Dave, I got a cashier’s check in the mail from a mystery shopping company. They say that I am to cash the check, wire $2000 to someone in Canada, and evaluate the service at the wire company. I get to keep $300 out of the check for a couple of hours’ work. This sounds sweet, but a friend of mine said it sounds too good to be true. Hey, it’s a cashier’s check, so what could go wrong?
My friend Cathy Stucker is the author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual. She knows about mystery shopping, so I asked Cathy if this sounds like a legitimate mystery shopping opportunity. She says this is a scam, and it turns out she wrote about this a while back in her blog mysteryShoppersManual.com.
Here is what Cathy has to say about this…
Mystery shopping is a legitimate way to make money, but this is not a real mystery shopping assignment. It is a scam. You may have gotten this “offer” because they found your resume online. Others have been targeted because they responded to classified ads or online job postings. Whatever you do, do not cash the check and wire money to anyone.
The first red flag that comes up here is the amount of the pay. Some mystery shops pay pretty well, but not $300 for something as simple as wiring funds and answering a couple of questions. A more typical fee for a simple shop might be in the range of $10 to $30.
The amount you are asked to wire is also a red flag. If all you are doing is evaluating the service at the wire company, you could do it by sending $100 or less. And why would they send a valid cashier’s check to someone without knowing that they are willing to do the assignment and having them under contract? If the check were valid, the recipient could simply pocket the cash and not bother wiring money to anyone.
Forged cashier’s checks are part of a common scam. What is fairly new is presenting this as a mystery shopping exercise. The scammers are good at making everything look good — even using the names and logos of well-known and respected companies — and lots of people have fallen victim, some losing thousands of dollars.
Here is how it works: You get a letter that says it is from a mystery shopping company. Often, the letter appears to be on the letterhead of a legitimate mystery shopping company, and may include their logo and web site URL. One letter I saw even had the logos of major companies such as Starbucks, MoneyGram International, WalMart, Hilton Hotels and others, implying that they are somehow affiliated with them.
The letter says that you have been selected as a customer service evaluator or mystery shopper, and your first assignment is to evaluate the service of MoneyGram by sending a payment to someone in Canada. The cashier’s check is for a few hundred dollars more than they are asking you to wire, to cover expenses and your “pay”?
The offer is generous — who wouldn’t want to make $300 for what amounts to, at most, working for a couple of hours? The bad news comes days or weeks after you wire the money. Your bank informs you that the check has bounced, and you are responsible for the full amount. Instead of earning $300, you have been scammed out of the amount of the check — often $2000 or more.
Many people assume that cashier’s checks are more secure than personal checks, or that if the bank cashes it for you, they know that the check is good. But that is not true. Here is what the Federal Trade Commission says:
“Under federal law, banks must make funds available to you from U.S. Treasury checks, official bank checks (cashier’s checks, certified checks, and teller’s checks), and checks paid by government agencies at the opening of business the day after you deposit the check. For other checks, banks must similarly make the first $100 available the day after you deposit the check. Remaining funds must be made available on the second day after the deposit if payable by a local bank, and within five days if drawn on distant banks.”
However, just because funds are available on a check you’ve deposited doesn’t mean the check is good. It’s best not to rely on money from any type of check (cashier, business or personal check, or money order) unless you know and trust the person you’re dealing with or, better yet — until the bank confirms that the check has cleared. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. The bottom line is that until the bank confirms that the funds from the check have been deposited into your account, you are responsible for any funds you withdraw against that check.
If you think you’ve been targeted by a counterfeit check scam, report it to the following agencies:
- The Federal Trade Commission Visit ftc.gov or 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Visit USPS.gov/websites/depart/inspect or call your local post office. The number is in the Blue Pages of your local telephone directory.
- Your state or local consumer protection agencies. Visit NAAG.org for a list of state Attorneys General, or check the Blue Pages of your local telephone directory for appropriate phone numbers.
If you think an offer you received is legitimate, contact the company and ask some questions. Do not contact them using the phone numbers or other information on the letter. Go online and search for the name of the company they claim is hiring you. Although many of these scams use the names of real mystery shopping companies, the contact information is usually not correct. Does the information in the letter match the company’s real contact information?
Remember that anyone can put up a web site at little or no cost. Do not assume that a company that has a nice-looking web site is legitimate. Do some research to find out if the company and web site are for real. If a company belongs to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, you can find accurate information at mysteryshop.org/shoppers/membercos.php.
And remember what your mother said: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.