Mystery Shopper Scams

Who doesn’t love shopping? So, when a company decides to recruit you as a mystery shopper, you are likely to dive in head first. A mystery shopper is an individual hired by an organization to shop at certain stores or restaurants and then provide a detailed report on the experience for quality control purposes. Typically, a mystery shopper is reimbursed and may receive a small fee or get to keep the products. While there are genuine and reputable companies hiring mystery shoppers, there are many disreputable individuals and firms that indulge in mystery shopper scams. Just search online “mystery shopper scams” and you will be surprised by how rampant this problem is.

According to CBC News, there are plenty of legitimate mystery shopper jobs out there, but the industry is beset by fraudsters. Differentiating genuine solicitations from scams can be challenging but it not impossible. Scammers have several means of getting your hard earned money. Here are some common types of scams associated with mystery shopping.

Phishing

This is a scamming method where fraudsters send unsolicited but legitimate-looking emails to unsuspecting individuals in an attempt to gather financial and personal information. USA TODAY reveals an example of a mystery shopper scam email. The scammer will try and convince the recipient by using what might look like a legitimate company logo and contact information. If the recipient takes the bait, they reveal their credit card numbers, PINs, Social Security numbers, account passwords and bank account numbers.

Vishing

Vishing or voice phishing is another scam that is similar to phishing. However, instead of emails, these scams occur through phone calls. Fraudsters will try and sound very professional in order to pose as trusted company representatives interested in hiring you as a mystery shopper. They will then ask for your banking information, social security number and other personal information.

Smishing

This is a scam that involves the use of fraudulent messages sent via SMS. The scammer may text you claiming that you have been selected as a mystery shopper. But, how can you be picked or rewarded for a contest or application that you didn’t fill? Furthermore, companies rarely notify applicants or contestants via text messages.

The “Pay us first” scams.

This scam preys upon the general public’s desire to make easy money and need for guidance to navigate through the numerous mystery shopping jobs online. Fake companies will promise to deliver premium services if you pay during registration and also claim that they can provide the most fun mystery shopping jobs near you. Often, they will say that they have a system that allows them to identify the best jobs or they have special relationships with companies that need mystery shoppers but do not advertise to the general public. Why would a reputable company ask for registration fees? And why hide their job applications? Legitimate mystery shopping companies don’t need to hide or ask you to pay. Don’t fall for it.

The check scam

This is one of the serious scams. Scammers claim to be legit companies and send out large counterfeit money orders and checks. They will ask you to make a deposit and then wire the majority of the funds back to them. You guessed it. The check is not legit. The main reason this scam is quite dangerous is that many banks give their clients provisional credit when they deposit checks. Therefore, if you fall for the scam, you will receive the provisional credit and pay the scammers only to realize that the check was no good. You are left to deal with the bank. Find out how a bank reached an agreement with a mystery shopper scam victim.

Tips on how to protect yourself from mystery shopper cons

Like most scams, mystery shopper cons have tip-offs. If you are careful, you can spot a fraud from a mile away. Therefore, when looking for legit mystery shopping jobs on the internet, keep these tips in mind.

Do your research

Remember, legitimate companies offering mystery shopper jobs rarely come knocking on your door. It is up to you to find out as much as you can about the enterprise. Search for reviews, comments, and testimonials regarding each company and pay close attention to their history and experience. Visit the Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association (MSPA) website to find legitimate and reputable mystery shopping companies.

Don’t pay to be a mystery shopper

Always keep your hard earned cash. Once you make any payments, your money is gone and cannot be retrieved. It’s unnecessary to pay any company or individual to get into mystery shopping. A list of legitimate mystery shopping jobs is provided online for free. Also, don’t just deposit any check. If the check is fake, you will be accountable, and you will be forced to pay back the bank.

Don’t respond to firms that find you

Never answer unsolicited emails, calls or text messages about mystery shopping gigs regardless of how enticing they seem. Send such emails to the spam box and hung up on companies and individuals who call you from the blue. Also, keep your personal information to yourself and don’t trust anyone with your private PIN, social security number or other private information.

What to do if you identify a mystery shopping scam

Unfortunately, swindlers can be very good at masquerading as legitimate mystery shopper companies. So, what should you do when you spot a mystery shopper scam? Often, people will try and call them out. However, this method rarely bears any fruits. Instead, report them and let professionals deal with it and get back to finding a legit mystery shopper job. Make use of online scam reporting tools, contact the AARP Fraud Watch or alert the Federal Trade Commission. This way, if you have been scammed, you stand a chance of getting back your money and saving others from mystery shopper scams.

Mystery shopping can be a fun and legitimate way to earn some money, but be careful when looking for companies that recruit mystery shoppers to avoid scams. Swindlers are very smart in the way they con people. Consumer education and vigilance will prevent you from falling for mystery shopper scams.

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