Secret Shopper Scams

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Secret Shopper Scams - Tell the Fake from the Real Mystery Shopping Jobs

secret shopper scams
Secret shopper scams are important to investigate before becoming a mystery shopper.

Make sure you are not a victim of a mystery shopper scam.

There are real mystery shopping jobs out there and there are free mystery shopping sites.

Protect yourself and get informed.

This mystery shopping section has several pages with valuable secret shopper info.

Other pages include how to get started mystery shopping, information on applying to companies, a secret shopper checklist, as well as information on how to make more money mystery shopping.

Skip to Mystery Shopping Index

Scams of all sorts abound on the internet.

It seems that every time a fad comes online, someone decides to capitalize on its popularity with a scheme designed to make them money, and financially cripple someone else.

The world of mystery shopping is no different.

There are two main secret shopper scams in the mystery shopping world.

The first is minor, but annoying, but the second mystery shopper scam could put you into a serious financial crisis and may even get you into trouble with the authorities.

It is important that you become educated about these secret shopper scams so that you can protect yourself.

Now, I don�t want you to think that there are no real mystery shopping jobs. There are.

Mystery Shopping can be a great source of stay at home mom income, but some people take advantage of those new to the industry. It is my goal to make you aware of these secret shopper scams so that you can avoid them.


Secret Shopper Scams #1: Mystery Shopping List

What It Is
This is a pretty common mystery shopper scam. If you are new to secret shopping, chances are you have Googled the phrase "mystery shopping companies" a time or two.

More than likely what you have found are sites that promise to give you lists of the companies that are "currently hiring" mystery shoppers for real mystery shopping jobs. Some of these websites promise to give you "preferential treatment" in getting hired, others promise "training" or claim that they have an exclusive list.

Most will try to convince you with some sense of urgency that the only way to gain mystery shopping information is by purchasing their list or program.

These programs range in price from $15-50, with most being around $30. These are total secret shopping scams.

What Can Happen
Worst case scenario, if you fall victim to these secret shopper scams, you fork out the money only to find that all the exclusive information, and real mystery shopping jobs leads you just purchased can be found for free at various sources online. Yep. Free mystery shopping sites abound online.

To be truthful, I myself fell for one of these secret shopper scams when I began to do secret shopping. It�s not uncommon.

When you find out that you just got ripped off, you feel a little foolish, but other than that it is just a lesson learned the hard way.



Secret Shopper Scams #2: Receiving a Large Cashier's Check

The scarier mystery shopping scams involves receiving an authentic-looking cashier�s check in the mail for a substantial amount of money.

This is Kelly's story: "Wondering if any of you ever had this happen where you get a substantial check from a mystery shopping company and the bank cashes it and turns out to be a scam. This happened to me yesterday and now the bank wants to file criminal charges against me.

I received a letter and a check from a mystery shopping company. I have in the past worked for a few companies and even still am registered with some. I thought the amount was crazy and did wonder why I would get the money first, but the letter wanted so much money sent back.

I figured I would take the check to the bank, thinking they would know if it's good or not. Well they cashed it. I did save out in my savings the amount to send to this company.

Anyway to make a long story kind of short, I then came home after paying some bills, groceries and went to call the number on the letter and I got some weird recording thing...so I looked up the website and here is the identical letter I received with the same amount of check and it's listed as scam.

I totally freaked out, didn't know if I should call the bank, the police or what..I ended up calling the bank telling them what I found, I was then threatened with if I didn't bring the money back or all my receipts that criminal charges would be brought against me.

I called the police, made a report showed the office everything I had received. I'm scared to death over this!"

Luckily Kelly had not sent the thieves any money, and other than a good scare, was only out the fee to her bank for depositing a bad check.

What It Is
These types of secret shopper scams work like this: after applying for lots of mystery shopping information on the internet, sometimes from the same sites that sell the �exclusive� secret shopping companies list, you are supposedly hired to mystery shop your bank's wire transfer service, as well as shopping other local establishments. You are sent a large cashier�s check, usually between $3,000 and $5,000 and are requested to deposit it into your checking account. The next part of the scam varies from victim to victim, but generally goes something like this.

You are required to send $500 or so back to the company, from the cashier�s check, of course, for training. You then go and conduct several mystery shops at various named locations, spending from the amount you deposited, of course. A few days later, the company will request that you wire transfer the bulk of the amount of the check to them, which helps them to determine the effectiveness of the wire transfer service. The remainder of the money, which usually amounts to several hundred dollars, is to be your fee for doing all of the mystery shopping. Unfortunately, the cashier�s check you were sent was counterfeit, and it could take several weeks before your bank figures it out.

What Can Happen
If you fall victim to this type of mystery shopping scam, it is hopeful that a bank employee will recognize the counterfeit check before you successfully deposit the cashier's check. Unfortunately, this is rare. Most tellers would not recognize the difference between a real cashier's check and a very authentic-looking forgery.

