Beware of Mystery Shopping Scams

In the area of Work-at-Home Companies, Better Business Bureau receives the most inquiries about “Mystery Shopping”. If you are asked to cash a check and then wire money back, it is a scam!
March 15, 2012

Mystery Shopping 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 cautious 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.

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.

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!