BBB Warns of Mystery Shopping Mail Scam

August 10, 2011
Upstate New Yorkers and Others Targeted

Residents were not expecting a check for $2,485.55 when they opened their mailboxes recently, but the Better Business Bureau has heard from dozens of individuals in New York and several other states saying they got one. Along with the check in the mail - made out in their name - came a letter explaining they were “identified” to participate in mystery shopping for a company called Ivoclar Vivadent Marketing Research. The company, who also falsely claimed to be affiliated with the BBB, is being investigated by the organization. BBB is warning consumers against this and other mystery shopping offers that claim a way to cash in - but could end up costing individuals big money instead.

“Scammers are preying on the unemployed and counting on desperate situations that many people are facing,” said David Polino, Better Business Bureau. “Getting a check in the mail made out in your name can be enticing, but don’t fall for cashing it.”

While there are numerous variations to the checks-in-the mail scam - offering work or claiming you’re a winner - they all aim to get the targeted victim to cash the check and wire the money to the scam artist. Consumers are often duped because the check is in their name, the banking institution listed on the check is real, the account number and routing number on the check are also real. Once they deposit the check everything goes smoothly at first however weeks later a serious problem arises when the "winner" is notified the check is counterfeit. The victim is then told they must repay the bank the thousands of dollars they withdrew against a bad check.

Ivoclar Vivadent Market Research claims to be located at 175 Paineview Drive, Amherst, NY, however BBB’s investigation revealed there’s no street by that name in the Amherst area and the phone number listed is for a 403 area code in Alberta, Calgary Canada. The information provided by Ivoclar Vivadent Market Research is similar to a legitimate dental supply company, Ivoclar Vivadent of Amherst, NY.

BBB confirms that mystery shoppers are used by market research firms, training companies, merchandisers, temporary agencies and other businesses; however these opportunities are not common and often have very specific job requirements.

Whether you’re offered payment to sell something or being paid to do work from home, if you’re asked to cash a check and then wire money back, it is a scam. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers against any situation were you’re required to wire money in order to make money, or make payments for training, supplies or materials.

To steer clear of mystery shopper traps and other checks-in-the mail offers, BBB advises individuals to:

  • Disregard any offer when someone gives you money and asks you to wire money back.
  • Ignore claims of making big profits easily. Mystery shopping will not make you rich; at best it provides part-time income.
  • Never pay money up-front. A legitimate mystery shopping service will not charge you money for materials, training or recruiting.
  • Avoid falling for claims that "guarantee" a position, without training.
  • Be cautions of unsolicited e-mails offering "work-from-home."
  • Check the business out with the BBB, local consumer protection agency, and state attorney general offices.

Individuals looking for work as a mystery shopper can 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.

If you feel that you’ve been a victim of a mystery shopping scam visit to file a complaint and report your dealings to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre at 1-888-495-8501 as well as the US Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357.