails. The return address on the letter is the wife of a state representative in a northwestern state.
Don'tbob use y…
July 07, 2020
Just received a check also contacted Walmart as to how to handle I saved the envelope
July 14, 2020
I just received a Priority Mail Envelope by USPS with a $2,420.62 check by SAFE CREDIT UNION, RE: Bruce Foggy along with a Customer Service Evaluation Assignment.. Which stated for me to follow these exact steps.. first confirm the receipt a package at the email they provided to me second deposit the check at my own bank third complete assignment within 12 hours will earn me $250 bonus and within 24 hours will earn myself a bonus of $150 next I need to visit Family Dollar, Sams club etc. And purchase for eBay gift cards at the amount of $500 each. Then after I purchase the cards I open the pack and pull the silver scratch off area on the card capture the image of the card front and back it says please do not discard the cards as they will be used for forthcoming assignments and then I am to give the details of the store name address date and time of visit name of cashier. And I am to give all this information along with the pictures of the eBay gift cards via email they provided to me. and they also said to not let the cashier know that I am a secret surveyor if the cashier asks.. the email which was provided on the letter I received with the check is (surveyreportteam@ ) Knowing that nothing comes free to you in life I am not going to do anything with this check at this time but if any of you could respond to me and let me know if you know for sure this is a scam I’d really appreciate it , Thank You
July 07, 2020
Got a email from them today actually was a text message beware
Navy guy
July 07, 2020
I responded to one text, got 2 checks. $2600 and $1995. Very adamant i complete the assignment right away. David Murphy speaks terrible English, can only contact via text. Not suspicious at all. Asked him why so anxious, is it a scam? He stopped texting me, lol. Other one has good English skills, insistent I do this right away. Told him waiting until check clears. See how long he will wait.
daughter looki…
July 09, 2020
My mom just received a certified letter for this scam. It totally looks real until I googled it and found this site. Thanks for posting. I didn't think it was a good idea just because of COVID 19 and she's 91 with diabetes.
July 09, 2020
Yes I have been scammed many times by these survey shopper sites. I had recently signed up for one online that is said to be a legitimate company. I was wondering if anyone had received a Trustmark check from any scammers that looks as if they tore it out of a check book and it has the right routing number for the bank and even the security features included within the check? I’m so scared about stuff like this but I do have a Trustmark bank that’s close and I was going to double check with them but do you guys have any receipts payments from Trustmark bank with all the right security features in it but still was a scam? Please let me know if any of y’all could help me out. Thanks in advance. I seen how all the others I had received before were fake but this one is really darn good if it’s a scam. Everything the banks have told me to check looks pretty legit.
July 10, 2020
So I did my checking and found out the check is a scam. Thankfully I checked out this web site! Can't believe I almost feel for this. Please beware of easy monies. And mystery shops. Do all the research you can before you move forward.
July 10, 2020
I just received a check in the mail for $1,882.43 lol told to buy 3 $500.00 gift cards take pictures and text message a picture of the gift cards front and back and $370.00 of that money is mine to keep lol scam alert.
July 12, 2020
I recently received one of these letters and a check for $2490.00 to do secret shopping at Wal-Mart and CVS for loadable money cards.i also received a text message from them telling me to del.the check it was good to go.I of course went to website of company they are using to scam people and quickly found out about the scam being used.You never get money for nothing and always research the company it came from.I have no idea how they got my name or address or my phone beware of things you open on the internet.Tore up check and threw it away.
July 13, 2020
I just received a check in the mail with no paperwork nothing, so I know this is a scam WOW really. GET A REAL JOB!!.
July 13, 2020
My check came from the AsburyPark Board of Education in New Jersey and I live in the Chicago area. They trusted me with $2600 and they said I could keep $600.00 the big spenders. I still don't know the connection between the Board of ED., the post office, and Walmart but all I know is, in the end, I get two $1000.00 postal money orders with both being blank sender to recipient and overnight the checks to them. I'm just waiting for their inquiry where their $$$$ is. I'll update if anything good happens
July 13, 2020
Hello! I recently recieved a fake secret shopper's letter , sent to me priority mail , from Las Vegas , with vivid instructions, on what to do, where to shop, Walmart , buy gift cards, and there was a check for 2,630! I am so sick of these scammers ! People please pay attention because you could be ruined! They prey on your situation or your heart , even religion.
