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Shopper Needed Check Fraud Scam

By March 1, 2009

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Scammers continue to exploit job seekers, but the "Shopper Needed" scam isn't just enlisting innocent folks into illegal money laundering activities. The scam is also exploiting the good name of JM Ridgway, a legitimate professional shopper service. Bear that in mind when reading the copy below - though the scammers use the name Ridgway, it is not affiliated in any way with the real JM Ridgway company.

The shopper-needed scam sends the 'new hire' a check for a few hundred dollars, instructing them to cash the check and take their portion, then forward on the remaining funds to the "employer". Of course, the check is bogus, it will bounce eventually, and you - the victim - will be liable for the funds you spent from the check, plus the amount you forwarded on, plus any service fees or fines that result. And never assume that because a bank releases funds after 5 days, that the check has actually cleared. That grace period has no bearing on whether the check is good.

Following is a copy of one of the email sent by the shopper-needed criminals:


Subject: Job Opening: Shopper Needed!!!
Date: Monday, February 23, 2009, 7:15 PM

Ridgway Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers. It's fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to shop. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials via e-mail, fax or postal mail.

Ridgway Shopper® is the premier mystery shopping company, serving clients across America and Canada with over 500,000 shoppers available and ready to help businesses better serve their customers. Continual investment in the latest internet and communication technologies coupled with over 16 years of know-how means working with Ridgway Shopper® is a satisfying and rewarding experience.
Secret shopping as seen on ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, L.A..TIMES. Stores and organizations such as The Gap, Walmart,Money Gram, Pizza Hut, and Bank. One amongst many others pay for Secret Shoppers to shop in their establishments and report their experiences. On top of being paid for shopping you are also allowed to keep purchases for free. Ridgway Shopper® NEVER charge fees to the shopper. Training, tips for improvement, and shopping opportunities are provided free to registered shoppers. Mystery shoppers are either paid a pre-arranged fee for a particular shop, a reimbursement for a purchase or a combination of both.Ridgway Shopper® has available for immediate assignment an inspection of the customer service of any walmart in your area. You are to shop secretly and invest just $10. This fee will be paid upfront. During this shop you will visit the location and make several observations as regards the customer service.

You will be required to interact with the shop clerk.

The assignment will pay $300.00/ Assignment


This is a classic 'if it sounds to good to be true" tale. It goes without saying that any promise of easy money should be viewed with skepticism. It pays to be suspicious. It doesn't pay to be a victim of a shopper-needed scam.

March 2, 2009 at 9:33 am
(1) Shaun says:

That rings so true!

If it looks too good to be true it probably is.

It’s too bad people are so desperate to make money that many will fall for scams like without checking out the company first.

You should always make sure they are registered with the MSPA.

March 12, 2009 at 7:33 pm
(2) C. Brown says:

OMG! ok I am a single working mother who of course is always on the prowl for a little side hustle. I went to craigslist and found this ad about being a secret shopper… I was so excited when I got the acceptence letter for the opportunity to join their team. I figured it would be good extra side money and its flexible to my schedule. WOW was I wrong.. you know what got me thinking this was a scam is when I got the check.. I couldnt believe the ck came 2 days after signing up online… This check looks soooo real too I was so excited and out of the $3700 sent to me I only had to cash and send $3000 and the rest was mine!! RED FLAG… I was like OOOOH NO! something aint right! So I looked at the check and noitced the bank address which is very leigit looking but when I called the bank……Exactly… I then started looking online about scams and by golly I came across this!! Glad I didnt go for it!! Damn that checks looks so nice with my name on it though! LOLOL j/k I turned it into the police..

March 27, 2009 at 5:47 pm
(3) Gil Wilson says:

I received a check and didn’t even fill anything out. They’re using craigslist to cull people for their scam.

