Mystery Shopping Scheme

May 08, 2014

The schemers send out bogus checks to "hired" individuals with instructions to use the money to shop local businesses. One assignment asks that shoppers test Western Union by using a portion of the check to wire cash to a third party. By the time the consumers realize the check is fake, their money is gone. This scheme has been around for years but is now employing a new twist by using names of real legitimate companies when contacting individuals to "hire".

A man from Houston, Texas, estimates he may have lost more than $1,000 in the scheme. “We usually are very, very cautious,” he said. The man said he believed the employment opportunity was legitimate after checking the supposed company's website and doing other Internet research. He did not suspect that thieves had stolen the company’s name.

A woman from California said she lost nearly $1,200 in a similar scheme involving scammers posing as representatives.

A consumer from the Dallas, Texas, area said he learned about the program in a series of emails. One of the emails said that “our employees can earn up to $1,800 per week by completing in-store surveys while at the same time working on their own schedule.” That consumer did not fall for the scam.

BBB offers the following tips for persons contacted about mystery shopping jobs:

  • Ignore claims that you will make big profits easily.
  • Avoid falling for claims that “guarantee” a position, without training.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited mailings, e-mails or advertisements offering “work-from-home” jobs.
  • Be on the lookout for businesses that send checks and ask that you use money from the checks to pay for your shopping assignments. Bogus checks often look real.
  • Never pay money in advance. A legitimate mystery shopping service will not charge money for materials, training or recruiting. Never give them your credit card or bank account numbers.
  • Never wire money to businesses you know little or nothing about. Wiring money is the same as sending cash. Once the money is gone, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover.
  • One resource for determining whether a mystery shopping job is legitimate is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) at
  • Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at or by calling 309-681-5124.