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. Being out of work for months, I recently signed up for a mystery shopping job offer through a legit-paid-to-click site. This past Thursday, I received in the mail a letter with a Spain postmark with an official looking check for $1999.75. Letter looks official, I went to the internet and the bank on the check is legit. As someone previously stated, the letter says to take out $350 for your expenses and the rest is to be used for your assignments. The letter has your job id, which you log in on the “official” looking site, and your name comes up welcoming you to the program. It also tells you not to click on the assignment (as you have 24 hours to complete assignment), until you have the money in hand. Also advising you that any merchandise you receive is yours to keep. Even though the postmark confused me due to the information being about US mystery shopping, I fell for it after sleeping on it and having my boyfriend research the information as well. Being low on cash, and all bills due and knowing that I DID actually submit information to be a mystery shopper, I honestly thought this was legit. I deposited the check into my bank account the next day (letter states that funds are cleared within 24 to 72 hours), eventhough my bank has a hold on it until 9/4. I am so embarrassed right now and feel so stupid that I fell for this, as it looked so official!! I am sick to my stomach right now. Do I contact bank, police, etc. Please help.

    • You are fine as long as you do not withdraw funds and wire them off to the scammer. Notify your bank first thing in the morning that you are the target of an attempted scam. Let them know that you have just discovered that the check you deposited is a forgery, and you did not know that when you deposited the check. Tell them before they find out and tell you.

      They will probably charge you a fee when the check is returned, but that is pretty minor as long as the funds are still in the account.

      Because you are alerting the bank to this, there shouldn’t be any other problems for you.

      Just remember that any time someone sends you a large check like this and asks you to wire money, it is ALWAYS a scam.

      Good luck!

  2. Hello, im a victim of scam I got one of these checks deposited 2870 and said to do 2 money wires thru western Union, I sent one for 1200 hundred like they asked, and the other have I used for bills, I found out it was a bad check now I owe the bank. I thougth the check was good aand needed the money. What do I do now I owe the bank 2500 and don’t have it.

    • What you do now is you talk to the bank about how you are going to pay back the money. You thought you were scamming someone else out of money and you got scammed. It’s an expensive lesson.

  3. I was contacted to be a Mystery Shopper – sounds like fun so I bit. I just received $2500 US Dollar Travelers Cheques but no instructions other than to send an email confirming receipt of the cheques. This seems very shady! I don’t know what to do. The envelop was sent USPS priority mail 3-day, and the name Tom Ellis at tomellis22@aol.com or tomellis33@yahoo.com are the contacts that I have. I also have a phone number 903-224-7259. Also names associated with it are Richard Wendel 16772 Cline St, Lowell, IN 46356-9582 (that’s the return address and Mark Gerrald is the sender of texts. Text lies stating that funds were coming out of Florida – envelop is from IN. I am afraid to respond any further.

    • Denise, don’t do anything. Don’t cash the cheques, don’t contact the scammer, just ignore it. You can turn the envelope and cheques over to the Postal Inspector at your local post office, if you wish.

      This is definitely a scam and it has nothing to do with mystery shopping.

  4. Hello Cathy. Recently my friend was involved in a secret shopper ordeal. Someone sent him a check to his front door shipped UPS for 3000$. I automatically said to myself scam. He showed me all these emails and information and said it is real. I was confused myself when he asked me “how could this possibly be a scam if the check cashed? Why would the bank let that clear?” I had no response honestly but my but feeling told me something was fishy. They told my friend to keep 500$ for himself, go to a couple places spend a certain amount of money he had a little survey to fill out and afterwards he needed to Western Union the remainder money to another person. He didn’t do it. He just kept half the money and sent the other half to the information they gave him. He tried to give me the information to do it myself and I said no. A week later the bank called him and know they want a lot more then 3000$.

    • Jay, one of the reasons so many people fall for this scam is that they assume if the bank gives them the money, that means the check has cleared. It does not. Banks are required to release funds within a few days, but they may not discover that the check is a forgery for weeks.

      The response to someone who thinks this is real is, “Why would someone send you thousands of dollars and hope that you would send some of it back?”

  5. hi i did that too.so i found this job and i was talking with them and they send me a check and i put it in my account and i went to money gram and i sent a port of the money but the lady from there ask me more and made me to cancel everything and after that i went at the bank and took the check and gave them the money.they keep texting me if i told them to dot do it. the check it was 2707.27.what should happen now?how much the bank usually for this deposit cuze i checked on internet and it’s still in pending?

    • Make sure you leave all of the money to cover the check in your account, plus a bit more to cover any fees for the returned check. (Ask your bank what fees might apply.)

      Do not contact the scammers, and if they try to contact you, ignore them.

      You are lucky that you didn’t lose your money. Most of the time the banks and the wire companies don’t ask any questions.

  6. thank you. this is the email address Mathew Lopez” and this is the phone number 1 415 580 0281 and his name is Mathew Lopez and yesterday he text from another number +13203219402.I checked my account and the bank didn’t charge me any fee.I went in that day and I told them that the check may be fake and I canceled the transaction and those people keep texting me even after I told to not do it.

  7. I got a check yesterday. For 2987.28 after reading the letter I decided to research online. The bank routing number is correct but I don’t like that there is no other info on the company in the letter. Then the company that issued the check is a fruit and peanut company. Why would they want to pay out that kind of money to have a money transfer. So Thank you for this info I will be putting this check in the trash. I thought scam as soon as I seen the amount needing to be wired but decided to look more into it. Xmas is coming and I need to make sure my kids get a few things not the scammers.

    • Jennifer, you were wise to be suspicious. When someone sends you a check or money order and asks you to wire funds it is ALWAYS a scam. No exceptions.

      I hope you and your kids have a merry Christmas!

  8. Yeah. I signed up to be a mystery shopper. I got a USPS priority mail thing and I cashed the check, and have actually used the small amount of money I was told to keep. The check was for 1940. I still have the rest of the cash, as I was not sure what to do. What should I do? What kind of trouble am I in? How do I protect myself? HELP!

    • Tori, you didn’t “sign up to be a mystery shopper,” you replied to a scammer. The check you got was a forgery. If you deposited it into your bank account, you should contact your bank ASAP and let them know that you were the target of an attempted scam and the check you deposited was a forgery. Then you will need to make arrangements to pay back any of the funds you have withdrawn. If you cashed the check elsewhere, contact them. If you wait for the bank or other entity to discover that you passed a bad check, they are much less understanding.

      Fortunately, you did not follow through and do what the scammer told you to do. That means you are not out any money. Assuming the scammer tries to contact you, don’t respond. You can report this to law enforcement, and probably should in order to have a report on file. It is possible that wherever you cashed the check could file charges against you for passing a bad check, but if you notify them promptly about the scam and file a police report, it is less likely that will go anywhere.

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