Dear ABC News Fixer: Is This a Secret Shopper Scam?

PHOTO: A customer passes merchandise at a J.C. Penney store in New York. J.C. PenneyPlayMark Lennihan/AP Photo
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Dear ABC News Fixer: I filled out a questionnaire online about six months ago to get $100 in free groceries. There were a lot of questions, one of them being "Would you like to be a mystery shopper?"

Recently, I received a letter in the mail about a secret shopper job, along with a check for $1,995. I called the company doing the hiring and they said to deposit the check ASAP and call them back for instructions.

I saw you talking about a similar scam on the "Katie" show recently, and I'm suspicious about this check. What do you think?

- Lois Ashley, Lancaster, Calif.

Dear Lois: The ABC News Fixer thinks you're really smart. Because this is a scam – just as you suspected.

The check they sent is undoubtedly counterfeit. And if you were to deposit it, you'd be on the hook for a lot of money.

Here's how the secret (or "mystery") shopping scam works:

The scammers, often based overseas, advertise that they are hiring people to evaluate client companies and write reports about their shopping experiences. In your case, they first created a fake offer of $100 in free groceries at a major discount chain store in exchange for filling out a survey.

After they "hire" their victim, they send them a check. It looks real and has real bank routing numbers, often from a compromised account. They tell their victim to deposit the check and go on their first assignment. The shopper is supposed to keep a couple hundred dollars for their payment, use a little more for a shopping evaluation and then wire the remainder back to the company.

The problem is that even though the person's bank will show the deposit as "funds available" within about 24 hours, it can take two or three weeks for the banking system to realize the check was a fake. By then, the victim has already wired the money back to the scammers, and will be left to pay for the bounced check at their bank.

We've heard from countless people – young and old – who've fallen for this scam. Kudos to you for realizing what was really going on.

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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