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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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Roz
October 30, 2018
Got email and text. They sent check by UPS in the amount of 2,380. Keep $300 for myself, purchase 1 item for $80, and purchase (20 )$100 itune cards. Then send pictures of cards. I won't be depositing chec. It just was unbelievable
Pretty girls
November 30, 2018
Got a cashiers check from VPPA LTD today. No way will I deposit invisible money!! Scam!! I can not evwn research company.
nkl
November 30, 2018
Received a “cashiers check” for $2380 from Comerica bank. Was told to text received to 585-318-7464. I was to deposit the check then go to Walmart, text “at location” to the same number, buy anything for less than $80 along with 20 $100 iTunes cards. Take pictures of the receipts and the cards to surveyhunterinc2 @gmail. com. I could keep $300 as my “salary”. There were also instructions on what to look for during the evaluation. Glad I found this post!
Lexi
November 05, 2018
I had this happen with Gladstone Survey Service Inc. Luckily I did this research before I deposited the check. Thanks for all the advice.
kglove
November 30, 2018
I recently got a check from these scammers as well. They are based in the Houston area. How do we notify law enforcement about these people?
FTC Staff
November 30, 2018

In reply to by kglove

You can report to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give goes into a secure database that the FTC and other law enforcement agencies use for investigations.

Gold0147
November 06, 2018
Before I head for my surgery the scammer name James Anthony 1-662-314-6134 ask me to buy itunes cards $1400 on credit card and he will pay my 1 credit card off. I trusted him and did it. He also sent me numerous of checks I deposited I'm out over $3000 my account was closed. After that he ask me to borrow money from friend I said no then he threaten me and he will come after me and do things so I can go to jail for life. I also report to police but they say is not there problem. I report to FTC,BBB and to General Attorney but they don't do much foe me. I'm now on disability and don't have much to pay back to anyone. I think the bank and credit card should help me they know is a SCAM but no is my fault. Lesson Learn
Linda
November 07, 2018
I was told I was selected as a mystery shopper for Target. I received two checks, each for $1,000.00 . The remitter is listed as Brad Coleman and it is signed by someone named Kelvin J. Harris. They are telling me to keep $500 (they are generous cons) and purchase $800 of ITUNES gift cards in one store and $700 in another store. Of course, I’m to scratch off the codes, take pictures of the PIN numbers and email it to Brad Coleman. He left the phone numbers of (310) 697-7924, 461-4187, and 299-4070. I knew it was a scam because of the ITunes cards and the ridiculously high payday since secret shoppers usually pay $10-50.
rdw76
November 07, 2018
Received a check for $2950 on Monday and told to purchase $2500 worth of Itunes cards. I was then expected to send a pictures of the PIN #'s. I was incredibly skeptical considering given the cryptic, flimsy letter, and the lack of contact. Nevertheless, the Priority Mail package threw me for sort of a loop (5% believable). Moreover, I was introduced to this group via a contact on LinkedIn (another 5% of believe-ability). While I was 90% doubtful that this was legit, it still VERY scary to imagine that there was a 10% chance that I could have lost $3,000.
avit90
February 12, 2019

In reply to by rdw76

the letter is what threw me off too! No contact number, hardly any information about the deal whatsoever. I'm SO glad I didn't deposit that check!
Me 2
November 07, 2018
Yep, 3 "personal money orders", each for $800 to go and purchase 2Apple store gift cards for $1050 each. Sure looked real...mostly. Of course there was no address for the "bank" name, just a typewritten name for the bank (Fidelity Bank) with "Right By You" just below it and the fact that the "amount" of each of the "money orders" written in digits at the bottom of the check wasn't anywhere to be found nor were the digital scan codes at the bottom of the check either, but other than that, it looked pretty good. I'm sure it'd fool a lot of people. Luckily, I'm not one of them, thank goodness. Oh, yes, when I typed in the "USPS Tracking #" on the official looking "priority mail" label on the "priority mail" envelope, it showed that the envelope was delivered on the day I received it in San Antonio, TX which was really strange because I live in WA state, half a continent away. Oh, yes, and that label also said it was "Priority Mail 2-day" that ws shipped on 3 Nov with expected delivery of 7 Nov. Missed the heck out of that time frame! Tom
Almost a victim!
November 09, 2018
I recieved a Cashier's Check for $1,840 from Intouch Insight, drawn from University Federal Credit Union, PO box 9350, Austin Texas......They wanted me to buy three Reloadit cards for $500 each... and keep the balance about $300 for my gas. It seemed fradulent. Is there anyone I can report this too?
FTC Staff
December 07, 2018

In reply to by Almost a victim!

