BBB Takes the Mystery out of Mystery Shopping Schemes

October 17, 2013

Burnsville, Minnesota - October 17, 2013 - Mystery shopping schemes continue to plague the marketplace, and new twists on this old scam now victimize both consumers and legitimate businesses. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) advises the public on what they need to watch out for to steer clear of troublesome mystery shopping offers that may look like lifelines, but leave unsuspecting people on the hook.

Potential victims are usually introduced to mystery shopping schemes by official-looking mailings - sometimes sent via UPS or Federal Express - accompanied by real-looking checks. These checks often appear to be drawn on actual banks and issued by legitimate businesses. However, the checks are bogus and these businesses have no association with these schemes; they're referenced simply to convince victims the offers - and the checks - are legitimate. Consumers should be aware that this is not how mystery shopping companies operate, and businesses need to be on the lookout for schemes of this nature appropriating their good names.

"Anytime a person receives a check with instructions to cash the check, spend money at different locations as part of their assignment, then wire back a portion or the bulk of the funds to the company making the so-called offer, it's a scam," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. "What happens in every case is that you're using your own money to buy goods you likely don't need and wiring good money away to bad people."

Though there are firms that contract with people to perform secret shopping services, they do not send out random checks to potential contractors and ask them to cash them before performing an assignment. Nor do they ever ask individuals to wire money back to them, pay money upfront or promise to make anyone rich. At best, being a secret shopper offers supplemental income. Consumers interested in mystery shopping job opportunities should keep the following in mind:

  • Be suspicious of any checks you receive or offers that involve wiring money back to the company supposedly making this offer. Never wire money to someone you don'tknow.
  • Don't believe anyone who says you can get rich by being a secret shopper.
  • Always research companies at before accepting any position. Also, contact the company directly. Many mystery shopping offers now impersonate legitimate businesses. Make sure you're not being taken for a ride.
  • Don't be fooled if you receive the mystery shopping offer via an established courier such as Fed Ex or UPS. Scammers use stolen credit cards to pay for the shipping.
  • Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website at for a list of reputable mystery shopping companies.
  • If a check seems questionable, request a bank employee evaluate the check before depositing it in an account. What usually happens in cases where fraud is involved is that the check seems to clear and consumers wire money to the scammers, as they are instructed to do. Within a matter of days, the check bounces and victims are out any money they wired away.

Businesses can also fall prey to mystery shopping schemes. Scammers use and leverage the company's identity and good reputation to create a trustworthy façade behind which they operate. Business owners are usually alerted to this problem by angry consumers who were ripped off by scammers or by a series of unusual calls from consumers inquiring about the validity of checks the company supposedly issued. Here are steps the BBB recommends small business owners take if they discover their business identity has been stolen or hijacked:

  • Ask callers or victims to provide as much information as possible. If checks supposedly issued by your company are referenced, ask for a copy and any accompanying paperwork. This will help you assess what you're up against.
  • Report it to the Authorities
    Business owners need to immediately contact their local police department if they believe the company's identity has been compromised. If scammers are using the company's name on bogus checks or as part of an email scam, business owners can also contact the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at
  • Let the Public Know
    If the company's identity has been stolen and is being used to defraud customers, warning the public is a top priority to prevent additional people from becoming victims. An easy first step is to prominently post a warning on the company's website briefly explaining the threat. Depending on the scope of the scam, business owners might also want to consider alerting local media.

For additional small business advice on preventing ID theft, visit