ORLANDO, Fla. – A Central Florida woman says she received two checks in the mail totaling thousands of dollars she believed was supposed to be payment for being a “secret shopper.”
Getting paid to shop while evaluating stores sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it? Louissteen Cummings thought so, too, but said instead it immediately felt uncomfortable, which is why she asked News 6 to investigate.
While looking into it, News 6 investigator Louis Bolden found the scheme has become so common, it has caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which has warned consumers that it can be a trick to get your money.
“It just didn’t seem right,” Cummings said.
Fed-Ex delivered the package to her home and inside was a cashier’s check for $2,600 and a detailed letter.
Cummings was asked to be part of a secret retail research paid survey and evaluate a local Walmart store.
“When I saw the $2,600 and I started reading, I said, ‘I haven’t done anything at Walmart,’” Cummings said.
Days later, she got a second check in the same amount.
According to the letter, Cummings was told to first deposit the checks into her account. She would then keep $600 for her commission and use the other $2,000 for “the evaluation,” the letter said.
The letter instructed her to purchase two blank money orders. During the transaction, she would “evaluate” six categories, including how long it took to be serviced.
The letter said Cummings should contact her supervisor, Harry Lewis, via text and he would send her an address where she could send her evaluation and the money orders.
“Now that’s what really was shocking,” Cummings said. “Why do I have to go get these two money orders and then contact this Harry Lewis?”
Instead of texting, Cummings called the number but got no answer. That’s when she called News 6.
"I would like to help other people because someone is probably going to fall for this," she said.
While researching the possible scheme, Bolden found that so many people have fallen for it, the Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings in the past, including one in 2019 and another in 2018, which was titled “A Scam Story: Secret Shopping and Fake Checks.”
That title spells out exactly what happened to Cummings.
Holly Salmons, with the Better Business Bureau, says someone shows up at her office with a bogus check at least once a week.
“The bad guys -- they wouldn’t keep doing this if it wasn’t successful,” she said. “Consumers are taken advantage of every day.”
The packaging can be convincing. Cummings’ package appeared to have come from a company in Illinois.
When you call the number, you get Bank of America.
The actual check is supposedly from First Horizon Bank, which is a real bank. Bolden called the bank and gave them the check number -- which is the same on both checks -- and found the checks were not valid.
Cummings said that was no surprise to her and she’s glad she stuck to her gut.
"I'm very, very proud that I did contact Channel 6 news about it," she said.
When people deposit fake checks into their account, sometimes the bank will make the funds available within a couple of days. However, uncovering that a check is fake can take weeks.
If the bank discovers a check is bogus, you are on the hook for that money. That means if you’ve been making withdrawals from a bogus check, you now owe the bank that money.