How to Handle a Mystery Shopping Scam Check

bank-checkIf you have gotten one of those checks for thousands of dollars from someone representing themselves as a mystery shopping company, you are about to be scammed. Unless, of course, you follow the advice in this article.

Mystery shopping companies do not send checks for thousands of dollars to potential mystery shoppers. Ever. They do not ask you to wire money. Ever. I have written about mystery shopper scams many times, but even some of the people who read those articles will want to believe that their situation is the exception, and they are going to get paid $400 for a couple of hours of work. Not gonna happen. Ever.

Before you cash the check and wire the money off to the scammer, humor me for a minute. Do a couple of things to check them out. If I’m wrong and the “offer” if legitimate, you can post a comment and say I was wrong. But if I’m right, you will save yourself thousands of dollars, lots of aggravation, and possibly some jail time. (Cashing a forged check is a crime, and you may have to convince the police that you are the victim to get out of trouble.)

Here’s what to do…

Call the company listed on the check and see if they sent it to you. Do not rely on a phone number on the check or in the package you received. Go look them up online and find contact information for them. Sometimes the check has the name of a legitimate mystery shopping company on it, although they did not send the check. But I have seen some drawn on accounts for auto parts stores and other businesses. Why would an auto parts store be paying you to mystery shop WalMart and Western Union?

Anytime a scam involves a cashier’s check, official check, or money order from a bank, and you believe that it could be counterfeit, you should contact the issuing bank directly to verify authenticity. As with the company that supposedly issued the check, when contacting the bank, do not use the telephone number provided on the check, as this number is probably not associated with the bank, but rather with the scam artist.

To locate a bank’s mailing address, you can check the FDIC’s Web site at:
http://www2.fdic.gov/idasp/main_bankfind.asp.

So now you have learned that the check is a fake. What should you do next? Resist any impulse to call the person behind the mystery shopper scam. One option is to shred the check and throw it in the trash. Another is to contact the authorities. In addition to notifying the bank named on the check, there are others whom you also should notify if you receive a counterfeit item. They include:

  • For all scams: Federal Trade Commission (FTC): by telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP or file an electronic complaint via their Internet site at www.ftc.gov.
  • For Internet-based scams: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Fraud Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov.
  • For mail-based scams: U.S. Postal Inspector Service: by telephone at 1-888-877-7644, by mail at U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of Inspector General, Operations Support Group, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100 or online at http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/MailFraudComplaint.htm.

If I was wrong about your check, post a comment and let me know. You can even taunt me. But if I was right…well, I won’t even say, “I told you so.”

Comments

  1. Lisa says

    Paul Wood is gonna turn everyone away from trying to do job’s like these. He sent me 2 checks in the same day and told me to do all the same things that you other people have stated. Glad i looked into it first!

    • says

      Lisa, there is no “Paul Wood.” It is a fake name used by a scammer. These scammers have nothing to do with mystery shopping–this is just one variation of a common scam.

      What matters is learning to think critically whenever you are dealing with someone you do not know. That will protect you from all kinds of scams.

      One important aspect of that is doing exactly what you did: You researched it before taking action. That is smart, and it kept you from becoming a scam victim.

      • Antje says

        I have also received a large check…..
        I haven’t cashed it….Wasn’t planning to….
        But my check was written by David Woods…apparently.
        I live in Vancouver Canada.

  2. Julie says

    I am SOOOOO Glad I read this… I too received two checks on the same day from “Paul Wood”. They arrived via priority mail and both contained the same instructions including a note at the bottom that the phone number listed is for text messages only… That was my first flag.. I then researched the banks the checks were drawn on (flag #2, two different banks). One was a legitiment bank in California, however, when I called to verify the “bank check” I was told it was not a real check… I have been unable to find any contact info for the second cashiers check written from a Credit Union in Texas. Third Flag, two checks, two different banks in two different states.
    I can’t imagine what might have happened had I been someone who would have only seen $4000 sitting in front of me and run to the bank and cashed these…. I truly hope everyone who receives ANYTHING like this has the wherewithal to investigate before jumping in….

  3. jeremy bedford says

    Ive gotten a check from someone called Denise Aldo
    Im going to try and cash it at a check cashing store. If they cash it…
    than its either real or fake. Ill than hold the money for 48 hours and see what happens. If nothing …than Im going on a much needed vacation :-)

    • says

      Cash the check and you may be going on a long, state-paid vacation. It is called fraud, and check cashing stores take a dim view of it.

