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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.

Boo7
May 21, 2018
Tired of all the scam calls for IRS & Law suits does any one have the do not call number.
SCnodummyhere
May 21, 2018
Received a counterfeit check along with a secret shopper letter with instructions. The check was for 2300.00 drawn on a Directions Credit Union. I, of course did not cash it, but wanted to make a complaint. I wish these people would put as much effort in finding a real job as they do trying to rip innocent people off.
FTC Staff
May 21, 2018

In reply to by SCnodummyhere

You can report the check to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations.

The comments you put here on the blog don’t go into the law enforcement database.

Ohmo
May 23, 2018
Scammers sending checks via US Postal Service (USPS) are committing mail fraud, so report such letters/checks to the local Post Master. Just as ridiculous is the recaptcha images used here by the US FTC - images with signs in what appears to be German. LOL!
Nataly
May 23, 2018
Hello all. I am a Fraud Analyst for a Credit Union, I see scenarios like these on the daily unfortunately. When in doubt about a check, please contact the bank the item is drawn on. That financial institution should be able to tell you if the item is legitimate or not. But bottom line, no one is just going to send you money, especially when you did not request it. As the saying goes, "If it is too good to be true, it probably is!" Good luck to all.
DDH
November 15, 2018

In reply to by Nataly

Nataly, I called the bank that is listed on the fake check I received and they refused to verify any of the information. But I did google the name of the company on the check, and used the phone# from their website to contact them. They are aware of the fake checks being sent. They have closed that account, to protect themselves. I always want to verify if something unexpected appears. The poor guys who sent me a text asking if I received the information are going to be annoyed as hell at me, because I keep asking them questions to verify information. It'll be fun. But I do plan on filing a report, online with FTC, with the police (hopefully I can do part of that online). I can't really with the post office, since my envelope came via FedEx, but I can let FedEx know about the label.
Protect Us
May 23, 2018
I was glad to see the State Attorney mentioned on Time Share article. There are scams on top of scams and our government is not taking action to protect us. Sending a communication alerting consumers that may or may not be subscribed to the FTC is not the answer. I was scammed of $11,000 with the Mistery Shopper scam. Rules for banking by the FTC were not followed by the bank yet I ended up paying for the scam. First of all I am a veteran and served my Country for 7 years riding in submarines and away from civilization. I believe in Capitalism and think is the best system around. However, it is the role of government to protect it’s citizens from harm abroad and domestic. How can banks say is your problem if you are scammed. How about the banking industry adapting a check verification system???? Mom and Pop shops have them to minimize fraud. Our banks especially the big ones have trillions in assets. With over 84,000 branches across the USA the cost of implementing this safe guard to PArOTECT consumers won’t even register as a cost at $.16-$.25 per check verification. Lets do the right thing for our citizens. When banks wanted to charge ATM fees they hot what they wanted. Lets remember is our money that makes the macro economy work and banks to thrive.
Almost
May 25, 2018
I have right now a check for $3628 to deposit in my bank and wire money........ No way jose
Deborah
May 28, 2018
I was on LinkedIn and I responded to doing a mystery shop. I have worked for Mystery Shoppers before so I thought LinkedIn was on the up and up. I received an express mail package with instructions and a $2900 Community Credit Union out of Houston, TX. I was supposed to buy eBay cards that I was to take pictures and send to Radius Global Market Research. I did nothing with the check.
mingd
May 31, 2018
I looked up the bank 800 number on the check, and they thanked me and had me send photos. I was to buy eBay cards and send to them. The bank said the crocks would use the numbers on the eBay cards and buy on eBay. For my bank would have cashed the check and then later discover it was fraud. They want you to go to your bank for it would cash it before realizing it was fraud. I have no idea how they got my address to send this to me.
Annettr67
May 31, 2018
I get at least one of these secret shoppers cashier checks once a week ! This is Crazy ! There should be something done about this , maybe there is! I mean this gets old ! Hope every last one of these low life's are caught . And should be punished to the max ! Evenditenly they are not or there wouldn't be so many of them ! Come on people . REALLY....