You can report to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give goes into a secure database that the FTC and other law enforcement agencies use for investigations.

Kellirn
June 10, 2020

In reply to by FTC Staff

It does no good to report to FTC . I did when I as scammed out of 25000. In an online investment company and received no help of any kind
TNMurphy's
November 16, 2018
I just got a check about 20 minutes ago out of our mailbox. It was sent priority mail. It was made out to my husband in the amount of 1,967.00 . Like others here, he was instructed to CASH the check at our bank, go buy $1,600.00 worth of EBAY gift cards from different stores. Doing this as a mystery shopper..... The instructions then said to scratch the back of the card to reveal the PIN#, take a pic of the front and back of the gift card and send it to an e mail address of ebaysurveyreport @gmail. com I immediately called the bank this cashiers check was written on Pacific Commerce Bank. I explained what we received and that I was sure it was a scam. I was transferred to the fraud dept of the bank( which that bank is no longer operating under that name anyway) and was informed this is a SCAM and they are investigating this now, since other people have contacted them as well. She ask that I shred the check. She didn't have to ask that, I intended to do that. I am going to send this information to EBAY as well as everyone else the other folks here have listed. Thanks so much for all of you taking the time to warn the rest of us.
Hunter Student SCAM
November 10, 2018
Received offer as secret shopper to my student email account. They had my ID number which was very strange. I was mailed a check for $2936 and asked to buy $2600 worth of gift cards to scratch and send them pictures via text. Here is the scammers number and address. 318-480-0262 - 980 NORTH FEDERAL HIGHWAY BOCA RATON, FL 33432. SCAM ALERT!
cecierdd
February 13, 2019

In reply to by Hunter Student SCAM

I also received an offer to my student email account and this is what made me think it was legit. It was sent from a student email and only students are supposed to have .edu addresses. The check is for 2965.00 from Market Research. I have been instructed to deposit and "wait" till the check clears and go to Apple store and buy two gift cards. I have not yet been asked to scratch and send numbers. The bank is First Financial and appears to be legit with routing numbers and all. I'm going to report this to the school.
morenajco
September 10, 2019

In reply to by cecierdd

I received an email from school too and thought it was legit that is why I participated, just got mine in the mail, what happened with you?
Dan
November 11, 2018
I just got a email saying a person need target gift cards and told me to buy 5 $200.00 gift cards from target and scratch the security codes on the backs and take a copy of the front and backs of the cards and text them to that number for a guy named Bill.
L. Horsey
November 13, 2018
They keep sending me checks, I got 2 today,and they are cashier checks and they come up, smh
Jfh
November 14, 2018
Rec’d two checks for $1000 to deposit and be a secret shopper for Target. Supposed to deposit checks and purchase $1500 of iTunes gift cards using two different Target stores — NOT happening!!’ Watch out for Brad Coleman & Target Secret Shopper !!
Washington
November 14, 2018
I received a check today from 'auditor service improving the clients experience' it's a company located out of Mexico at least that's what the website indicates. This check was from Union Bank in the amount of $1770.00, same scam. I'm ripping the check up, the letter attached was full of inconsistencies, misspellings, different fonts etc. I was savvy enough to tell right away this was a scam but worry about those who are not. The letter has a PO Box in Hawaii, was sent from Ohio, return address from California, and the check is from WY. Hope this helps!
shetellsyoudailly
May 09, 2020

