BBB Takes ‘Mystery’ out of Secret Shopper Scams

December 21, 2008
If you love to shop, you may be tempted by classified ads and e-mails inviting you to become a secret or mystery shopper and get paid to dine in restaurants, shop at various stores or even check into a hotel. Sounds enticing, but beware. It could be a scam.

Mystery shopping is a legitimate practice of using shoppers to anonymously evaluate customer service, operations, merchandising, product quality, and in special cases, employee integrity.

Fraudulent mystery shopping promoters use newspaper ads and e-mails to create the impression that they’re a gateway to lucrative mystery shopper jobs with reputable companies. Oftentimes they promote Web sites where consumers can “register” to become mystery shoppers -- after they pay a fee for information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.

Legitimate mystery shopping companies -- market research firms, training companies, merchandisers, temporary employment agencies and others -- do not charge fees to become mystery shoppers.

How do you become a legitimate mystery shopper? Your BBB advises applicants to carefully research any "secret shopper" business. Look for reputable firms that:
  • Qualify and train mystery shoppers to perform specific evaluations
  • Enjoy a good reputation with their clients and shoppers
  • Do not charge a fee to complete an application

Also, consumers can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association Web site at for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper.

To avoid fraudulent mystery shopping “opportunities,” your BBB advises that you:

  • Steer clear of get-rich-quick offers that promise big profits easily. Mystery
    shopping will not make you rich; at best it provides part-time
  • Avoid falling for claims that "guarantee" a position, without training.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited e-mails offering "work-from-home” opportunities.
  • Never pay money upfront. 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 at