Sheila
June 01, 2018
In regards to Mystery Shopper scam, on May 22, I received a cashier's check for $2,294 (via Priority Mail) and a letter w/assignment to wire 2 money people in Chicago (all of money except $365) -- which I could keep as compensation. I reported this scam to the FTC and my State Attorney General's office. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.
Donnai3022
June 01, 2018
My husband and I have been scammed recently by someone or a merchant! Someone was able to withdraw $75 from our WellsFargo checking account with recurring payments of that amount. We reported and got reimbursed, but had to get all new cards because the account is compromised. The weird part is the bank has no idea who the thief is and couldn’t tell us so we don’t shop with that merchant anymore. My husbands Cap One has also been compromised from charges for Apple ITunes. He doesn’t have an IPhone and never uses the Apple App period. His account was compromised, they sent a new card only to have new charges for Apple ITunes before he even activated the new card. So Cap One is sending the second card because they have no idea how this is happening. We think it’s an inside job from the company’s. So everyone look at your online checking and savings for unrecognized charges because the thieves are getting more and more savvy with all their scams.
RCinAZ
June 04, 2018
Just received two checks from an address in New York for a mystery shopper opportunity. Checked the address - it's a home for sale. Called Service Sense as well and they confirmed the scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
No big jackpo…
June 05, 2018
Got another check for.a mystery shopper. 2600 plus. Amazing why can't anybody put these people out of business ? Who do I turn this stuff into?
A Banker
June 15, 2018
We encounter these scams quite frequently. 4 today at my branch alone. If you ever have questions about the legitimacy of an item....1.) Stop and ask yourself, "Does this sound to good to be true?". 2.) If still unsure stop by your local branch and ask, but do not leave details out regarding the terms of the "employment". Bank representatives are very familiar with these types of fraud schemes and can offer valuable advice, or at least place appropriate holds to make sure the funds actually clear the originating institution before they are released. We would never take negative action against someone trying to help us prevent fraud. 3.) Keep and provide any correspondence from the fraudsters.
Txmommy
June 20, 2018
I just got one in the mail last week for $2450. The address was supposedly from Blistex Inc but the address on the envelope doesn't match the address when you search Blistex Inc. I deposited the check and it showed it would be made available that Monday. Checked and it wasn't. Says the check status on hold because it appears the check was altered. Mind you the check came with instructions to text when they were available so they could send me directions on my task. I texted them letting them know that the check was on hold until the 25th because it appears the check was altered. Never heard anything back until I asked if they wanted me to keep checking the status. They said yes. Now I have a $12.00 charge on my account for the check being returned unpaid. I'm going to go into the bank with the letter and see if they can get the charge reversed. Hopefully they can start an investigation of fraud using that check.
scammed again
June 21, 2018
got a fake check from Arizona for over 2,000 dollars I deposited it into my bank account and screwed it all up. Don't except anything from this mystery shopper Jessie Miller its a hokes Also I get calls saying can you hear me now I hang up just after saying if you can hear this I guess I can hear you and hang up. Don't give any information on the computer phone etc. there are real jerks out there.
LizBiz
June 22, 2018
I got a $2500 check in a Priority Mail envelope but my bank isn't to open now so I will have to go visit them tomorrow. It's a real shame that the potential job isn't a real one.
Fast Eddie
June 23, 2018
I get these checks all the time from answering the secret shopper application. When I get the check I follow the instructions.except I communicate with them via text.i tell them that my bank has a 5-7 day hold on releasing the funds.so I tell them I go to the casino in my area that I have an act with and they cash the check right away.i then say I decided to gamble with a portion of the funds.i tell them I hit on slots or black jack or poker and now have $1000 dollars extra.boy do they get mad!!!!! I thank them for letting me be a secret shopper and don't disclose I'm scamming them!!!!
Ginna53Don't u…
February 03, 2021