May 1, 2009 at 7:52 pm
(4) c says:

BEWARE – I too almost got scammed. Once I smelled something fishy about the company I emailed through Craigslist, I told them not to contact me again. They said they would issue a check to me, and I again told them NOT to send me anything. Today I got a check in the mail – It was sent Fedex, and the info on the envelope was a PO Box in massachusettes. The check was for $3800 that said “Pension Financial Services” on a JP Morgan Chase account. No other info, statement explaining what check was for. Nothing. Clearly a scam. I am reporting this to MA and NY Better Business Bureaus or Fraud departments.

June 30, 2009 at 10:20 pm
(5) Brenda says:

Well this must be the latest in the scams for mystery shoppers, mine involves a western Union/moneygram location, and a drestaurant/grocery store. Same $300 that everybody else talks about, I almost went for it and then decided to check it out and see what I could find, and found this site, thanks for keeping me safe!!

August 8, 2009 at 10:31 am
(6) Ms.Tery Shopper1 says:

I wouldn’t say that it’s a matter of being “desperate” it’s just that times are extremely hard and the money is much needed for people who cannot get any luck, call backs or jobs landed from the hundreds of interviews they go on.

In reference to the actual scam, I actually just received a check via fedex from a company for almost $1000. The thing that initially raised a red flag for me was the fact that he asked me to let him know IF and when the check clears in my bank account. If the funds are supposed to be for me then I should be able to cash and spend it any way I want possibly at a check cash etc.

Still I am very glad that I researched ALL the information on the BBB sites, Google and other business directory sites as well. There was no valisd or verifiable contact info. Oh well, I’d much rather make “and keep” legit anyway?!

August 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm
(7) rob nash says:

its still being done “Dennis Jerry” says he is a supervisor there 2 apparently for Douglas Lloyd in Ripley WV (the guy who recieves the $3,050.00 the check was mailed from Fairfield IA by Mitik T. Sonto

August 20, 2009 at 11:46 am
(8) JOHN says:


August 25, 2009 at 9:50 pm
(9) Jyotsn says:

I got a mail with exactly the same wordings. I was about to respond but then I decided to check the company’s credebility. I goggled the company’s name and thank god for it. I got to know the scam before getting trapped .

August 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm
(10) fernando madera says:

I’ve been recently been a victim of this scam.someone send me a check for $1450 to be a mystery shopper.I deposited it into my bank account and was able to withdraw the funds.but after a day or 2 the check bounced now I owe the bank money for the fake check.

September 14, 2009 at 8:39 pm
(11) scam victim says:

Does the name Thomas McAllister sound familiar for this secret shopper scam?

September 21, 2009 at 4:25 pm
(12) Valerie Connors says:

Thomas McAllister is exactly who I was just scamed from. I waited for the check to clear but apparently didn’t wait long enough. What do you do and who do I call?

September 22, 2009 at 11:07 am
(13) Dawn says:

Thomas McAllister, yeah thats him. I got an e-mail out of the middle of no where about the mistery shopper. I firgured that they must have gotten my e-mail address from something like this site. I have looked into it in the past. I filled out the “application” and my that my assignment would be a walmart, then a western union. I e-mailed him back asking for further information. I kept getting this automatic e-mailes but nothing directly. So I did not do anything. Like everyone else, I got a check for about $2500. Held on to it for a couple of days. It seemed strange. Then here comes another e-mail saying that I can keep my part and had to western union the rest. I deposited the check and my bank told me that it will be a few days. Then I received another e-mail saying you should have gotten the check and it should have cleared and gave me another name to western union it to. Then the check bounced. Thank God that my bank was smart enough to wait 6 days or I would have been next. I want this Bastard punished. I only own the bank the bounced check fee and not the full 2500 bucks. If anyone knows what to do from here please let me know. I still have all the e-mails!!!

September 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm
(14) Matt says:

My mother in law is currently doing the same secret shopper deal from Thomas Macallister. My wife told her that we felt it was all a scam, but her mother says she has done several checks over a few weeks andnothing has bounced yet. Is it possible for the checks to take several weeks to bounce, or could what she is doing being truly legit? She is already into the deal for like 7 or 8K and I don’t have a good feeling about it all.
Any advice would be great.