July 13, 2020
I received a check for $2,950.52 with instructions to deposit it and purchase $2500 worth of NIKE gift cards in $500 increments, photograph them and record the numbers and wait for my next assignment. What a SCAM!
fabiola addamo
July 13, 2020
Hi, I just received a check for $3345 and a welcome letter as evaluator for mystery shopping. They asked me to deposit this check and then go to walmart and buy blank walmart money order for $1000 each. The check looks odd because it says it has been made by Dan's overhead doors & more.
July 14, 2020
Just received a check for 3345, asking for 3 money orders from walmart. SMH.
July 14, 2020
I just got one check to mystery shop 2900.00 dustintsylor name on paper
July 15, 2020
Just received a check from Active Datafocus inc asking me to deposit the check and than purchase E-bay gift cards. I knew it was a scam when they asked me to buy gift cards. The check is a cashier's check from J.P. Morgan bank.
July 15, 2020
I received a Priority Mail Envelope today with a check inside for $2,575.oo to do the Mystery Shopping Scam. But the check was written on Northeast Manufacturing Co. that also has Salem Five Banking Insurance Investments on it. I worked at a bank for years and recognize these scams. The last one I reported to the local police but nobody wanted to hear about it so it was ignored and now I have another one.
July 15, 2020
My daughter received a $2940 check today in a priority mail envelope. The scam was thanking here for applying for a mystery shopper position. they use the name MSPA Agency. There is a legit company called MSPA America. The instructions tell you to deposit the check, take your $540 salary and then take the remaining 2500 and go to Walmart and buy 5 $500 kroger gift cards. They tell you to not tell the clerk anything and to keep the cards in a safe place and email them your completed form. They don't tell you at that point that they will ask for the cards or copies of the cards showing the numbers. Like really, a clerk will wonder will question anyone spending 2500 on another merchant card. And even if you have an epiphany, you more than likely have already spent that $540. So when the check comes back bad, you are screwed big time. My late mother got sued by her back and charged with a felony for a similar scam that wss $7000
July 15, 2020
Received a text yesterday advising me to be on the lookout for a priority mail to do “mystery shopper” work with. Shop at 2 Walmart’s, and purchase $2400 worth of gift cards. Check for 2800 from Bank of Texas. Contact is a John Stewart HR Manager. They’ve added to the list of things the things they want you to observe including “Is social distancing observed at the store which generally helps to curb the spread of COVID-19” and “we’re you offered hand sanitizers and/or was your body temperature measured.” However, they didn’t list an actual company that John is working for and the supposed email is an aol email (despite being printed on a gmail email print). All added up to being too fishy for me. Not sure whether to contact FTC or the local police department, though the check looked real, it didn’t have a company name on it or who it was.
Bonnie Brunson
July 15, 2020
A few days ago I kept getting texts I was getting money in the mail and some thing about secret shopping and then lo and behold I get a FedEx with a check from the valley plastics company in Toledo Ohio for $3345 I’m supposed to deposit it wait till it clears the next day take out 3000 go purchase three $1000 money orders from Walmart leave them blank supposed to be evaluating the employees and try to ruffle the feathers of the attendant anything about raising them I’m supposed to send to this person called Matt Powell who is supposed to be my supervisor on this at 657-549-4 660 send the things overnight to the address he’ll provide me afterI confirm the money orders The check is from a valley plastics company in Toledo Ohio drawn on Waterford bank and a McCord Road in Toledo Ohio this is a scam isn’t it I’m sure it is
July 16, 2020
I recently received in the mail from the Post Office a large envelope saying that it was important. So I opened it and enclosed was a letter along with a check for $ 2,575.00 and to do a secret shopper survey for CVS Pharmacy and Wal-Mart. And that I had to buy a gift card first for $500 and ask how I was treated. Found out that this was a scam so I destroyed the check and the letter. I am going to report this to the BBB.
