Holiday Fraud - Mystery Shopper Check Scams

Being a Secret Shopper sounds like fun, until you find out it's a scam and you're left on the hook for the funds. While legitimate mystery shopping opportunities exist, so do plenty of scams. If an opportunity is on the up and up, you won't have to pay them or deposit a check and wire money, send money orders or send gift cards on to someone else.

If you've recently received an "Official Check" from BLC Community Bank, for a large dollar amount you weren't expecting...VERIFY BEFORE YOU DEPOSIT! The check may look real and be signed by a BLC employee, but these checks are nonetheless fake.

What is Mystery Shopping?

Retailers can hire companies to help them evaluate the quality of service in their stores. The company will hire mystery shoppers to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product or service. Sometimes the shopper receives a small payment, as well.
 
Mystery shopping, by most professionals, is considered a part-time activity, at best. So how do you spot a scam from a real opportunity?
 

A Sure Sign It's a Scam

When someone sends you a check and convinces you to deposit it and quickly send them money. In a Mystery Secret Shopper scam, the recruiter would send you a large check and ask you to:
 
  • Cash or deposit the check immediately
  • Send money orders or buy gift cards with most of the money
  • Keep an amount as your pay (often an amount more than expected for a simple task)
  • Scratch the coating off the gift cards to show the PIN codes
  • Send pictures of the cards’ front and back (with the codes) to the recruiter
If anyone ever tells you to deposit a check, withdraw money, and send it to someone, that’s a scam. When the check later turns out to be fake, the bank will want the money back. And if anyone tells you to go buy gift cards and share the PIN numbers, that’s a scam, too. Once the scammer has the PIN, they also have all the money from the cards.
 
There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money, to ask you to wire, send gift cards, or ask for any amount of money back. These scams will also typically have some red flags such as typos or pressure from the sender to act quickly. 
 
We utilize the same Positive Pay system that we offer our business checking customers, which helps us detect these fraudulent checks when they are attempted to be cashed. The system looks to match a list of checks issued each day. The list includes the company’s bank account number, check number, the date and amount for which the check is issued. Any checks that do not match the list are not paid.
 

What to do if you've received a check like this:

  • DO NOT cash the "unexpected" check - report it. You can do this directly to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Contact the company directly to verify the check using a number your obtain from your own directory search - do not use any telephone number that appears on the check or instructions you receive.
  • If you're uncertain, contact our Deposit Operations Department at 920-687-7831 to verify a check or to have any questions answered.
  • If you need to contact us after hours, please use our contact us feature and include all info on the front of the check in the message. We will respond to you the next business day.
 
Additional information on avoiding and reporting check fraud can be found at www.consumer.ftc.gov.
 
Information adapted from the FTC's Fake Offers for Secret Shopper Jobs and Mystery Shopper Scams.