Educational Consumer Tips

Mystery Shopper/Secret Shopper

Author: Better Business Bureau

This report is general in nature and does not describe any particular company.

People from across the country are contacting the Better Business Bureau about employment as a “Mystery Shopper.” The advertisements claim: "You get PAID and receive FREE meals, products, and services from big name, recognized companies for your opinion because we need Professional Business Evaluators!"

Those who are looking for extra income can be tempted by ads to recruit "mystery shoppers." It is true that businesses nationwide use mystery shopping -- also known as secret shopping, performance evaluations, service monitoring and quality auditing -as a means to monitor service quality. But how does one earn work as a mystery shopper?

Market research firms, training companies, merchandisers, temporary agencies and other businesses specialize in recruiting mystery shoppers. Unfortunately, so do scam artists. People with the right talents (attention to detail, skilled in communications and completing paperwork) can become paid mystery shoppers, if they avoid the "too good to be true" offers.

The Better Business Bureau advises applicants to carefully research any "mystery shopper" business. Understand whether the company is offering to employ you directly. If you are asked instead to purchase training materials or a directory of companies that supposedly offer mystery-shopping opportunities, exercise caution. BBB experience shows these can be unproductive avenues.

Look for reputable firms that:

•Qualify and train mystery shoppers to perform specific evaluations;
•Enjoy a good reputation with their clients and shoppers, and
•Do not charge a fee to complete an application.

To steer clear of get-rich-quick offers, the BBB advises mystery shopper applicants to:

•Ignore claims that you will make big profits easily. Mystery shopping will not make you rich; at best it provides part-time income.
•Avoid falling for claims that "guarantee" a position, without training.
•Be cautions of unsolicited e-mails offering "work-from-home."
•Never pay money up-front. A legitimate mystery shopping service will not charge money for materials, training or recruiting.
•Obtain the name of the company and check the business out with the BBB, local consumer protection agency, and state attorney general.
•Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at 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.

Recently, consumers have reported that they were “hired” to test a company’s check cashing services and received a cashier’s check in advance, as payment for the job. The consumers were instructed to deposit the check into their bank accounts and then wire money to an address in Canada.

Everything goes smoothly at first. The banking institution listed on the check is a real bank, and the account number and routing number on the check are real. The “shopper” is able to deposit the check in their bank account without a glitch. However, a serious problem arises weeks later when the "shopper" is notified by their bank that the check is counterfeit, and they must repay the bank the thousands of dollars they withdrew
against the bad check.

While there are numerous variations to this scam, they all have one common goal - to get the targeted victim to cash the check and wire the money to the scam artist. Whether you are offered payment for something you're selling or being paid to do work from your home, if you are asked to cash a check and then wire money back, it is a scam!

The BBB along with the National Consumers League suggest that consumers keep the following in mind:

•There is no reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back.
•Just because you can withdraw the money from the bank does not mean the check is good, even if it is a cashier's check.

For more information, contact:

Better Business Bureau
(800) 828-5000

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.