AmericaJR Investigates Whole Food mystery shops, Nike gift cards and a fake check

Beware of the Whole Foods mystery shop, Nike gift card and fake check scam that is arriving in mailboxes nationwide. (Jason Rzucidlo/AmericaJR)

LAS VEGAS — Mystery shopping, Nike gift cards and a fake check. I didn’t have to go far to find this story. That’s because it showed up in my mailbox!

While many people are struggling to pay their rent, mortgages and other bills during the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers are working to take your hard earned money.

I received a letter and a check for more than $2,900. First, I thought, ‘Wow, I could really use that money.’ The letter features the Whole Foods logo and watermark to make it appear more authentic.

Then, I read the letter where I was instructed to buy Nike gift cards in the amount of $2,500 and keep the remaining $450 and change as my payment. It was described as a “mystery shop assignment.”

Later, I would have to scratch off the codes on the back of the gift cards and email it to someone I don’t even know. That’s a big red flag right there!

“Scammers will typically switch up watermarks of well-known businesses and send those out to anybody and anyone who could possibly by interested. Clearly they don’t do their research when they are sending it to media.”

–Rhonda Mettler, operations director of the Better Business Bureau’s Southern Nevada office

I did a quick Google search and found out that I’m not the only one who received similar letters. Don’t fall for this scam! Those who do will be out the amount of the check and any bounced check fees at your banking institution. On March 3, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning about this exact type of scam on its blog.

I searched for the routing number on the bottom of the check using the American Bankers Association (ABA) and it displayed “No match.” In addition, the routing number on the check didn’t match BB&T’s official routing number so I gave them a call.

While I didn’t get an official interview, a BB&T Bank phone Representative said: “That is not a valid check. It’s a fraudulent check. I wouldn’t try to deposit it because it will bounce. I would just shred it because it’s not any good.”

Mettler added: “These mystery shopping things: One, you don’t have to pay to do this. There are reputable companies out there. They are not going to have you buy Nike gift cards and take pictures of the front and back. What happens is when you are sending that information, you are sending them the codes on the back. What they do with that, I have really no idea. Maybe they are duplicating these cards or something. I really have no idea.”

Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. A check you weren’t expecting
  2. An offer to buy gift cards, scratch off the codes and send them back
  3. A mystery shopping assignment you didn’t sign up for
  4. Bad spelling and or punctuation

“It’s bogus all the way around,” the BBB operations director explained. “And something like that should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission as fraud. Definitely report something like this to BBB’s Scam Tracker. Government agencies utilize that site which is part of us. Consumers and government agencies have access to it and see what’s going on out there in the world. It’s kind of a cool thing.”

The letter and check were inside a large envelope came from MTS Logistics company in San Francisco. The interesting part is my family and I just returned from a trip in the Bay Area just a few weeks ago.

“Consumers definitely should pay attention,” Mettler said. “Right now, times are really difficult with a lot of unemployed people due to the pandemic and everything. Again, desperate times. People see that check and say ‘OK, wow. All I have to do is buy these gift cards and I get to keep $450 of that or whatever the amount may be. I can do this all day long.’ But it’s a scam.”

Advice for Consumers:

For more stories like this one, click on AmericaJR Investigates.

Watch my video report below:

Video by Jason Rzucidlo / AmericaJR

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