In reply to by Fast Eddie

Did u really get the money? Or are you just telling them u cashed and are spending it hahaha??
Ricay
June 28, 2018
I received a check in the mail yesterday which was 2860.i just mobile deposited in my bank just to see if it was real.... because I showed them previous checks early this year...did I do anything wrong....I'm not goin to touch the money just wanna know if it's a scam...can someone help me
Haleynicole
July 04, 2018
I need to speak with someone to see bout getting some financial advice and my money back , I’ve already submitted a claim form.
dollyonfireDon…
July 10, 2018
I received a check for 1,850.00 and " pre qualification" letter for secret shopper at Walmart. I was supposed to send $785 to John Stansfield in Arlington, Texas and $795 to Michael Gamer in Arlington Texas 76012. Of course I didn't and now I am getting text messages to verify that I have received letter and check! Ha! I am NOT that greedy but I am smart enough to take both to the post office and report mail fraud!
willit5800
July 12, 2018
I had something similar happen. I contacted the bank gave them the name on the check (which was a valid customer) they verified the funds were available. The company only emailed at first. I then called the bank back and said I wasn't comfortable with this and wanted to know if they could contact the account holder and verify they had actually written the check in the amount of $5000. The bank called me back and asked for more information... then it went to the fraud department, and eventually the some government agency. They told me not to touch the check, put it in a plastic bag, to contact the company and advise them I was having trouble cashing the check as I just relocated to the state and didn't have a local checking account and if I opened an account there would be a hold on the funds. They kept calling me and trying to find out when I was going to deposit the money...Kept them stringing along.Long story short, the gov't agency came to my house took my statement and the baggie with the check in it and I have no idea what happened from there. Hate those scammers!!! This was during the market crash when everyone was desperate for extra income or any income at all!!! BE WARE they are out there~!
OldDogOldTricks
July 14, 2018
I got 2 cashiers checks for less than $1000 wanting to use Walmart2Walmart money gram. I cashed the checks, even told the teller do not deposit, sent the money out at Walmart. Now my bank is deducting the amount out of my account even though I said not deposit. I've got all emails and receipts from Walmart, and the envelopes from FedEx that the cashiers checks came in.
Another victim
July 23, 2018
My sweet husband is so trusting. We fell victim to this scam. We received 4 checks: $3,500. $3,550. $3,550. And $3,725. The last 2 didn't get us, but the first two did. We did the Wal-Mart secret shopping. They got $3,000 in gift cards from that. Then we did a bank "evaluation." We wired $3,000 more dollars. We also gave $50 to the American Cancer Society from all of that. If you've been doing the math with me, that's a grand total of $6,050 that they got from us. My poor husband is beside himself. He trusted them. He thought he was providing for our family. I trust his judgment, and I should have looked it over with him to give him my input. We're saving for our first home. This really, really sucks.
Not a Sucker
July 24, 2018
Watch out for a Secret Shoppers $1800.00 check from "The Golf Station Inc., 1220 West Hurst Blvd, 300, Hurst, Texas 76053" and the email address "CAREERBUILDER1010 @ GMAIL.COM" and "424-244-1124".
Crystaljade19
July 25, 2018
This lady texted me the other day saying she wanted me to be her personal assistant and she texted me yesterday saying I would get paid $600 a week. She sent me a check in the mail for $2,475 and said that $600 is my first paycheck and to use the rest of the money to buy kids items and donate them to the less fortunate. Well the check is from TVOP and the bank is Capital City bank, is this a scam and should I be worried??? She doesn’t want any of the money back but I’m confused.
Patricia
July 26, 2018
I have an elderly Aunt who keeps getting phone calls from 315-232-8414. They tell her the police are on their way to arrest her! Anyone else get calls from this number?
rgustafson85
April 11, 2019

In reply to by Patricia

Haven't seen a comment in a while, so here it goes. Today (01 Apr) I received a priority package, via USPS with a check from $2.324.00. In the package was a sheet with instructions on what I was supposed to do. Basically go to my bank & deposit the check into my active checking account. Then take a picture of the deposit slip. Once I've done that I'm supposed to text/e-mail the gentleman named Robert Payne at either 201-201-4881 or robpayne@ job4u. com so that the funds can be released to cover the check. Then I'm to find the nearest store by going to www. reloadit.com/ storelocator and go to TWO stores and buy a total of FOUR cards. Three cards loaded with $500 each & the last one loaded with $364. Then I'm to scratch the pin area of the card and take the pins & amount of each card & write a report to send to this Rob Payne. This company even has a bonus if I do my surveys within 48 hours of receiving the package. It even gives me a "SECRET FEEDBACK AGENT ID NUMBER"!! (NOW I FEEL SPECIAL) Also FYI the package came from a RUS Industrial, LLC with an address of 210 brookview St., Channelview, Tx 77530 So I did a little investigating and RUS Industrial, LLC is a legit company but it has a different address. Also this address of 210 brookview in Channelview, Tx is the site of a water plant. So they give you just enough info to make it look legit, unless you do some in-depth investigating. Remember the old adage "if it looks to good to be true, IT MORE THAN LIKELY IS"!!!
Millie@00
June 18, 2019

In reply to by rgustafson85

I. Just received the same but came from Harris County Water District in Channelview, Tx. I knew was a scam when the asked for gilft cards. If you make a copy of the check it will say VOID on it. This is criminal!! So many people losing money!! I am going to call everyone one that will listen and hope to get at least this on shut down!! EVERYONE make a copy of the check and u will see.
Heat0094
June 07, 2020

In reply to by Millie@00

Any check you copy will say void on it. Scam or legit they all say it even my pay checks.
hero husband
July 28, 2018
My hero husband came to my rescue yesterday when I shared my fortunate "work from home" check as a secret shopper! He quickly told me - babe, it's a scam! Heartbroken, I reluctantly took the $2450 check to the bank and reported it. I wonder, is there such a thing as a legitimate "work form home' job!! Thanks everyone for your input on these cams!! Blessings to you all...
OnceIwasAlegit…
February 28, 2020

