Mystery Shopper Scams

Know how to spot secret shopper scams before you sign up for anything.

Mother and daughter shopping in grocery store
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Sure, secret shopping is a work-at-home opportunity that will never pay much, but the idea is to make money--however little--so you should never lose money to a mystery shopper scam!

People do secret shopping because it's can be fun, and they can make extra money and maybe get some free products and services. Plus, for the work-at-home mom it can be a nice fit in her lifestyle because she can often bring the kids along.

But this lure of free stuff and relatively easy money is exactly what con artists use to find victims for their fraudulent schemes.

So if you're interested in trying it, educate yourself about difference between a legit secret shopping job and a mystery shopping scam. Unfortunately, there isn't just one sign you have to look out for. There are many ways that scammers use mystery shopping to find victims.

The Check-Cashing Mystery Shopper Scam

This is the potentially most costly of all of these kinds of scams--with people losing thousands of dollars. In fact, it is a form of online fraud that pops up in all sorts of places, and so the advice on how to avoid this scam goes for just about anything that asks for check-cashing.

How this scam works: The newbie mystery shopper, who has likely just signed up with a new company, is given the assignment to evaluate a money transfer service or other financial institution.

He or she is sent a check to cash and instructed to wire some of the money back to the mystery shopping company (the part the sender keeps is supposed to be the payment for the job). Problem is, the check is bogus and will eventually bounce but only after the money was sent, leaving the sender on the hook for that money.

Banks make the funds available in accounts after three days, which is much sooner than it will take to discover that the check was phony.

How to avoid this scam: Do not cash checks or send money for anyone. Period. Even if this isn't your first assignment for a company or it sounds really reasonable, don't do it.

Mystery Shopper Fees

You should not have to pay a fee to be a mystery shopper, so any place that charges you is a scam. As with any work-at-home job, paying a fee to work is a huge red flag.

How this scam works: These mystery shopping companies attempt to convince you that their opportunity is worth paying for, and that you should show that "you're serious" about this opportunity.

Remember: Companies pay you to work for them, not the other way around. Also certifications, classes, etc. are not necessary. And resources on mystery shopping are available for free on the Internet, so there is no reason to pay for lists or directories. Any company that attempts to charge you a fee is likely a scam, but even if the company comes with a list or directory, it isn't anything worth paying for.

How to avoid this scam: Do not pay for mystery shopping. Even if it isn't a scam (though it probably is), mystery shopping doesn't pay enough to make a fee of any kind reasonable.

Tips for Spotting Mystery Shopping Scams

Seems too good to be true. That's because it is. Remember what I said at the beginning, you won't make a lot of money doing mystery shopping. Anyone who promises big money is likely a scammer.

Don't respond to email pitches or newspaper classifieds for mystery shopping. - You can't know who is behind these, and these are the typical places scammers look for marks.

Don't pay for anything. This includes classes, directories, guaranteed placements, background checks, certifications, or products.

Know the telltale signs of a work-at-home scam.

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