Ah, the Mystery Shopper scam. Sounds enticing: you shop till you drop and are paid for doing what you enjoy. The trouble is, if you answered an ad on Craigslist or some other job board, or received a text inviting you to apply for a Mystery Shopper position, it’s most likely bogus. According to this article in the Huffington Post, there are legitimate Mystery Shopper jobs — but you have to find the legitimate companies and apply for the positions…which may or may not be immediately available:
Numerous legitimate firms hire mystery shoppers for their clients. Many are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), a trade organization that links businesses that want to evaluate their customer service with mystery shopping providers. (MSPA also provides a search engine where people can register for mystery shopping assignments.)
Unfortunately, there are many scammers counting on you to take their bait. Their plan to extract money from you consists of the old “deposit this check, you keep a portion as your fee, and wire the balance to us.” The problem is that the check they send you is completely made of rubber. By the time you figure this out, you’re in the hole for a lot of moola and the scammers are off on a tropical holiday on your dime.
I received this text from #67076 late last year:
“Earn $250-400/wkly without leaving your job. COSTS NO MONEY to start! Email: email@example.com to start working. Mystery Shopper position now!”
It appears that this particular scammer is subtly trying to associate himself with ParknShop, one of Hong Kong’s largest grocery store chains. I’m willing to bet that the real ParknShop doesn’t use a free AOL account as their official email. And the “COSTS NO MONEY!” declaration? In theory technically they’re giving you a check…it’s just that it’s a fake check. Trust me, it will cost you money…and your credit rating, too.
Here are some things to watch out for, according to the Huffpo article:
- Legitimate companies will never ask you to use a money transfer to send cash to them or anywhere else, for any purpose.
- Never deposit a check from someone you don’t know, especially if you’re being asked to wire money.
- Never pay a fee to become a mystery shopper. Legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them — they pay people to work for them.
- Be suspicious of any company that hires you on the basis of an email or phone call, without any interview or background checks.
- Before signing up, search online for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications.
- Any company that promises you can make a lot of money as a mystery shopper is almost certainly a scam.
- If mystery shoppers are asked to make purchases, it’s usually for very small amounts for which they will be reimbursed.
- Mystery shoppers are paid after completing their assignments and returning the questionnaires. Shoppers never receive checks upfront.
- Before doing business with any company, ask them to supply a physical address and phone number where they’re located. Verify the information with local directory assistance or by doing an Internet search.
So, ignore those ads and text messages imploring you to become a Mystery Shopper. The only thing they’re shopping for are fresh victims.