      The check is a forgery, you know it is a forgery, so just shred it or trash it.

  4. Diana says

    Well thus far I’ve only received scam offers and can’t even get a real assignment so it really makes you not even want to bother.

  5. deborah says

    Thank you so much for this information I just received a chkeck yesterday for over $2,000 from a mystery shop I haven’t even applied for and I thank God for common sense and my parents saying check into it first I too got a note with it saying text the number when you have completed the assignment for a western union and money gram. all the mystery shops that I know have asked you to use your own money and they will remburist you. I have never did one however I know that its always good to double check.
    Again thank you..

  6. brewer boy says

    Unfortunately I cashed this check today before investigating. There is a 10 day hold on it waiting for it to clear through my bank. I will be at my bank tomorrow canceling that check. Thank you so much for this article!

    • says

      As long as you caught it before you sent the money off to the scammer, you are in good shape. You may have to pay a small fee to the bank for having a check returned (usually less then the fee for bouncing a check), but if you explain the situation to them, they may waive it.

      Glad you looked into this and didn’t get scammed!

  7. John McCormick says

    I am amazed at the amount of people who fall for these scams. I have had so many scammers sending me these checks. Most are just from me responding via email. I even get these from want ad Craigslist and career builder . I just received two money orders with fake watermarks for 975.00 each. They painted the security line on the money order. I am out of work and trying to find a job. These aholes take advantage of this and on occasion are successful. It’s people like you that are making a difference and helping stop this. I can not count how many responses I have read where this is taken seriously. Keep up the great work!

  8. Ericka says

    I received a check today for $1595.00 with the instructions to do western union and all that. I wasn’t going to cash the check cause I felt it was a scam. William Little was the name on the letter.

    • says

      Katie, I would assume that it is a scam, unless you know why the check was sent to you.

      If someone asks you to cash it and wire money or purchase pre-paid cards (e.g., MoneyPak) it is definitely a scam.

  9. Jennifer says

    My friend’s LinkedIn account got hacked and someone by the name of David Woods sent out an opportunity for a mystery shopper. Like a dummy I emailed this person my email address and address and I keep on getting emails indicating that my assignment is one its way via UPS. I haven’t received anything as of yet. We will see if I ever get anything. It will probably go in the trash. What is the point of sending in a check and having the person cash it in. What do the scammers get out of it?

    • says

      Jennifer, just ignore any attempts by the scammers to contact you. As to what the scammers get, they get your money. They send you a check, you cash it and send a large percentage of the money to them. Then you learn that the check was a forgery and you have to pay all of the money back to the bank.

  10. Darlene says

    I got a scam check for $2000. It was fed-ex’d to me with no return address on the envelope. Do I send it back to the person listed on the inside of the envelope? Do I just ignore it?

  11. says

    I had recently applied for mystery shopper position but don’t recall what website. So I wasn’t surprised to receive letter, although I was a little surprised that it contained a check for $1520.00 . The first”evaluation” was to deposit check, wait for it to clear and withdraw $1,020.00 and send $995.00 to a receiving agent. Being out of work I was looking forward to this new job opportunity. I did have some concerns but I wasn’t risking any banking info and figured if the check cleared, it must be OK since I was sending money from that check. The check amount was funded to my account so I withdrew the required amount and sent the money as directed. The next day ( today) I tried to withdraw money at my bank ATM to make a purchase at a local business for the second evaluation and my account was overdrawn due to a couple of purchases that I made and mostly the check I had deposited was showing a “charge back” meaning it was being sent back to the bank. Shortly after discovering this I received a call from my “assigned coordinator Pete Hoffman” stating there was a mistake and that I needed to cancel the money gram and call back to find out where to send the money via Western Union . There was a mistake alright, when I tried to get a refund, there was a “Hold” on the transaction( I couldn’t find out why) and I Had to call Money Gram to clear it. That “Hold” was a Godsend that allowed me to dodge the bullet and get my money back, minus $8.00, the fee for the money gram, not bad compared to $1,003.00. I’m not usually very lucky but boy was I lucky this time. I have not heard back from Pete Hoffman or tried to contact him, whoever he is, but I will be reporting this with the FBI internet fraud division.

    • says

      Louis, you were very lucky! One important point for anyone reading this: The law says that the bank has to release funds within a few days. That does NOT mean that the check has cleared. Do not assume that because they gave you money for the check, that the check is good. You will have to repay the funds when the check is found to be a fake.

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