know fraud to stop fraud - Part 1

By: Emily Jones

May 18, 2018

This is the first part in a new multi-part series of blog posts about fraud. We want to arm you with the knowledge to prevent it because the more people that are aware of fraud, the less they will fall victim to it.

Our first topic is fake checks and mystery shopper scams. This scam is happening across the country and is hitting close to home here at MidWest America. There is a scammer out there that is using our logo on fake cashier’s checks along with a letter of instructions like the one pictured here.

The scammers want you to deposit or cash the fake check, use those funds to buy gift cards at a store of your choosing, write a mystery shopper report with pictures of the gift card numbers and codes. When you return the report with the photos of the gift cards, the scammers have just made money out of nothing but the cost of sending you a letter. Because the fake checks are very similar to valid cashier’s checks, it may take weeks for them to be declared fraudulent by the issuing institution. When you cash or deposit that check at your financial institution, you are taking responsibility for it being a valid check. Your financial institution will give you credit for the check until it fully clears, but in the case of this scam it will not clear and you will be responsible for the funds credited to your account. Trying to track down the scammers who are running this is very difficult as well since they have disguised their identities and are often in a foreign country.

There are some legitimate mystery shopping opportunities out there, but how can you tell? You should always ask yourself the following questions.

  • Does this seem too good to be true? In most cases it is. In this case, they are paying you $400 to visit a store and buy gift cards. That’s a lot of money to be paid for an hour of your time to shop, take a couple photos, and answer 5 questions. Also, do your research, if you haven’t solicited this opportunity how did they get your name and address? Does this company exist? Etc.
  • Are they asking you to deposit funds into your account or to wire them money? If the answer is yes, this is a scam. Wiring someone money is like sending cash, there are no protections for the sender. You should never deposit funds into your account from a sender you don’t know as you’ll be responsible for them if the check ends up being fake.
  • Are they asking you for personal or financial information? This is a big red flag. Your personal and financial information shouldn’t be given out to someone you haven’t contacted first or done your research on.

If you think you have received a fake check you should contact the financial institution it was issued from to verify the authenticity. Also, make sure you look up the bank phone number and not use the phone number that is printed on the check as that can lead you back to the scammer and not the real financial institution. If they verify that it is indeed fraudulent you can then report the scam to the FTC.

Stay safe and do your research.