Selected Press Release
Title Dealing with Fake Check Scams
Date Published 12/01/2009
Author John Swinburn
Publication MSPA Website

It's truly unfortunate that there are people who have absolutely no scruples; if they can get their hands on somebody else's money, they will. And if getting somebody else's money means hurting you, they don't care. During an economic recession, especially during the holidays, scammers are especially brutal in their activities that damage other people and businesses financially.

Because mystery shopping is an attractive way to make a little extra money, some scammers are using mystery shopping as a lure to draw in unsuspecting people. Scammers present themselves as representatives of legitimate mystery shopping companies and attempt to lure their potential victims into a scam. The victims (contacted by email, regular mail, or both) are asked to accept a check (either business check or cashier's check) that supposedly is for a mystery shopping assignment, depositing it into the victim's bank, withdrawing an amount equal to or nearly equal to the deposit, and using a money wiring service to wire the bulk of the money to someone else, possibly another "mystery shopper" who is involved in evaluating the money wire service. It is a complete and total scam. Legitimate mystery shopping firms do not operate that way. Do not get suckered into the deal!

It's a dead giveaway if the "company" representative does not have a corporate email address (for example, the person may send you an email from "VeryGoodShoppingCompany@hotmail.com"). The website the scammer refers you to may be laced with typographical errors or it may be for a company name that is not quite the same as the company the scammer is ostensibly representing. Be on the lookout for clues that it's not legitmate. Again, receiving a large check from someone you don't know is a very strong indicator that it's fake.

If you have already been victimized by this scam, you need to contact the local police, FBI, Federal Trade Commission, and anyone else who will listen...including your bank. Your money is gone, but you may be able to help catch the criminal who did this to you. You can report the crime online or by telephone in many cases; see the list of contacts below to begin making your contacts to report the crime.

If you have not yet cashed the check, DON'T! Instead, immediately contact the organizations listed below, whether you were victimized by it or were simply a target.

  • Fax a copy of the check and any other materials you received from the scammers to MSPA at 502-589-3602

  • Call police (they may not be able to do anything, but filing a police report can help if discover later if the scammers are caught)

  • File report with your state’s Attorney General

  • File and report with www.phonebusters.com

  • File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by telephone at 1-877-FTC-HELP

  • If the package with the check came by U.S. mail, contact your local post office and ask for the Postal Inspector (be sure to take a copy of the stamped envelope and its contents)

A useful resource about avoiding mystery shopping scams and finding legitimate mystery shopping opportunities may be found on the Federal Trade Commission's website.

About the MSPA

With more than 275 member companies worldwide, the MSPA has a diverse membership, including marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services. Its goals are to establish professional standards and ethics for the industry, educate providers, clients and shoppers to improve quality of service, improve the image of the industry and promote the membership to other industry associations and prospective clients.