In reply to by Washington

These people are in front of you this woman tell you daily .... The Federal Government should look at mark domain. This hustle are in plan cite look past the masked mirror you see how much they stop me .
Connie
November 16, 2018
I just received a check for $2900 with a letter congratulating me for being a Kroger Mystery Shopper. I am to deposit the check and go buy $2500 worth of ebay gift cards. Then scratch off the back numbers and email copies. So glad I checked into this!
CharlesBelize
November 16, 2018
Received a Facebook friend request from a Sani Danliti. I added, within seconds the person popped up with a DM having a casual conversation. Next time I knew I was being presented a business proposal. Here is the Facebook Messenger conversation: great idea i have a nice job proposal for you it's all about evaluating and commenting on customer service attendant professionalism in your area all you would have to do is to act as a normal customer at the shop or outlet which i would direct you to and request for services you will be paid $1000 weekly it's a 30 minutes job daily can you do that? on what would I need to comment on? we have been getting reports from customers over the slow services at the money gram and we would like to know how true they are Your job will be to evaluate and comment on customer service in a wide Variety of shops, Stores,restaurant and services in your area. Survey Assistant are needed throughout your area. You'll be paid to shop and dine out-plus, you can also get free meals, free merchandise, free services,free Entertainment,Free travel and more. Great Pay, Fun Work. Flexible Schedules. No experience required. If you can shop-you are qualified! Survey Assistant It is Very Easy and Very Simple No Application fees We are a company that conduct surveys and evaluate other companies. We get hired to go to other peoples companies and act like customers in order to know how the staffs are handling their services in relation to their customers. once we have a contract to do so, you would be directed to the company or outlet, and you would be given the funds you need to do the job(either purchase things or require services), after which you would write a comment on the staffs activities and give a detailed record of your experience Examples of details you would forward to us are 1) How long it took you to get services. 2) Smartness of the attendant 3) Customer service professionalism 4) Sometimes you might be required to upset the attendant, to see how they react to clients when they get tensed. And we turn the information over to the company executives and they would carry out their own duties in improving there services. Most companies employ our assistance when people give complains about their services, or when they feel there are needs for them to improve their customer service. your Identity would be kept confidential as the job states (secret shopper) you would be paid 10% for every duty you carry out, and bonus on your transportation allowance, and funds would be given to you if you have to dine as part of the duty Your job will be to evaluate and comment on customer service in a wide variety of shops, stores, restaurant and services in your area. No commitment is made on this job, and you would have flexible hours as it suits you. You will get your payment in form of Bank Wires do you understand the job better now? Sounds to good to be true. But, I am listening, for it is something I would do if I owned a large business/corporation so as to insure Quality of Service. May I ask why you chose me? Random? i can across your profile here on FB and since we just started recruitment in the Belize i believed you would do the job perfectly any further information to verify legitimacy? you can go through our website to see it's a legit and real job www.secretshopper.com Secret Shopper - The Premier Mystery Shopping Company Let us Mystery Shop for you. Mystery shopping programs provide a detailed competitive analysis. A leading mystery shopping company for many years. Mystery Shop for us. secretshopper.com what stores in Belize would I shop at? we have been getting reports from customers over the poor services at the money gram and we would like to know how true they are you would be required to evaluate the money gram and get some reports back to you us Examples of details you would forward to us are 1) How long it took you to get services. 2) Smartness of the attendant 3) Customer service professionalism 4) Sometimes you might be required to upset the attendant, to see how they react to clients when they get tensed. can you do that? so you would send money to me via moneygram i would me making a transfer of the funds you would need to carry out the evaluation and your salary to you through your bank account it's been transferred so your cover as an evaluation agent won't be exposed at the money gram how about paypal? or Western Union? I don't deal with banks. so if you are to be carrying out the evaluation as the sending agent then you will be eligible to get the correct informations do you know anyone who has a Heritage bank account so i can transfer the funds through the account? I would have to check. So, once the transfer is completed what do I do with the money? Just go and shop and report to you? once i make the transfer to you then you have to withdraw the money and deduct 10% from it as your salary for that particular evaluation and use the rest to carry out the job at the money gram and report back to me so what happens if someone decides to just keep the money? How do you protect yourself against that? we have an insurance company who would take care of such cases but we don't pray to encounter such Why not send a money order? when you run a business you check for losses and gains the bank account is preferred so you can know who you will be sending money to and can contact the bank for personal details if the person runs away with the money I will get back in touch shortly. i will be waiting Chat Conversation End Type a message...
Phyra
November 18, 2018
It happened to me as well today. I got a couple texts saying watch my mail for a check and instructiona for the assignment...and today I received a check from that David guy for 2950$ with instructions to purchase gift cards and send them back. Being I am am experienced mystery shopper, I know you don't send the merchandise back to the company. So that's fyi. Also you don't get money BEFORE doing a job, it's generally a month after.
MBGM
November 18, 2018
This type of scam has been circulating regularly on SurveyMonkey the past few months. I report them every time, but SurveyMonkey isn't interested in cleaning up their site.
Dandylyongolf
November 19, 2018
I received three Money Orders from Fidelity Bank for $995 each. Told to deposit and then buy two Apple gift cards for $1400 and $1250. The balance would be my salary. Those were to be used to buy merchandise and do a mystery shopping at Apple store. As soon as I bought the cards (I never did), the scammer asked for photos of the cards and to carefully peel the silver strip at the back neatly before taking the picture. I texted him that the cards would then be useless to me and that they could use them. I never herd from him after that. The "Money Orders" were turned over to my bank's fraud unit.
Texasmommy
November 19, 2018
I received an email through school so I though it was legitimate. They're using the name Insights Survey LLC and the evaluation coordinator's name is Tony Hoovers. I was instructed to visit an Apple store and purchase $1400.00 in gift cards, The $300 leftover would be my salary. I knew it was too good to be true, I am so glad I researched it before depositing the checks.
Bama fan
November 30, 2018
Recieved a text message today : +19046005257 Hello, this is Geoffrey from Gartner. This is a confirmation that a task has been approved and processed for you. An envelope will be delivered to the provided address today which contains a cashier check (funds needed for the evaluation and commission) and an instruction letter. Kindly confirm you received this message. - Geoffrey The letter was a Customer service evaluation assignment with a cashier's check for $2900.42 remitter: Richard Fels signed by Donna A Brand or Bland not sure. Issued by Golden1 Credit union P.O. Box 15966 Sacramento, CA 95852 issued November 05, 2018 with instructions to purchase any denomination of Google Play cards from $50-500 and after purchase of card open pack and gently peel the silver scratch-off area on the card , capture image of card front and back; please do not discard the cards as it will be used for your forthcoming assignment. Here are the details we will need from the SURVEY: - store name address date and time of visit -name of cashier/attendant (if visible on Tag) -did the store clerk thank me upon completion of the purchase -what was my overall experience with the staff in the store -how long it took to get check out -captured images of card front and back after scratched (Phone camera accepted) REMINDER: At any store chosen for your GOOGLE PLAY GIFT CARDS, under no circumstances should you acknowledge that you are evaluating their services as that will deter the purpose of the whole program, so if asked if you are a secret surveyor kindly answer NO as stated above. As soon as the evaluation is completed, kindly have all the details above emailed in your report. Email completed report to - info@ evaluationresuts. org Regards Mark Jones (no signature) (misspelled words on the instruction letter left as seen on letter)
TeresaInLA
November 23, 2018
I just received a check for 2,950.00 via FedEx from an "Apple Story Mystery Shopping Survey Assignment" and red flags and ringing bells went off in my head. First there is no company name, but some man named "Benjamin Hartford Ph.D. Second, no legitimate company would send me a check for near 3K without checking my background etc. Third, I've been secret shopping before and it was totally different. If it sounds too good to be true it often is a scam.
Loubird
November 30, 2018
I received an e-mail that I had been selected as a secret shopper. My job was to purchase Google Play gift cards. I was sent a check from Connex Credit Union for the amount of 2,900.42. I was to deposit the check and then buy 2500 dollars worth of cards. I got a text from Timmy Gomez saying he was from the EBAY evaluation company, asking if I had received my package. I called the number and did not feel comfortable with the gentleman on the other line. He hung up on me when I told him this seemed like a scam. He then proceeded to send me two threats. Remember we have your information, if you don't complete the task wait to see what happens to me. Info@ evaluationresults. org is the e-mail, someone named Mark Jones signed my letter and the person texting threats to me is Timmy Gomez. I am posting the details so this does not happen to anyone else.
KP
November 26, 2018
Literally just received the Priority Mail envelope with the fake $2490 check and very legit-looking survey assignment to buy the Apple Store gift cards. Came from James Richards & Jeffrey Colleen with a Greylock Federal Credit Union Cashier's Check. Thank you for posting -- careful out there, people!!!
Greg
November 27, 2018
Got the same Apple Store scam that others here have reported, and didn't fall for it either. One dead giveaway was the poor grammar, plus the letter was printed diagonally on the paper. Lazy scammer spent money on Priority Mail but couldn't be bothered to properly print a page.
GJD
November 28, 2018
Got scammed for 2600 I am 62 and am desperate for a job so went for it. Can’t find any way to get the much needed money back
Idiot
November 28, 2018
I fell for it, got scammed just today
Kristle1996
June 29, 2020

