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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

Leese07 (not verified)
February 06, 2021

In reply to by Angel (not verified)

You do have options. I was scammed by Global Business Machines. I found the IP address that was being used to track my computer and bank account. I then filed a dispute with my bank and called the police. They took pictures of the IP address and the cards and it the evidence was turned over to the internet crimes division.
Don'method actor (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I got 4 checks, $2,500,$3,500, $5,000 &$9,000. I sent the largest back to sender. It came back to me with undeliverable, no such address. The 2 smaller ones had the same return and the other a PO Box. Thank God I didn't fall for it. Then I got the one from the Federal Reserve Bank.a go back to school grant. I think they are getting names from public records of anyone who has ever used a form of public assistance.
werner (not verified)
May 17, 2018
THANKS, FOR THE INFOS. Werner
Alice (not verified)
May 17, 2018
When I had some items up for sale on the Internet, after communicating with a gentleman for weeks, we agreed on a price. I told him I would not send the items to him until I received the money. A week later he sent me a check for $3500 more than we had agreed on, so I went to my bank and gave them the check , only to find out it was a scam. I learned very quickly.
Nobody's Fool (not verified)
May 17, 2018
Just had the same scam attempted on me. $2750 sent to be a Mystery Shopper. Used a lumber company address and SunTrust bank on the check. I called the company and they asked for it to be sent in. They have had this happen before. Fake checks using legitimate companies on the check with address and all...
FTC Staff
May 21, 2018

In reply to by Nobody's Fool (not verified)

You can help law enforcement by reporting your experience 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.

Sissy (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I get those "work at home" emails and other weird looking emails which I DON"T OPEN. You figure if someone really wants to hire you, etc., they can send you a letter. This gives you leverage in hand. FTC is just great in offering emails explaining all the scams old & new. I subscribe and read diligently to keep safe.
Ha Tran (not verified)
May 17, 2018
Free cell phone use medicaid card, SCAM conspiracy from NAtionalGrid in NY with scammer IDT and other are really killing people pocket book. Nationalgrid still keep saying their SMART SCAN work well, this dump ideas make VC laught..
Free2525 (not verified)
May 23, 2018

In reply to by Ha Tran (not verified)

Should I get rid of the free phone. Please reply back?
mbethards (not verified)
May 17, 2018
First of all, legitimate Mystery Shopping companies DO NOT pay you in advance. Secondly, the way it works is you use your money first, submit your report and they will refund you the money. There's no advance money.
SandyO (not verified)
May 17, 2018
There ARE real secret shopper companies; I have worked for them and received pay for the jobs I took. They NEVER ask for any money from you; they send you money for doing the secret shop. It was fun and you get some free meals etc. when you review their clients who are fast food chains.
SarasotaSharisma (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I received a check ALLEGEDLY written against a valid Missouri bank from a real business. I googled the bank and the business to verify as I didn't know why I received the check. It was made out to someone with a similar name but addressed to me. I called the business's Accounts Payable Manager and she confirmed they've had calls coming in for days. I emailed the check copy, the scammer emails and then the text messages from him! Hope they contacted the FBI!
Foxtail (not verified)
June 12, 2018
I just reported which I received in the mail and think it is a total scam. but forgot to put in user name so don't know if it got sent. The website which I did not go to is www. BankCodeProfits. com It claims you put certain codes in and then will receive money from banks. It also states will talk to you soon when you visit the web-site. It came from a Jim Samson 1220 Winter Garden Vineland Road Winter Garden Fl.34787
ctom0628 (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I have called the banks that the checks were issued from and reported them as fraud, as many of the checks were frauds. I have encountered many scammers and have been vocal in catching them. It is sad to say that it takes one dumb move and realize how bad the company or people were.
Dgalloway (not verified)
May 17, 2018
Thank you so much for reporting on these scams. So many calls,letter,therats on voice mail it's a war zone out there. I'm about out of blocking call space.
ctom0628 (not verified)
May 17, 2018
The scammers have become creative, using careerbuilder.com monster.com and many job seeking sites. Using these sites to catch many people with "Job offer" in email heading, it is not true. One scammer used a real company name and address, but error was the numbers did not correspond. I called the companies and reported them via BBB.org
jwhitt (not verified)
August 13, 2018

In reply to by ctom0628 (not verified)

I was hit by this scam on a connection from LinkedIn. She sent me a direct message with a link. Four days later I had a check for $1,980. Then a text message. The check was a legit check written on a bank is PA. They told me that if I can complete the purchase of $1600 worth od Amazon & iTunes cards that I can keep an extra $100. When I went back to check the LinkedIn connection it was gone.
KYTRINA2018 (not verified)
September 25, 2018

In reply to by ctom0628 (not verified)

