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Beware, the Mystery Shopper Scam is still Going Strong

It’s hard to believe, but the age-old mystery shopper scam is still around and catching unsuspecting people who just want to earn some extra money. But we’re still seeing articles that show people are falling for the scam and getting caught by unscrupulous dirtbags who think nothing of preying on people.

Since we recruit mystery shoppers, these filthy rotten scammers only make our job harder, because if someone gets burned or is on their guard about mystery shopping, we have a harder time convincing them that we’re running a legitimate operation.

If you’re interested in mystery shopping, but you want to make sure that the offers you’re seeing are legitimate, here are a few telltale signs to look for.

Scam icon - Watch out for mystery shopping scams out there.

You’re expected to PAY for your shops.

If you had a job at a restaurant or office, would you pay to go to work? Of course not! Mystery shopping is no different: it’s a job, you get paid to do it. There is no way you should ever have to pay to receive shops.

Basically, if there’s a mystery shop in your area, and you’re qualified to do it, you can accept the shop. There’s no fee, there’s no wage sharing, nothing. This is a job like any other, and if you’re chosen to do it, you’ll get paid to do it. You won’t pay to become a shopper ever.

You’re promised a lot of money.

I saw one mystery shop that offered $350 for a single shop. Honestly, that’s way too much money being offered. A typical mystery shop can be anywhere from $8 – $20, depending on how big the shop is, how complex, and even what’s being asked of the shopper. Anything outside of that range, especially from someone you’ve never worked with before, is almost certainly a scam. (We’ve had a few shops that fall outside that range, but we offered them to people we’ve worked with in the past, so they know they can trust us and we can trust them.)

One mystery shopping scam story in Texas (see below) promised $350 for buying three Walmart gift cards and said there would be two of those jobs a week for as long as the shopper wanted them. At $700 per week, that’s a $35,000 salary, just for driving to Walmart twice and buying three gift cards.

Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. And $35,000 per year for three hours a week? That’s impossible.

3. You’re promised cruise ship and vacation mystery shops.

I’ve been doing this job for a lot of years, working with a lot of national clients, and I have never, ever seen a cruise mystery shop. I also belong to MSPA Americas, our national trade association, and none of their members have ever seen cruise mystery shops either.

That’s because these shops don’t exist. They’re not out there. The people who promise these are lying.

Believe me, if there were cruise ship mystery shops to be had, the staff at the mystery shopping agencies would do it themselves. Again, it sounds too good to be true, which is a serious red flag.

4. There are spelling and grammar errors in the announcement.

The people who perpetrate these scams aren’t necessarily in the U.S., and so English is their second, third, or fourth language, which means their announcements often have errors. They also don’t use a lot of the same expressions and slang we use in the United States, and their formal English may sound stilted and unusual.

While people are prone to make errors in their writing, you shouldn’t see a lot of obvious errors in a job posting. The occasional typo is not a big deal, but it it’s a poorly-written ad, it’s almost certainly not real.

5. You’re asked to deposit a check and use those funds for your shops.

I recently heard a story about a woman in Texas who fell victim to the old “deposit this cashier’s check” scam.

This is where the scammers send you a check for a few thousand dollars, ask you to deposit it, buy some gift cards or wire part of that money back to them, and then rescind that check. Or the check is found to be counterfeit.

Now, not only are you out the money that you wired or used for the gift cards, but the remaining money that you were supposed to “keep” is gone. The woman in Texas received three checks for $2,850, was asked to buy $2,500 in gift cards and mail them, and then keep the remaining money as her commission.

After the shop was done, she found out the checks were counterfeit, and she had negative $2,000 in her bank account. There was no recourse or way to recover the money, so she lost $2,000 of her own money to some anonymous thieves.

Bottom line, never deposit a check from a stranger, and never buy gift cards as a part of a shop.

If you want to make sure a company is legitimate, check out the MSPA America’s Service Provider’s Search. If the company is listed there, they’re probably legitimate. But be careful, the scammers know this and will sometimes pose as real companies.

So watch out for all these other warning flags too. And if you’re not sure, call up the mystery shopping provider listed on the website and ask them about that particular shopping campaign. Ask if they have you listed in the system. If they don’t know anything about that particular shop, then it’s most likely a scam.

If you want to learn more about becoming a real mystery shopper, please contact us, we can tell you how it all works, and we can even help you get set up in our system.

Photo credit: Anecdoteak (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)