In reply to by Idiot

I just fell for it. Deposited it too. After reading up on it...I immediately called the bank. Hopefully I’m not charged for fraud.
Everymonth
November 28, 2018
So far two for two. Keep getting them by mail and fedex.
Anonymous
November 29, 2018
People don't be a victim of scammers, I receive a check for $3350.49 with it a letter it said that I have to deposit the check right away then shop at walmart to spend $3000 worth of gift cards. Scratch it and take a picture with the receipt. From that letter alone and the check, I start thinking who will give you money for that amount. I google the address of the sender and I found out it is a shack. Check the name of issuer of the check does not match at all. Then I received a text that once I received the check deposit it right away. Then I respond to the text "not to bother me I know you are a scammer and already traced your cellphone and report you to the authority. Thank you scammers!!
Kiki’s194eva
November 29, 2018
I’ve just received a check for 998 from, Mystery Shopper. On the paper it said 150 for a Walmart gift card and get three of them. Than it’ll be an 450 fee an than this man text me probably a fake name Collin Hickman says his is the manager than he told me to deposit it an I said I’m going to Walmart an get the cash
Carmen jw
December 07, 2018
Just received a check for $2450. Read the letter that came with it. It didnt make sense to me, so I googled mystery shopper scams. Glad I did. I torn up check. Vocal Mystery Shoppers Inc. Charles Cole Task Supervisor 213-275-0506 Www. vocalmysteryshoppers. com Check was from: First Choice Credit Union 1065 South Congress Ave West Palm Beach, Fla 134056
Ronnie
May 17, 2019