September 26, 2009 at 4:00 pm
(15) Mary Landesman says:

It can take several weeks for the checks to bounce. Because banks will release funds after 5-10 days, victims mistakenly assume the check is good. That is not necessarily the case; there are just legal limits imposed on how long a bank can put the funds on hold. I would strongly encourage her to speak with someone at the bank about this or contact her local FBI office.

September 28, 2009 at 11:30 am
(16) Dawn says:

Yes, it does take several weeks in some cases. Please tell her to research him. It is a scam and the worst part is she will be liable for all that money and he may never get caught. He will be walking away with all that money free and clear. She could investigated by the FBI and all. My bank has contacted the FBI about have and the froze my accounts for the investigation.

October 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm
(17) Mitik says:

ya somebody is using my previous address(Fairfield, IA) and sent money order , cashiers check and i dont know what else they are sending.ITS A SCAM ,i receive calls from people asking me why i sent them the check.hope the FBI get to the bottom of this soon.

November 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm
(18) jan kraus says:

recent responded to a email i received about being a mystery shopper. Since the holidays are comming I thought this would be a great way to make some extra money. Got an email from George Brown my first assignment was to evaluate 2 different western union offices. My portion would be 10%. My suprise was the 7500.00 check I received. their instructions was to subtract the 10 percent and split the remainder amount minus fees and sent to a western union in china. REDFLAGS went up real fast.
first of all they said most transactions were never more than a couple of hundred dollars. so I was amazed at the amount of the check. I turned it all over to the police along with all the emails I had received. My momma didn’t raise no fool thank god.

December 30, 2009 at 6:09 pm
(19) Maria says:

New one out there from a James Cole with the ‘Secret Shoppers’ organization. The scary thing is I almost completely fell for it since I’ve been employed by Secret Shopper in the past. BEWARE… at least the only thing I lost today was $25 in a parking ticket….

January 8, 2010 at 5:24 pm
(20) Teri says:

I am a secret shopper for several legitmate companies, so when I received an email to sign up for another secret shopper company I did. But this whole thing sounded fishy to me. I recieved a cashiers check, that I still have, for $4500. I was supposed to keep 10% and then use Western Union to send the rest. It just didn’t sound right, so glad I did some research, I could not afford to pay if this was a scam.

January 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm
(21) Tina says:

It is sad that I was part of this foolish game. Altogether I wired over $6,000 to Barcelona, Spain right after Christmas. Then the bank called me today that all the post office money order checks I deposited are fraud.

Just a quick question. Since FBI is involved for investigation, am I still responsibile for the $6,000? If I can not afford it, what will the bank do to me? Kindly advice.

January 16, 2010 at 12:07 am
(22) Mary Landesman says:

Assuming you are in the U.S., you need to contact your local Secret Service office and report the fraud. You can find your local number at: Secret Service FAQs or in the first few pages of your telephone white pages. You may wish to consult with an attorney as well.

February 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm
(23) Anna says:

I have just been contacted my this thomas mcallister bloke, hes wanting to buy my horse from Australia and have her shipped to Texas. Thankfully i have had bad experiences and thought i’d sus him out. Thank god i did and now know its a scam!

February 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm
(24) Amy says:

well, the guy must have changed his name. I got scammed by a guy named Peter Johnson. Same thing. Congrats, I’m a mystery shopper, blah blah, and now I’m almost 4k in debt to my bank. I don’t have any idea what to do.

February 18, 2010 at 11:26 pm
(25) Jim says:

I have also been contacted by Thomas McAlister about shipping a horse to Houston. Found my advert on “Horse Trader” web site. Seemed too good to be true but has promised to send me Bank Draft and asked me to remove ad. Thanks everyone for the heads up about this bloke. One other website also cautions about him “You may have been contacted by tmcallistershp02@yahoo.com wanting to know if your horse is still for sale. Please ignore that message. This spammer has now been barred from the site. The Team at Equine Trader” Regards Jim from Ausralia.

