The scenario works like this…you get a cashier’s check in the mail along with a letter stating you’ve been selected to be a mystery shopper.  You are to take the check to your local bank and deposit it to your account.  

You are then to go to two retail outlets and purchase gift cards in varying amounts then send those cards along with your review of both the bank and the retailer back to some fictitious company.  In return for your services, you can keep a few hundred dollars of the money yourself and maybe even use a little more to purchase something at the store because, after all, you are to give a thorough review of your experience there.

But here’s what happens…that cashier’s check is fraudulent and the moment you deposit it to your bank account it becomes your responsibility.  So, after you purchase the gift cards and send them back to the fictitious mystery shop company, the fraudulent cashier’s check doesn’t clear the bank it was drawn on because, after all, it is fraudulent.  That means your bank will go back to your account and take the money to cover the loss on the check.  You will be out the money…into the thousands…and you will have sent perfectly good and usable gift cards to a thief.

Let’s think about some questions to ask ourselves…

  • Did I ever sign up to be a mystery shopper?  If not, how did I “randomly” get selected for such a lucrative and simple job?  You didn’t.
  • Does it make sense that a company would ask you to review both a bank and a large retailer at the same time?  It doesn’t.
  • How do they know where you bank such that they ask you to review it?  They don’t.

What are some telltale signs…

First of all, you didn’t sign up for this.  It is incredibly unlikely your name was plucked out of thin air to make several hundred dollars all for buying gift cards and telling this company about the customer service experience buying gift cards.  There are legitimate mystery shop services out there so if you think you’ve just hit the jackpot and want to be sure, you can check the Mystery Shopping Providers Association ( to see if the company on the letter is listed.  But, chances are, it’s a scam.

Second, if you get one of these letters, you’ll notice that the grammar is pretty bad.  They’ll attempt to make the letter seem very polite and respectful using words like “kindly” frequently but I’m sure your high school English teacher would cringe at how they use the language.  It’s a red flag.

Lastly, the possibility for significant “free” money is always a warning sign.  The check you get could be for a few thousand dollars.  They’ll offer to let you keep a few hundred dollars of it then send the balance back to them in the form of gift cards.  All you’ve done though is help them launder money for nefarious purposes.  Then, you are on the hook for the amount of the cashier’s check.  It’s sad but it happens and people are taken every day.

During times like these, the opportunity for extra income is enticing but you have to be on your guard.  The assault on your personal finances is relentless.  These scammers are operating all day every day trying to figure out a way to take your money.  It is up to you to protect yourself.  Be smart.  Be suspicious and make sure you know exactly from where these kinds of requests come.  Don’t just fall prey to an easy trap.  Stay financially safe.

Frank Freels, Jr. is the senior vice president, security officer of Volunteer State Bank.

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