In reply to by hero husband

For two years, 2012-14, I worked as a legit secret shopper. I was given assignments for gas stations and department stores. I did the assignments, sent in my reports and photos as proof, then within 7-10 days received a legit check for my wages. It was easy work but little pay. Never did I get a check in advance. Now that's fishy business! What legit employer ever pays for labor in advance?
Stayathome
December 18, 2020

In reply to by OnceIwasAlegit…

Soo true because they sent me a check first as well and just sounds too good to be true!
Kathleen
August 20, 2018
I received an Priority Mail envelope from the USPS with a letter from (JAMES GRANT Email: grantjames9800 @gmail. com 830 282-6344 or 512 515-1711) And a check $2420. They wanted me to deposit at my bank keep$420 for the job and buy 4 $500. Walmart Gift Cards. What idiots!!!!
Almost defrauded.
July 31, 2018
We received a check for $2560. We were supposed to send back $900 to some clown called Raymond Jordan in Alpharetta. How I wish the police had time to set them up and catch them. I feel for all the older ladies who would think it was legit because it came on priority mail. Thank you to this website for helping us!
TeriinAZ
August 02, 2018
I got it from Kroger Surveys which when you looked up the email was coming from an attorneys office James Berman. Total lies. Wanted shops at Walmart, Kroger (which isn't anywhere near me), and Target. Buy ITunes cards which I have no idea even what that is. You get $300 but they will send a check for $2450 and you buy gift cards then send them the cards AND CODES within 24 hours of buying them. YEAH RIGHT!!!! So watch out for Krogersurveys
puretexan28
August 27, 2018

In reply to by TeriinAZ

I am communicating with Jame Berman as I type this. For a Krogers secret shopper. Any way to report this to the police?
MYSTERIOUS DISKETTES
August 02, 2018
For the past 4 months, I have been receiving diskettes in the mail from someone claiming to be my bank. YES, DISKETTES!! I have no idea what the intention behind them is. But it cannot be good. Has anyone else had a similar experience???
Bsusan74
August 03, 2018
Anyone deposit a check from VPPA Ltd recently (July 2018), written of M&T Bank, Buffalo, NY? Sent check wanting me to deposit and buy I Tunes cards.
Pretty girls
November 03, 2018

In reply to by Bsusan74

I got one today. But bank of america. I am NOT depositing it. Actually im investigating to see if ita a scam.
Ivyrime
August 06, 2018
All great information. Is there any way to recover the funds (insurance, FDIC, etc.) if one falls for the scheme or is it simply a very hard lesson learned?
Feeling Stupid
August 08, 2018
I received an email telling me that my application to become a secret shopper was approved. I would be receiving my first assignment in the mail. Last week I received it, a page of instructions and a cashier's check for $2,450. I stupidly went to my bank and deposited it, my bank didn't say anything to me about it. I was to purchase $2,000 of eBay gift cards and the $400 was my payment and $40 for gas/mileage, the last $10 for donation. This morning I went to my bank and they told me that check had been 'returned'.
Crystaljade19
August 10, 2018

In reply to by Feeling Stupid

I stupidly deposited the check too and $600 of it was my first weeks payment and the check got “returned” now my account says -$619 .
CassidyCO
August 20, 2018
Just an update/adding my 2 cents. Dead give away it's a scam with the emails is: 1) Very bad spelling/grammar 2) No address to specific store to evaluate 3) Spend over $X,XXX.XX between 2 stores with in 48 hours and email w/ pics the receipt and card numbers. 4) Contact will be done via email/text so as not to 'disturb' shoppers job. There is no way I'm only going to get paid $300 and $50 for transportation to go and purchase over a $1,000+ worth of iTunes or whatever only to give them to someone I've never met. My kids aren't even that lucky!! Mine came from a davinolsen@ myfirm. com.co The .co after .com is pretty solidifying it's a scam. If you're legit, I should be able to research your company as well as find your name in the directory. If I can't speak to you directly. . . Nope.
Magoo
August 17, 2018
This just happened to me this week. The check was from SunTrust for $2,350. I was suppose to go to Kroger and purchase 4 gift cards at $500 each. Then they said Meijer. Then they said Best Buy. Took the check to the bank to see if it was legitimate. No it wasn't. Said she worked for WebShop. Signed everything Stephanie Myers with email address stephsall747 @gmail. com. The priority mail came from Laure Schwartz in Richland, WA. Take a picture of the gift cards then they would tell me what to do with the cards. Scam. Glad I didn't fall for it. I actually led the person on for over a week asking questions, etc. just to waste their time.
Tamekya
August 18, 2018
Have anybody gotten a ✔️ from AMOCO FEDERAL CREDIT UNION before