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Secret Shopper/Mystery Shopper Check Scam

The BBB of Chicago would like to warn consumers about a new version of two scams targeting consumers, especially those looking for jobs on popular search engines and job boards such Craigslist.com and in local newspapers.

Catchy "employment" ads have been surfacing with tag lines resembling those of mystery shopping opportunities, with claims of evaluating stores, businesses, restaurants, etc in exchange for compensation. Consumers responding to certain ads of this variety have been contacted by individuals from Canada, advising consumers that the service that was to be evaluated was money wiring through Money Gram. Shortly afterwards the consumers who responded to the ads received legitimate looking checks in the mail in the amounts of anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, with instructions to wire the funds to a person they were to claim was their relative. Included in the instructions the consumer would also find generic-looking forms with general questions regarding customer service, etc.

The BBB would like to alert consumers that the offer at hand is part of the prevalent check scam going around the country, where consumers receive alleged lottery award notifications with legitimate looking checks addressed in their name and are told to deposit them in their accounts. The checks have no real funds backing them up, so if the consumer were to proceed, deposit the check, and forward a part of it for alleged fees and taxes, they would essentially be forwarding their own money to a thief. Besides forwarding their own money, many consumers who fall victim to the check scam wind up with insufficient funds and subsequent bank fees due to not having enough money to cover the amount forwarded.

The newest scheme is the classic check scam cloaked in widely seen mystery shopping offers, most of those having their own legitimacy questionable likewise. Consumers are urged to exercise caution when responding to employment ads online or in popular local publications. If anyone requests you to accept money and forward it to another party on their behalf, cease and desist contact with them immediately.

If you have been victimized by the above or a similar sounding offer, let the BBB know by filling out the Tip us off to a Scam! submission form found on our main website.

Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at www.mysteryshop.org for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper with a MSPA-member company, a database of available jobs, and additional information on the industry in general.

In the meantime, the Federal Trade Commission says consumers should be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters who:

  • Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper's "help wanted" section or by email. While it may appear as if these companies are hiring mystery shoppers, it's much more likely that they're pitching unnecessary âïï and possibly bogus âïï mystery shopping "services".
  • Sell "certification". Companies that use mystery shoppers generally do not require certification.

- Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.

- Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.

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