In reply to by Carmen jw

Hi Carmen, I just received the exact same thing in the mail for $2450. I was looking into all the info and noticed the name is different on the mailer and the letter. The mailer says Charles Greaves with CG Associates and the Signature on the letter says Charles Cole, Task Supervisor. I'm glad I found your comment. What did you search when finding the fraud info? This is the mailer address below. I'm going to search the address as well. Charles Greaves CG Associates 16464 W. Virginia Ave Goodyear, AZ 85395 Letter Signature Info: Charles Cole Task Supervisor 213-374-1589 www. vocal mystery shoppers. com That's for anyone who receives this from these jokers. Pretty dang sad.
Radian59
May 07, 2020

In reply to by Ronnie

I saw the ad on CL. Sure enough, secret shopper at Walmart. Going by name of Plexius Survey-Tennessee. Glad I caught it-thx
svescovi1955
January 14, 2019

In reply to by Carmen jw

This is the exact amount I received by the exact same company and exact names. Signed by a. Patricia Duncan I checked with the bank they confirmed it fraudulent. Thanks.
Alan
January 20, 2019

In reply to by Carmen jw

Also received a check from this scam. The check was written from the same amount, however, the bank First Convenience Bank was used.
Almost a victim
November 30, 2018
I received a check for $2460 from Paul Gabriel 406–480–6975 of Amusement Advantage Inc. Email address: gabriel_paul62 @yahoo. com My first assignment was to deposit the check into my bank account, wait two days in immediately withdraw but take my $300 secret shopper fee out! Then I was to take $50 and head to my nearest Walmart and buy any item I wanted. Then I was told to go to the US post office and purchase three money orders and the amount of $673 each and send them to then I was to take it $50 and head to my nearest Walmart and buy any item I wanted. Then I was told to go to the US post office and purchased three money orders in the amount of $673 each and send them to O Nojeem 476 South 10th St Newark NJ 07103. I was told to UPS or FedEx them overnight. Something didn’t seem right and I’m very happy that I check this website. These scammers should be prosecuted.
Hysterical&Useless
December 03, 2018
They got me. I searched the company and the name, even added ‘scam’ and ‘legit’ to the search hoping to find an article like this. Unfortunately I didn’t find this until today - after the fact. Thank you Search Engine. I was blinded by thinking this ‘opportunity’ was an answered prayer or a blessing and it’s obviously anything but. Now out about $2000 just before the holidays. Hope you all are well.
mommimi
September 23, 2020

In reply to by Hysterical&Useless

I am so very, very sorry this happened to you. The same happened to me, except mine was from a loan company called "lending Tree", it was named after a real company, but the scammers had made a whole website, EXACTLY like the REAL Lending Tree. Except 1 teeny tiny marking ,that made it different. Anyways. Unfortunately, I was scammed $4,000 dollars, not to mention my identity getting stolen. I had to pay $2,000 to my bank because of my monthly checks that .I always wrote, and when it came back that their loan was a scam, I had to pay people and companies , for my error, because being fake , from the scammers, meant, I am still responsible for the balance due. Anyways, I dislike scammers so much. I had to call the attorney general office as well, and the police department to make a report. I don't understand why they can't just make an honest living , by hard work and long hours like most of us folks do. Anyways, sorry to carry on, but that really stinks . And it was also around Christmas time. I am not naive anymore. I have even hung up on real companies. I'm not going to take a chance.
Truemysteryshopper
December 03, 2018
Received one by priority mail with a more than $900 money order and a list of instructions. They included purchasing Amazon Gift Cards and then sending pictures of the front and back of each with pin codes revealed! The part that really raised a red flag for me was when it said complete the money order myself and the name I should put on it. I thought to myself why didn’t they do it prior to mailing if it’s legitimate. Thankfully I researched and found this information. I do work for legitimate mystery shopping agencies and they do NOT pay this much for one assignment. Also, you are generally paid after the shop is completed.