DAYTON, OHIO, December 6, 2011— Imagine your excitement when you get a letter in the mail saying, “Congratulation!!! You have been selected to participate in a paid Consumer Research Program,” and the mailing included a check for $1,996. The letter looks official, featuring a Polaris Marketing Research seal at the top and says the company represents over 1,180 research firms across North America. It instructs you to cash the check, shop the stores assigned, keep your survey payment of $250, as well as the items you purchase, and wire the remaining amount back via Western Union. A great deal, right?
This letter doesn’t represent the fantastic deal you may think it does. It’s an actual secret shopper scam solicitation your BBB has had multiple inquiries about from consumers as far away as South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico and Georgia. It’s a sample of one of many secret shopper, also called mystery shopping, scam letters your Better Business Bureau learns about every year.
Similar to other letters of its kind, this one has several red flags. For instance, the letterhead says the contact people are from Canada and England. Scams typically originate in foreign countries. The New York address on the letterhead also appears to be bogus according to a Google map search.
When BBB staff visited the Polaris Marketing Research Web site (www.polarismr.com), they found a consumer alert stating, “There’s a wide-spread mail scam going on right now trying to recruit mystery shoppers by offering a check for several thousand dollars as an enticement. These scam artists are sending out these letters using the names of different legitimate research companies like Polaris Marketing Research. If you are looking for information about such a letter you may have received claiming to be from Polaris Marketing Research about mystery shopping, please be advised that we are not the source of that letter and we have not authorized the use of our name for the purposes of that letter.”
Another red flag is the check in this mailing, which looks legitimate, is not drawn on Polaris Marketing Research. It’s allegedly from AcuTemp Inc., a Dayton-area business. This is a common tactic with these scammers. Your BBB has contacted the company whose representative said they were aware of the mystery shopping scam using its company name and has been receiving numerous calls about it. The company has contacted the authorities. And, anytime you get an unexpected check you should be cautious. If you received a letter like this and did as it instructs, the bank would eventually discover the check is phony and you would be liable for funds withdrawn and additional fees charged by financial institutions.
The final red flag is the letter closes saying, ”Please note that due to the confidentiality agreement we have with our clients, you are required not to comment or discuss your assignments with the staff working at the store or at the Bank.” Of course, the scammers don’t want you to talk to someone that could tell you the opportunity is shady.
Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities exist, but can be hard to find because of scams. If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, your BBB advises you to carefully research companies before signing up. Check companies out with your BBB by visiting www.bbb.org or calling (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301. You can also visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) Web site, www.mysteryshop.org, for information on how to register with a MSPA-member company, find a database of available jobs and additional information on the industry. The bottomline is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
About Your BBB Serving Dayton and the Miami Valley. Your BBB, the leader in advancing marketplace trust, is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB Accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. Your BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, your BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 125 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than four million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about your BBB.