July 25, 2020

In reply to by Stephen

Darn it! I’m usually more savvy than this, but I got this scam in a text that appeared to be from Whole Foods signed from “Project Manager - David Mark”. I am enrolled in Whole Foods’ rewards program with my cell number, so it made it seem more legit that they would have my cell number and my permission to text me. I clicked the link and provided my basic info online before going back and reading the text more closely, growing suspicious and googling it to find this post. I’m glad I caught on before they gave me any checks or instructions, but I’m kicking myself for even filling out their form. They’ll probably spam me for years now. Ergh.
July 17, 2020
I just got one for 2000 thank god my bank told me there is to many red flags and not to cash it
Don't use 71cf…
July 17, 2020
I just received a check for 2,700.00 and Told to go to a Walmart, Target ,CVS ,Best Buy or Rite Aid store to perches eBay gift cards. I immediately checked to see if this is a scam witch it is. The receiver one Kevin Cruz ( please beware)
July 17, 2020
Received Priority Mail Envelope with a Return Address of CHOICE LOGISTICS, INC. 236 Bernice Street, San Francisco, CA 29690-9255 Inside was one sheet entitled 'The Penny Hoarder Survey Program'. I first searched Google for a scam. Voila! There it was. Clue #1 I thought it would be fun to be a secret shopper. But inside with the one sheet of instructions was a check for $2,452.61. Whaaaaa??? Who legitimately does that? Clue #2. Then I searched for 236 Bernice Street in SF in my skip trace program and there is no such address. Clue #3. Three strikes. I am turning them into the FTC with copies of everything.
July 18, 2020
I signed up to be a secret shopper and I just received a check as well, however, this has happened to me before. If you google the company on your check before you cash it, you can tell they are stealing from companies. Mine is a company based in Idaho that they sent me money from. If the mailing label on the envelope is different then the company and address on the check. You can either take it to your bank and let them know you think its a fraudulent check or after you google the business on the check to let them know they have fraud happening from their company they can also investigate it on their side as well. I hope this helps anyone who is going through this right now!
July 19, 2020
I just received a check in the amount of $4,770 giving me the same type of instructions using $4000 for money orders etc. and keeping the $770 for myself. I checked the routing # of the check which was legit bank is in NJ bank name is Connectone Bank. The check came from Riverview Title Agency this is legit too. The other names for contact I checked the address and this is legit too. So is this still a scam?
July 20, 2020
I received mine today and decided to research if it was a scam. So, I do thank y'all for posting. We need people to speak out so others don't. Silence is violence.
July 20, 2020
I recieved a check for $2350 from Walmart mystery shoppers. When I went to deposit the check, my bank suspected it was fraudulent. I contacted Deutsche bank customer service and THEY could not verify the account. I was also advised to take EXTREME caution with this check.
July 21, 2020
I got an email that said I could work for somebody as like a secret shopper is what I think they’re going for I haven’t responded to them yet. I decided to check out some places online to make sure this wasn’t a scam and I ended up here so I’m pretty sure Williams Coleman is the name of the guys using so if you see that please be wary I think those are all scams not sure if there’s a way I can mess with him but maybe I will do that.
July 21, 2020
Received a check for 1500 from ADE Foodservice in illinois. Stated I keep 500 and send the rest to charities they inform me of. Delivered via UPS. Check came from a bookkeeping service in Texas. Got on this after signing up for a free samples website. Very odd
July 22, 2020
I was contacted by someone through job website to see if I was interested in becoming a mystery shopper. I provided them with my mailing address only. This past Monday, I received a check for almost $4000 with instructions to cash and purchased 4 gift cards ($425 each) from 2 of the closest Walmarts to me, a cashier's check payable to American Cancer Society and the rest ($400) was my payment. The check was sent from someone in Iowa (where I live) but the contact information was someone in RI. Needless to say, I was skeptical so I did research to see if this was legit. I was unable to locate the person (via Facebook, Instagram or any other social network). I did find the company they "worked" for but the email address provided was a gmail account. The cashier's check was from a bank in Lafayette, LA. I called the bank and asked if this check was legitimate. It was not. I checked the return address and the location was a refuge counseling center. Needless to say, I will not be cashing this check.