I applied for a job as well with a search engine online and got sent something similar. I deposited but never got any money iff of the check bc i researched the Ebony Marketing Company and it was a legitimate company so i waited. My bank called me that afternoon and said it was fraud wouldnt return the check so i could file a police report and closed my bank acct. Ive had my husband check not counted as a result and the bank still got ne owing them to which im now filing a lawsuit bc of the treatment I recieved from the general manager there but I was never asked to do anything like by gift cards. Just do a store survey!
EsmevDon't use… (not verified)
December 04, 2019

In reply to by ctom0628 (not verified)

Omg I think I'm being scammed, but I'm not going to fall for it. Supposibly the guy is sending me a check for cleaning service
Wow (not verified)
February 21, 2020

In reply to by EsmevDon't use… (not verified)

I got check in mail for me to clean and was told to deposit check in my account and send so much to someone and then keep rest for my self. Creative goods. New york
josette05 (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I am surprised that you guys are letting people know about this now. I was scammed by these people back in 2009. the central Florida of educator bank charged me $25 when they acknowledged they are aware of this cam. they treated me like a criminal everytime I come to the branch until I demanded to speak to a manager as a victim
Smart Girl (not verified)
May 17, 2018
Got a call saying they were from Microsoft and my computer had a virus and they need to log into my computer to fix it but I knew it was a scam so I told them no and I ran my Norton security and there was no virus. It was a scam and they would have messed up my computer and charged to fix it.
Galactus 73 (not verified)
February 19, 2021

In reply to by Smart Girl (not verified)

I just received a check in the mail..4,000 dollars..said to text some dude that I received it..then deposit it..take 500..and another 100 for expenses..kind of odd cause I didnt finish applying for such job..I was just curious...but here iam with is check..I'm supposed to buy gift cards but beside what I'm supposed todo..it doesn't tell me what todo with 2,000 dollars worth of gift cards jut to text some michael stott..help me is it a scam. What's weird I'm not asked to send money back just the gift cards scanned to them....help??
Didnt Do It (not verified)
May 17, 2018
This happened to me a few years ago however I researched the bank the check was drawn on and what do you know there was no such account. Be very careful!
Patsy (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I received an opportunity to make $100,000 a year or more. After realizing it was too good to be true, I deleted it and the other "opportunities" they have sent to me. If it is too good to be true---it's not.
Seniorpreneur (not verified)
May 17, 2018
I have done Mystery shopping for two real companies. I'd be lucky to get $50.00 + a product sample per trip. Anybody that offers you 1,000's of dollars is an immediate fake. You never get paid until you finish the shopping assignment and fill out the company questionnaires. And yes, plus some shopping expenses.
Delivery guy (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I would get these at work all the time to deliver. It got to the point that I wouldn't even deliver them and just give them to my supervisor. I could easily tell what they were. One individual tracked me down and I spent like 15 minutes convincing him that it was a scam and how it worked. He thanked me for helping him out. He was struggling financially as it was.
DC0416 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I’m in the middle off a scam right now just finished reporting it to the FTC. But the scammer “David Pullman” wanted a MTCN and I was wondering if there was a way to make a fake receipt or a fake MTCN number that The authorities could trap and somehow catch this guy
Carmacatt (not verified)
May 28, 2018

In reply to by DC0416 (not verified)

I was just sent a check from a "Philip Pullman" he wants me to deposit a check and but 2 Iphone X that are unlocked. He wont tell me where he wants me to send the phones until I deposit the check..
Such (not verified)
November 17, 2018

In reply to by Carmacatt (not verified)

Yeah I got something from him also what's he's email or number I want to report it so it gets blocked
dfmoore306 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
This is really scary - I like to think I am savvy enough to recognize a scam, but honestly the scams get more and more sophisticated every day. Please keep up the good work. We need someone watching out for us.
Is anybody home (not verified)
May 18, 2018
"If a deal seems too good to be true it usually is."
marina52 (not verified)
May 25, 2018
Thank you I have only one message concerning a businessman Bruce Moriss who is currently in Malaysia and would like to have the money for his work and allegedly they do not pay in the hand but he must there account and he needs from me 1000 €. Well he can not come if I do not pay him that. where he allegedly already has the ticket for today. A businessman doing business and having no money. No thanks.
Richard (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I was a victim as well and then prosecuted for forgery as if I knew about this but it was dismissed after a long battle. Although I was still convicted of failure to appear on this charge that was dismissed. We need justice overhaul badly in Texas . I have never been more humiliated in my life .
Elaine (not verified)
May 18, 2018
Please don't tell me that the FTC can be scammed too. I got a check a couple of weeks ago from the FTC for a refund for over payment of something I had ordered online. Was it legit because the bank took it and said it went thru but that doesn't make any difference obviously.
brob55 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
Brob55 Got a check for 3100 told to keep 500 for myself and the rest will be used for a decal for my vehicle for Dr Pepper.Still have the check and the so called instructions.If I send this to you maybe it will help you get these creeps
FTC Staff
May 21, 2018

In reply to by brob55 (not verified)

You can help law enforcement and report this to the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. The information you give will go into a secure database that law enforcement uses for investigations. You can't send the paper check, but if you received the the instructions in an email, you could copy the email and add it to the complaint you file online with the FTC.

