Warning about secret shopper check scams

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PHOENIX - A recent survey finds that a third of all Americans have been contacted by someone peddling a fake check.

So why do so many people wind up taking the bait?

A scammer sends you a fake check, you deposit it into your bank account, then you wire most of that money back.

Initially, it appears the check cleared and that the funds are all there.

But a week later, by the time the bank realizes the check was phony, you've already spent the money and now you're on the hook for it.

Kevin Fosburgh was nearly fooled.

"I can see where it'd be easy, if I didn't have something telling me this doesn't look right I probably would've cashed the check right away," he said.

Recently, he was mailed a $4600 check to become a mystery shopper for a company called Riester Sonoran.

Instructions told Kevin to immediately deposit the check into his account, keep $600, spend $100 more shopping, and then wire back the remaining $3900.

"Seemed like a piece of cake, easy work," he said.

At first, Kevin said everything about the offer looked legit until he searched the name of the company on the internet.

"Of course the first thing on the search engine was it's a scam, beware," he said.

Turns out, the check was phony and not only was Kevin a target, so was a Valley-based business.

"We're an advertising agency and public affairs," said Riester Sonoran CFO Sam Tallerico.

Tallerico said the bogus checks began popping up about two months ago.

He said he has no idea why scammers singled out his company, but that thankfully, only one of the fake checks was cleared by a bank.

"It's very surprising because everything is so legitimate, they've gone to great detail to make sure that the logos are correct, the signatures look good, all the bank coding is correct," Tallerico said.

That measure of truth is what reels in unsuspecting consumers according to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

MSPA told 3 On Your Side would-be secret shoppers need to know these high-dollar checks are the first sign it's a scam.

That's because, in reality, each assignment pays between just eight and twenty dollars.

Also keep in mind real secret shoppers don't get paid until after an e valuation is completed, so getting a check up front should set off a warning.

Kevin said all the red flags were raised as soon as he opened the letter and that he's thankful for his instincts otherwise he would've learned a big lesson when his bank account balance hit zero.

3 On Your Side called the phone number on the letter and got a voicemail telling callers to leave a message, but the mailbox was full.

For more information, including how to report check fraud, log on to the Federal Trade Commision Fraud Site, , report mail fraud to the Inspector General, or for more information .