By Ginger Allen

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COLLIN COUNTY (CBS11 I-TEAM) – The next time you are out at public place, look closely at the person standing next to you or the one in front of you.

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He or she may be undercover getting paid to eat, shop, play or even sleep.

Restaurants, stores, casinos and hotels will hire secret shoppers to come in, critique their services, and fill out questionnaires about guest services.

However, while there is a very legitimate industry hiring people to do this, there is also a rising number of scammers out trying to lure you in and then rip you off.

Collin County resident, Tanya Smith works in the medical field but wanted to make some money on the side, so she accepted an offer to be a secret shopper.

“It sounded like very good money.”

Red flag number one: This is not a high paying job.

“I was a little leery, but then my first assignment I got via Fed Ex looked pretty real,” said Smith.

Red flag number two: As Smith looked closer at the Federal Express package, she noticed the check was from a company in San Antonio.

The label on the front of the envelope appeared to be from a business in Florida, and a label on the back side of the envelope appeared to be from a company in Canada.

“I couldn’t make the connection between the three businesses.”

But Smith said the check looked real and so did the instructions, so she thought maybe this is legitimate.

In an email, a “recruiter” told her to deposit the $2,350 check in her account, keep $250, spend $100 to pay for the service, and then wire $2,000 back to the recruiter.

Extremely suspicious at this point, Smith did not deposit the check in her account, she took it directly to the bank and the teller would not deposit it. The bank recognized it as a bad check.

“That’s where my red flags went off,” says Smith who says she knew this was not the real mystery shopper industry.

The Federal Trade Commission warns that many people have been ripped off after depositing those checks into their own personal accounts. They wire the money. And then, they find out, days later, that the check did not clear.

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The scammers often use the names of legitimate businesses, real Mystery Shopper organizations, and actual banks to lure you.

A man in Florida just contacted the I-Team after receiving a similar offer.

The counterfeit check he received appeared to be from Capitol One Bank in Dallas at Greenville Avenue.

We visited the bank and a manager told us they have received several complaints about checks from their location not clearing. She confirmed the checks are fake, and this is an on-going scam.

Authorities tell the I-Team, North Texas is a target of this right now.

The CBS11 I-Team tried to reach several of the so-called recruiters, but apparently they did not want to hire her. She called. She texted. But no one ever responded.

“They are millions and millions of dollars being stolen from people out there, ” says Mike Mershimer. He is the president of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

Mershimer is also the President of HS Brands International, a company which hires mystery shoppers.

Mershimer says bulks of these fake checks are printed overseas and shipped to the United States in crates.

Crooks here package them, sign the paperwork with real names, such as Mike Mershimer, to make the job seem legit. They then flood certain areas, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, with these mysterious offers.

Mersimer says, “People are getting burned every single day.”

But, again, there is a real multi-million dollar mystery shopper industry out there.

If you’re interested, here’s what you need to know:

–Do not fall for a $250 offer. You make $5 – $20 per assignment doing this.
–You will never get paid up front.
–No one will recruit you. If you’re interested, the Federal Trade Commission recommends contacting MSPA- the non-profit Mystery Shopper Providers Association.
–And, be aware there are many fake associations on line that look very real.

For more information, you can also check warnings at the Federal Trade Commission.

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