March 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm
(26) Perla says:

Hello All,
I am so glad I check this site I almost fall for it too. I got an email from Laurkern@aol or gmail. I did not go for it. with the 200 to wire and 200 to keep after cashing from my bank. I am a little scared because I gave my address already. I hope they are not going to do something bad to me.

March 11, 2010 at 9:55 pm
(27) antivirus says:

These criminals are usually in far away countries and are just looking for easy victims. If you do receive a check from them, I suggest you contact your local authorities or the FBI. You won’t get into any trouble (unless you try to cash it!) and you will help law enforcement shut these guys down.

March 29, 2010 at 2:35 am
(28) snappit says:

I feel like such a fool for having accepted a secret shopper assignment. I have my letter and emails with instructions. I deposited the check and wired the money only to be notified by my bank that the check was returned. I was told that I am responsible for the amount. I am now making payments to payback the bank. My bank account will be closed. Can anybody out there tell me if I can expect to be charged with a crime?

March 29, 2010 at 3:12 am
(29) Mary Landesman says:

Hi Snappit,
I’m certainly no lawyer, but it’s my understanding that only in VERY limited cases is the victim ever charged. When the victim is charged it is because they continue with the fraud despite having been told by the authorities that it is criminal. I recommend you contact your local FBI or Secret Service office (assuming you are in the U.S.) as the letter and emails may help them track the perpetrators. I really don’t think you have anything to be afraid of from a legal standpoint; contacting the authorities can only help you. It’s even possible that as a victim of the crime, they may be able to make arrangements so that you don’t have to repay some or all of the funds. (This I don’t know, but it’s worth reporting it and asking them).

May 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm
(30) Kimberly Nasief-Westergren says:

Scammers prey on desperation. They can easily set up a website and 800 number. They put up advertising messages, like, “interested in becoming a mystery shopper?” Then they pay to have their listed higher in the Google ranks, so when people do a Google search, they find the scam site. It’s just a matter of finding the right business that legitimately hires Mystery Shoppers, and they are out there.

May 19, 2010 at 12:21 am
(31) Ryan says:

I like that the ad says it is seeking “qualified individuals,” but then goes on to explain you need absolutely no skills or experience.

What, then, possibly qualifies one for this?

This is your red flag, people. You shouldn’t need to wait for the check to arrive before you get suspicious.

June 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm


July 7, 2010 at 6:53 pm
(33) Fiona says:

Wow. Thank god I googled this. Its seems this scam has spread. I am living in Europe and saw an advert in my local newspaper looking for mystery shoppers promising decent pay. Now I’ve done mystery shopping before and had no problems with it, and considering it was in a relatively local paper I though it would be legitimate as I assumed they would be very wary of these sort of companies that promise easy money, as they usually don’t have such advertisements.
So I sent an email to the address in the advert and got back all this information about doing a Western Union type of shop where they would give me the money to send and allow me to keep a commission. They said they would send me the cheque…this is when some alarm bells rang…well I had never heard of this type of scam before and though I did think it was maybe too good to be true I agreed and they sent me the “cheque”. I’ve looked up the address of the bank on the cheque and it doesn’t exist, although one of the same branch with a very similiar postcode does, so I am thinking about contacting them about it.

December 9, 2010 at 2:34 pm
(34) Drew says:

I ws just recently scammed 2k by Bill Collins and am really angry about it because the police won’t do anything, western union and my bank laughed at me and the FBI was hopeless. I don’t know what to do now.

January 24, 2011 at 8:06 pm
(35) Kathy says:

I am a victim of secret shopper fraud through Secret Shopper Inc. on a check drawn on JP Morgan Chase Bank allegedly signed by Michael Andrews, Sr. Vice-President in Columbus, OH. The “assignment” was for me to go to any Western Union Transfer Unit and transfer money that I received in the form of a CASHIER’S CHECK drawn on Chase Bank. I was to take my $170 fee from the $4,850 check and evaluate Western Union. I did, on January 10th, and today I am liable to the Virginia Credit Union $4,850!