Banks are required to trust you, their customer. They trust that you would not deposit funds from an unknown source. And they will hold you, the customer, responsible for any bad checks that you deposit into your account. If you follow the instructions that came with the check, and withdraw funds from your account to wire to the thieves, then you are out the money you have sent to them. If you did not previously have that much money in your account, it will overdraft your account and you will owe the bank back all of the missing money, plus any overdraft fees.

You will also owe a fee to the bank for depositing the bad cashier�s check in the first place. In some cases, the financial institution may criminally charge you for attempting to pass a forgery to your account. Remember, the bank trusts you, and you are the party officially responsible for all deposits made to your account.

Depending on the state and the amount of the check, it is not unheard of to have the authorities become involved. These types of secret shopper scams are usually perpetrated out of the country, which makes them extremely difficult to prosecute. Chances are, any monies this scam has cost you will never be refunded. For more information about these types of secret shopper scams, and where you should report them, please see this article from the Federal Trade Commission.

Ways to Protect Yourself from a Mystery Shopping Scam

  • Never pay for secret shopper lists
  • It bares repeating that you shouldn't pay for a mystery shopping list. Wipe the egg off your face if you fell for one of these secret shopper scams. It happens to the best of us. But don't pay when it�s all free online. A very thorough list of mystery shopping companies can be found at Volition.


  • Never pay for training
  • In the counterfeit cashier's check mystery shopper scam, it is commonly required that you post $500 to the company for "training". You will never be required to pay for training from any mystery shopping company. Period. It just doesn't happen.

    I will say that the Mystery Shopping Providers Association does offer certification and a training program for secret shoppers. However, the MSPA is not a mystery shopping company and they are not secret shopper scams.

    They are a legitimate organization that serves the industry at large, and looks out for its best interests. They are trustworthy, and if you feel the need to expand your mystery shopping knowledge, I would suggest going through them. I do need to bring up one more point on the subject of wiring back $500 for training. Does this make sense to you? The company was the one who sent the $500 in the first place! Now they want it back for training?

  • You will not get paid large sums
  • You will never, ever, ever get paid thousands or even hundreds of dollars for performing a mystery shop. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to get you involved in secret shopper scams.

    Unless you are conducting a fine dining shop or a cruise line, you will never even be allowed to spend a significant amount of money on purchases.

    Purchase reimbursements are generally under $20, with most being under $5. Most mystery shops pay $10-15, with a few rare ones paying as much as $75-100 for very experienced, preferred shoppers. A new mystery shopper will not be offered an expensive shop before proving themselves.

    As far as cruise mystery shops go, yes they do exist, but they are difficult to obtain for a number of reasons.

    They are only offered to higher level, professional, A-List shoppers, and are usually given at the last moment, requiring little time for planning things such as vacation from work or child care arrangements. You are responsible for transportation, for various fees, and have to write a significant amount of reports while aboard. You will most likely not be paid a shoppers fee, but will be partially compensated for your required expenses.

    They are not as free or as fun as they are reported to be, but are also not mystery shopping scams.

  • You will not be paid in advance
  • There is not a single company that I have ever heard of that will pay you to conduct a secret shop in advance. Only secret shopper scams will claim to do this.

    The way that the mystery shopping industry works is that you are hired for real mystery shopping jobs, you complete training, and then you go do your shop. After your shop is reviewed and accepted, you apply for reimbursement and/or payment. 30-90 days later, you are paid.

    Companies sometimes get dozens or even hundreds of applicants for each mystery shopping assignment that they post. Many shoppers who are chosen for a job fail to complete it.

    Would it make sense for a company to pay someone in advance without knowing them, or the quality of their work? Think about it. How many people out there would just deposit the money without performing the shop?

    Now put this into perspective with a $3,000-5,000 check. Would you, ever, consider sending a check that large to a complete stranger, hoping that they would distribute the funds as you asked?

    And if you did decide for some odd reason to do this, would you send it in a regular envelope, without confirming the address, just hoping it would get to the correct party?

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, or if you are staring at a check worth more than your car, you need to take a moment to step back and analyze the situation, and ask yourself if this is one of the secret shopper scams. If you are like me at all, you may recognize the inherit goodness in people. I personally have a tendency to think that everyone out there is basically like me.

    I sometime foolishly believe that though our opinions differ, and our personal situations vary, that we all think relatively the same with the same values and concerns in life. I know, sometimes I can be naive.

    The truth is there are millions of people worldwide just waiting to take advantage of someone else'�s good intentions. They prey on victims without a second thought to what a trusting person will deal with when the walls come tumbling down on their little schemes. It is sad, but it is a fact of life.

    Arm yourself with knowledge and protect yourself and your money. Realize that while most people out there are good, with good intentions, many, many people (like those perpetrating secret shopper scams) are not.

    And also remember that though these secret shopper scams exist, as they do with basically any opportunities out there, there are real mystery shopping jobs out there.

    I hope that you found this information on secret shopping scams helpful and enlightening.
    Have you ever been a secret shopper?

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    Related Pages

  • What is a Mystery Shopper
  • Becoming a Secret Shopper
  • Other Mystery Shopping Job Opportunities
  • Mystery Shopper Checklist
  • How to Be an A-List Mystery Shopper
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