Easy Ways to Spot Mystery Shopping Scams

Woman looking at shop window with bags in hand
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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 from home and maybe get some free products and services. Plus, work-at-home moms like that they 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 the difference between a legit secret shopping job and a mystery shopping scam. Unfortunately, there are many ways that scammers use mystery shopping to find victims.

The Types of Mystery Shopper Scams

Secret shopping scams typically fall under these categories.

Check Cashing Scam

This is the potentially most costly of all of these kinds of scams, costing victims thousands of dollars. In fact, it is a form of online fraud that pops up in all sorts of places. There are ways to recognize a check-cashing scam you should be aware of.

The 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). The problem is, the check is bogus and will eventually bounce—but only after the money is sent, leaving the sender on the hook for that money. Banks make the funds available in accounts after three days, and won't discover that the check was phony until much later.

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

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. Certifications, classes, etc. are not necessary for mystery shoppers. Plenty of 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. Even if they do provide a list or directory, it isn't anything worth paying for.

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 to Avoid Mystery Shopping Scams

Here's some advice on avoiding mystery shopping scams.

If it seems too good to be true, that's because it is.

Mystery shopping doesn't pay much. 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 them, 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.

Do your research.

You should study and know the telltale signs of a work-at-home scam before you commit to anything.