January 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm
(36) Kathy says:

Remaining funds ($4,680) were sent via Western Union in Richmond, Virginia to Larrot Henry, 2602 Medary Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19138. Money transfer control number 2222148493 on January 10, 2011. And, believe it or not, I received another email today for another “assignment”. Please God, help me find this asshole and help put him under the jail!

February 15, 2011 at 11:28 am
(37) jon says:

just got cashiers check in mail fedex overnite for 1190 dollars with instructions to keep 200 and western union the rest to someone, then email my evaluation of western union services to someone else…capital city bank cashiers check remitter kelvin little…. fedex from amy miller in colorado…mystery shopper scam im sure..gonna call the bank…

February 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm
(38) Jessica says:

No matter what their names are, it doesn’t really matter because the can just invent any name they want. I could call myself Douche vagina and send a professional email, and that name cannot be traced back. Thank god i din’t fall for the secret shopper scams, but there’s many more scams out there. I have receive various emails thinking i was going to get a job as a secretary. PEOPLE HAVE TO BEWARE OF CHECK FRAUDS especially if you have to wire money to another country or you receive a check from a stranger that you have never meet in person. Im just a little worry because they have my address.

April 1, 2011 at 11:28 am
(39) Nancy says:

NEW UPDATE!! I got the check today for $1850. Im supposed to wire transfer from western union for the amount of $300 or so. Name on FedEx paper says BARRY L. GOHN from SIMMONS COMPANY, 3000 Crosspoint Cneter Ln. Suite F Charlotte NC 28269. Address and company are legit but no one by the name of Barry L. Gohn works there. Right away the rep asked: You got a check? its a scam. So here it is just in case you got the same from this address.

May 8, 2011 at 11:34 am
(40) Sheila farrell says:

I received a cashiers check from Grass Roots mystery shopper. It is for a large sum and has to be activated with a phone call. Then I receive my shopping assignment. I have a question if this is a legitimate Mystery shopping company or a fraud befoe I commit myself further. I have been scammed once by another company. Things look fine so far but I have a gut feeling it isn’t legit. Could you please tell me if this is a good company or a fraud one before I try to deal with it.

May 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm
(41) chraney says:

Any thing to do with Grassroots is a SCAM. Any thing that requires you to send the funds received in a check to another address under the guise of checking out Western Union is a SCAM. Do not think that a bank will not release the total check before it has cleared. They will and then laugh at you and tell you that it is your problem and offer no help at all. The police will file a report for you but cannot help much more than that. The reality of it all is that with the economy in the shape it is in it leaves the CON men the opening they need to prey on people who are looking for a way to make ends meet.

July 18, 2011 at 9:26 pm
(42) catsratch1 says:

recently i recieved a check for 1,300. i had been doing on-line surveys. many of which reportedly said they would pay a certain amt of money for every survey i did. so i did many and when the check came bearing the name of the survey group i was using i immediatly thought ok well here’s my pay. i took this check to a check cashing store where i have been cashing my usual checks all along.. they checked it over and even put it under the blue lights.. to them it was okay because they cashed it… the only question i was asked was why had i waited so long to cash it.. i then noticed it was made out exactly a month to the day i recieved it. all i could say was i have been working for them and i guess they pay every two weeks…… i didn’t know that anything was wrong and when this man put it through his check cashing machines that looks for fraudalent checks and it came up okay ….. how was i too know this would not be the case. a week to the day i cashed it . the check cashing place called me to tell me the check was fraudulent. and that i owed them the money……… they were very angry with me. when i told them i had begun to think the same thing when i was instructed to western union the remainder to a wierd fake name and also to have it sent to toronto/ontario……. i said ot oh and now they say i am liable for this money .. that i should have known….. well shouldn’t they have known? also…….. afterall it passed thier test.? and they have more equipment then just my eyes to see if it was fraudulent………. i beleive i am not liable for this …….. the person whose name was mr charles horton…… is liable……………! now i am trying to find out where and to whom i am to report this too.

