Scam alert from I-TEAM: Secret shopper offers arriving in mail

Envelope contains $2,800 check with promise to make 'easy money'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM has a warning about a scam that could arrive in your mailbox or be delivered to your front door.

We know what you're thinking: Who could fall for this? Well, before we answer that, consider this: $1.5 billion were lost last year because tens of thousands of people fell for scams, like the secret shopper offer. 

That offer arrived at a local woman's front door in a cardboard envelope and contained a typed letter offering her $350 in commission money to shop and then complete a survey about her experience. It contained a cashier's check written for $2,800. 


She was asked to use $2,400 of that money to buy six gift cards and text pictures of the cards to a phone number. She did not fall for it, but instead forwarded it to the I-TEAM, so we could warn our viewers. 

Unlike other scams, this one is more believable and might fool a trusting shopper. Why? Most scam letters are riddled with typos and grammatical errors since they usually originate from outside the United States. Not this one.  

We showed it to Tom Stephens, president of the Northeast Florida Better Business Bureau.  

"It's very well done. Very well done. Easy to see how someone could fall for it," he said.


Stephens warned the check looks legitimate. It has an account number and routing number, but he said he's confident it would bounce if our viewer had deposited it.

"The checks probably on an account that existed at one time, but now has been closed," he said.  

While there is an assumption that your bank can spot a counterfeit cashier's check, he said people need to understand that it can take days before a bank is notified that a check is worthless, especially if it is not a local bank. 

FTC: Mystery shopper scams

The $2,800 check appears to have been written from an account with Comerica Bank. We checked, the closest branch is in Palm Beach, Florida. He said it can take up to 10 days or even longer for the check to make its way through the system to determine if there is money on the account from which it is written.

Stephens said there are three red flags to this scam and similar schemes:

  • The person who received it, never signed up to be a secret shopper.
  • You should not believe anything that asks you to deposit a check and then withdraw money.
  • No legitimate business would ask to be paid in gift cards.

Another reason so many people fall for scams is because they are similar to legitimate offers. There are secret shopper jobs out there. The Federal Trade Commission points consumers to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, which has a database of assignments. To see what's offered or to apply to become a mystery shopper, click this link.

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