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Better Business Bureau ®
Start With Trust®
Metropolitan New York, Long Island, and the Mid-Hudson Region
Watch Out For ‘Mystery Shopper’ Job Scams
December 27, 2011

BBB receives numerous complaints about fraudulent job offers for positions as ‘Mystery Shoppers’. After responding to online ads or email solicitations, consumers report receiving a letter containing instructions and a cashier’s check. The instructions usually direct the recipient to deposit the cashier’s check, spend a specified amount as a ‘mystery shopper’, and send the rest back to a named individual via Western Union or Moneygram to complete his or her ‘training in financial transactions’. In most cases, consumers report being instructed to spend a couple of hundred dollars, while the balance of the check is to be wired to an individual, often located outside of the U.S.


In the past, consumers who followed these instructions have informed the Better Business Bureau that the cashier’s check was later determined by their banks to be counterfeit. The result was that not only were they responsible for the amount of the bad check, but they are also in danger of having their accounts closed, and even being arrested and charged with engaging in check fraud. Although a few consumers have reported that arrests did take place, in most cases they were released after it became clear they were victimized in a scam. However, the BBB has received reports that consumers attempting to cash counterfeit checks on multiple occasions were arrested and served jail time.

The BBB offers following tips:

  • Always check with the BBB before doing business. The Metro New York BBB has reports on over 120,000 companies currently operating in our area. To search our database of New York City, Long Island and Mid-Hudson area businesses, go to www.newyork.bbb.org. To check on businesses anywhere in the United States, please visit www.bbb.org.
  • Whether it is in the form of a job, loan, grant, sweepstakes or lottery, do not fall victim to advance-fee scams. All these scams work the same way – the crooks send the victim a check, which is counterfeit or invalid, and ask the victim to deposit the check and then forward a portion of it to some person or company. The victim does not realize that the check is not good until long after the victim has sent the payment to the crooks.
  • Although the funds from a deposited check may be available for use within 1-5 business days of deposit, it can take several weeks for the bank to determine that the check is counterfeit or otherwise invalid. Instructions to draw money on checks shortly after they have been deposited may be the work of unscrupulous companies attempting to take advantage of this technicality.
  • Promises of financial relief, suspicious job offers, or prize winnings for contests you did not enter are ploys to trick you into wiring considerable sums of cash to random individuals in the United States or Canada. Once the scam artists have received your money, you will never hear from them again!
  • Exercise extreme caution when considering job offers which involve the transmission of money, especially to foreign countries. In addition to potentially significant financial loss, acting on these offers also puts you in danger of unwittingly violating local, state and even federal laws. Only forward money via wire when you know and have had personal contact with the individual.

For more information on legitimate Mystery Shopping, visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) at http://mysteryshop.org.

If you believe you have been a victim of a mystery shopping scam, you may:

  • File a report with the New York State Attorney’s General at http://www.ag.ny.gov/
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP or at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov
  • File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
  • File and report it with www.phonebusters.com
  • Contact your local post office if the check came by U.S. Mail

For more information, visit our website at www.newyork.bbb.org or call 212-533-6200. To report a scam, visit the BBB Scam Portal at: https://www.bbb.org/scam/report-a-scam/.