Mystery Shoppers Scams: 7 Ways Crooks Try To Fool You

Find out exactly how to avoid the surge in bogus mystery shoppers schemes: Internet Scambusters #379

Would-be mystery shoppers, anxious to earn some extra part-
time cash, face a fresh onslaught from scammers who know how
to fool them.

Websites, emails and letters convince victims to pay a fee to
get a job or claim that they’re already selected before
conning them out of thousands.

In this issue, we explain the techniques scammers use to try
to look genuine.

However, we encourage you to take a look at this week’s most
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Women’s Free Knitting Patterns for Easter: Take advantage of these free knitting patterns for Easter and knit a
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Let’s get started…

Mystery Shoppers Scams: 7 Ways Crooks Try To Fool You

A new alert about mystery shopper scams has been issued by
IC3, the multi-agency US group that includes the FBI and the
Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The organization — IC3 stands for Internet Crime Complaints
Center — fears that the economic downturn is luring thousands
of unsuspecting victims into believing they’ve been chosen to
become a mystery shopper.

Mystery shoppers, or secret shoppers as they’re sometimes
known, are used by retailers and restaurants to secretly test
customer service standards by pretending to be real shoppers.

It’s actually a genuine research sector that really does
recruit and pay people, as we explained some time ago in a
special Scambusters report, href="">The Truth About
Becoming a Mystery Shopper.

And because mystery shoppers are usually able to decide when
they work, it’s a popular part-time job for which there’s
usually a long waiting list of would-be “employees” —
actually, they’re self-employed independent contractors.

But you wouldn’t think it was hard to get a mystery shopper
job when you see the number of websites and classified ads
promoting opportunities in North America and the UK, and
claiming research companies are seeking help in your area.

Most of these ads are come-ons for mystery shopper training
kits or lists of research companies. Most of these kits are
useless and the lists are often freely available on the
Internet, but that doesn’t stop these organizations charging
up to $100 at a time.

Since so many subscribers have asked us to help them find more
info on how to become a mystery shopper, we’ve reviewed a lot
of the stuff out there. The only real, useful guide on how to
be successful as a mystery shopper that we’ve found is by
. (There may be others but we certainly haven’t found

(Note: This is an affiliate link. That means we do earn a few
dollars if you choose to order it. As long-time subscribers
know, we only make recommendations when we’ve personally
reviewed products and believe they are excellent. Affiliate
commissions help support, which is a public

An avalanche of unsolicited letters, telling recipients they
have already been selected to become mystery shoppers, adds
fuel to the fire.

These are usually advance payment scams, where the victim gets
a bogus check or money order that they’re told to deposit
immediately, using part for their mystery shopping expedition
and wiring the rest supposedly to test the effectiveness of
one of the electronic money transfer companies.

To heighten their chances of success, the crooks insist you
act with confidentiality — that you don’t tell anyone that
you’ve been “selected” — and that you act with speed (which
ensures they get their wire money before the bank discovers
their check was a fake; you then owe this money to the bank).

We covered this ruse in more detail in another Scambusters
issue, href="">Secret
Shoppers, Astroturfing and Successful Phish.

IC3 is concerned because 2010 has seen a huge surge in mystery
shopper scams, some of them quite cleverly put together to be
more convincing. The result: a flood of victims.

We’ve drawn up a list of 7 things the crooks will do to try to
convince you their mystery shopper scam is genuine:

  1. They plaster their letters and messages with genuine logos
    of well-known companies, the Better Business Bureau and even
    the mystery shopper industry’s own trade organization, the
    Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA).

  2. They use phony testimonials from people, some claiming
    they’re making thousands of dollars a month. It’s highly
    unlikely, or most probably impossible, to make that kind of

  3. They ask applicants to send a resume, as though they’re
    genuinely interested in credentials. This may actually be a
    cover for identity theft, and sometimes the scammers even say
    their victims must undergo vetting that involves them handing
    over details like Social Security numbers.

  4. They include some fine-sounding words in a privacy or
    ethics statement. Others, especially online, provide a
    disclaimer (which they assume no one will read), a fine print
    document that actually admits their claims about how much you
    can earn are just that — claims.

  5. Many advance payment mystery shopper scams include a
    package of guidelines on how to do that job and a set of forms
    that are supposed to be completed after the mission and
    returned to the company. Makes it look like the real thing.

  6. Online sites claim their service is free, when really they
    are just gateways to other sites that charge for the kits and
    lists mentioned above.

  7. They advertise on respectable websites, TV and radio
    stations and in reputable publications, hoping this will give
    them credibility, when in reality these media are unable to
    check them out or vouch for them.

The scale of the mystery shopper scams is phenomenal, using
netbots to send out a gazillion spam messages every day, and
mailing out thousands of phony checks — sometimes using
innocent recruits to do their dirty work.

But following a few simple rules will ensure you never get
caught in a mystery shoppers scam:

  • Genuine mystery shopper companies do not recruit on spec
    either by email or letter. You register on their websites,
    provide a profile and they will contact you if and when work
    is available.

  • The MSPA
    lists its 260 members — use this to
    contact and register with potential employers. And the MSPA
    itself doesn’t employ mystery shoppers. It also provides
    useful, free tips on becoming a mystery shopper.

  • Genuine firms don’t charge you to join or register, and they
    never send out checks with a request that you then wire a
    portion of it.

    Mostly, they reimburse you after you’ve completed your
    mission, but if they do pay upfront they don’t ask you to wire
    part of the money to a third party. Never bank a check and
    wire money this way.

  • Look out for bloopers that give away the scammer — using
    poor grammar and spelling, using a public email service
    address, like Gmail or Livemail, claiming there are jobs in
    your area when they don’t even know where you are.

    Check out what a typical href=""
    target="_blank">secret shopper scam letter looks like.

Most of us enjoy a little bit of retail therapy now and then.
Getting paid for it might be fun (though you’ll never earn a
fortune) but paying a mystery shopper scam artist for the
experience definitely isn’t!

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!