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

Dotty13 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I saw something on my Paypal Account about a week or so and keep looking at it and try to called PayPal too and really got it item and I was right SOME ONE DID A FRAUD ON ME That they want their money back and actually had my Paypal account money I had in there A SCAM ME OUT OF MY MONEY CLAIMING A SOLD THEM SOME GOODs AND ACUALLY PUT A CASE AGAINST ME AND I KNOW THIS WAS A CRIME AND BIG FRAUD CAUSE I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE SOLD NOTHING ONLINE EVER ON EBAY OR ANYWHERE AND I DO NOT EVEN A SELLING ACCT WHICH ANY WEBSITE like EBAY I ONLY BUY THINGS NEVER SOLD NOTHING AND I AM ABOUT REALLY TO TURN THIS SCAM - PUT CRIME CHARGES ON
jken111 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
Thank You FTC. Theres nothing worse than scumbag scammers who want something for nothing. They need to get caught and put in jail for a minimum of 5 years, or longer
Northwest3 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
Always make a copy of the check. If it's fake you'll see VOID all over the copy!! Then turn it all into the FTC and the Post Office. Too bad the Bank doesn't do this simple thing. Would save everyone alot of trouble.
Winter (not verified)
July 24, 2018

In reply to by Northwest3 (not verified)

Thank you for that comment, I didn't know this. About a year ago someone tried to scam me with an ad to make money by putting a wrap around my car. I answered the ad, realized it was a scam and then had an interesting couple of weeks seeing how far the scammers would go with me continually saying no, no, no. They said they were going to send a check, we said we did not want it. They sent it. We called our Bank who said the check is fine just bring it in. We told the bank the check is no good and the bank said yes it is we just checked it, please deposit it. Had we known about photocopying the check to see if it's real, we wouldn't have had to deal with the bank. As to the scam, we told the police department who didn't care at all, and we sent in a report to the FTC. I still have the complete texts in my phone
Marilyn (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I get those emails at least 3 times a day, that dosen't include the phone calls from telemarketers.
HAE1936 (not verified)
May 18, 2018
I have caller ID. I NEVER(NEVER) answer a telephone call unless I recognize the phone number,name ,their voice message. I never (NEVER) call them back.
Lets get them … (not verified)
May 19, 2018
I just got my second Facebook messenger hack. They pretend to be the person that messenged you and then tell you about How to relieve grants for anything imaginable. I told him I had already knew he had hacked her and was using i text her a told her to Change her pass words. I also told him to quit creeping around and go get a real job!! He said he was hungry, I told him he must have food, you have a cell phone !!
JAYO (not verified)
May 19, 2018
Since 3/23/2018 I've kept track of unwanted and scam calls. 13 through 5/19/2018. The most frequent is from Computer Tech Support. Different people call using different words, but always wanting access to my computer. There are also robo calls from Elizabeth of Credit Cards Reward Center, Veronica, Credit Card Account, and Can you hear me okay?
Steve T (not verified)
May 19, 2018
My Bank Statements , showed some small amounts were being pilfered from my Bank Account , they always start with small amounts at first , and if you do not question these small charges , they rob your account for larger amounts..My Bank Restored The Amount's in excess of $1,000 and changed my Bank Account Number...Once you report the theft , the Bank will not make a reimbursement , due to the fact that if you learn about the "Scam" and do not immediately complain , they say that "Re-occurrence" is not the Bank's Fault , because it is up to the Bank Customer , to check their monthly Bank Statements very carefully & do a reconciliation of their own accounts , and the Bank cannot be held responsible ! Therefore , I urge everyone , to check their monthly Bank Statement's with a fine-tooth comb , and beware of "Pay Plan" , which is the most often used , by scammer's to scam your personal and business accounts...
mountain girl D (not verified)
May 20, 2018
I was scammed by someone claiming to be from AppleCare and using their telephone number. Apple never calls their customers. Found out too late !!!
Boston Area (not verified)
May 20, 2018
My daughter got scammed on Care.com. They said they were moving to our area from out of town w/ a handicapped child. They mailed her a large check to buy a wheel chair. They pressured her to cash it & once she did, they had her wire money to the wheelchair seller. She saw the check had cleared so figured it was ok. Two weeks later the check bounced. If it seems too good to be true, it is!
GYH (not verified)
May 20, 2018
I got repeated pop ups on my computer advertising driver update from slim ware. I recently decided to try the drive update and made a purchase online using my credit card. I was directed to call someone to activate the software for me....That was when my problem started. he convinced me to share my screen and after that, my hard drive crashed. The slimware have ripped me off and crashed my system