August 4, 2011 at 10:14 am
(43) candice says:

Steve Thomas was my scammers suppose name and i was to wire the rest of the funds to a heather todd, All i did was apply for a job on craigslist dor a veterinary position then i get an e-mail for mystery shopper and i told my husband it sounded like a scam right off the bat, but what did i do, i provided my name and address cas well i need the money and asked myself what if it’s legit, well i got 2 checks yesterday for 920 a piecce and was told to cash them or deposit them in my account, I knew then and there was no way in hell i was putting them in my bank, so did some research and then took them to the post office and turned them in (they were postal money orders) the sent an e-mail to the postal investigators, i hope they catch their asses. thank god i listen to myself not to cash them,but honestly it was tempting to see 1840 dollars payable to me, i could of paid some bills…….

September 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm
(44) jOE says:

Mystery shoppers scam from craigslist job listings. I too almost fell for the scam until I got the check and assignment telling me to shop a western union and wire the remainder of the funds to a third party. James Watt is the head of recruitment for this scam. MSPA will never issue an advance payment to you with the request to wire money to ANYONE including a representative of the company. Good Luck

September 14, 2011 at 12:00 am
(45) antonio perkins says:

i also just recived a letter for a secret shopper add saying i had been hired and was also sent a check for 3.987.50 along with a secret assignment to do they were going to pay me 450 as a base pay every week to do shopping and research for them and they were going to pay for everthing including the 3.198 dallars to be western union to a person that works for them in another state, now for the person thats lives paycheck to paycheck this seems to good to be real and the thought of money goes through your head and what you could do with ALL that but if it looks to good to be real do the research on it, its a scam the check looks real and very well might be but they are all doing the same scam money gram or western union send large AMOUNTS OF money through your own bank but no good things come out of this . the company name is SMITHBUCKLIN CORPORATION OUT OF CHICAGO IL. THE CONTACT NUMBER IS 1-514-625-7003 CONTACT SUSAN THOMPSAN OR JONATHAN PHILLIPS ………… IN CASE YOU CANT GET AHOLD OF THEM THEN THERE IS AGENT STEVEN JOHNSON 1-519-991-5514 AND CHECK THESE OUT. if any of this info matches up with what you have recived then toss it in the trash because thats what it is trash and a bad day for you at the bank and it is very convincing but do your research

September 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm
(46) deb says:

My check for $3998.00 from Robt. T. Cochran & Co., Inc. came today in the mail. My Assignment Co-ordinators are Susan Thompson and/or Jonathan Phillips. I am to Western Union part to Brenda Scott and Moneygram part to Alexa Kruse. I get to spend 100.00 and rate the store, and get to keep 450.00. The address for Cochran is in Bronx NY… his phone number shows Montreal Canada… and the Check was wrote on HSBC Bank USA.

I never signed up to be a mystery shopper…. Thanks for warning me!
BEWARE This is still active.

October 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm
(47) Richard says:

We , Robt. T. Cochran & Co. , have nothing to do with this. We are a 118 year old produce company in The Bronx, NY and a check we sent to a supplier in Canada was stolen and forged to be used in this scam.
If you thought someone would trust you to send them back 3200.00 then you forgot the old adage “if it is too good to be true…..”

November 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm
(48) apryl says:

i just recieved a check today from a “secret shopper company”. it was for 1997.60 in whick 350 is mine…..after i activate my check and recieve funds i go to the website n generate my “job” and supposedly this remaining 1600 bucks is to fund that……i havent opened it so im not sure if it is western union or not….to tell u the truth i thought about cashing it and not doing anything …just withdrawning it and see if i get a call about the check being bad….if it is well i needed a loan anyway i guess lol but then again i actually took the check and called the bank on the check and told them the details, faxed it to them to see if it is legit….so guess we will see

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