How Do Mystery Shopper Scams Work?

By Admin on November 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Mystery shopper scams are nothing new, but consumers continue to be victimized by online job postings or mail offers for seemingly legitimate positions as mystery shoppers that turn out to be nothing more than fraud.

The latest victim of this scam is a mother of two who was looking for a way to make a little extra money, reports WTKR-TV. After filling out an online application she was "hired" for the job of mystery shopper. Unfortunately, after following the instructions sent by her new employers, she found herself on the hook for a $2,800 bad check.

How the Scam Works

As the Federal Trade Commission notes, there are legitimate mystery shoppers who evaluate the service in stores or restaurants. These job opportunities may be posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.

However, consumers should be wary of mystery shopper job posts or help-wanted ads that require a fee to be certified as a mystery shopper or to be sent a list of mystery shopping companies. These certifications are typically worthless and the information being sold is almost always available elsewhere for free.

The more troubling variety of the mystery shopper job scam occurs when shoppers are hired to secret-shop a money transfer service such as Western Union. In this form of the scam, the victim is sent a check with instructions to deposit it in his or her own bank account, then wire a portion of the money to a third party using the service. Almost always, the check turns out to be fake, but the money that has been wired is long gone. And like the woman most recently victimized by the scam, the victim is responsible for covering the amount of the bad check.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

To avoid being victim of a mystery shopper scam, the FTC recommends keeping an eye out for these red flags:

  • Fees charged for access to mystery shopping opportunities or certifications;
  • Mystery shopper positions posted in newspaper help wanted sections or through email. In addition, the United States Postal Service has advised consumers to be aware of mystery shopper scams being perpetrated by mail; and/or
  • Companies that ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to a third party.

Consumers that believe they may have been scammed should file a complaint with the FCC and contact the attorney general's office in their states.

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