Avoiding Secret Shopper Scams
What is a Mystery Shopper?
A mystery shopper is a person who is hired to assess the quality of service provided in retail stores. They will be instructed to enter a certain branch, purchase an item, and leave to later report on speed, accuracy, and attitude of employees, overall experience with the retail store and so on. Often the mystery shopper is reimbursed for the item they bought and will receive a payment for the report they write.
Becoming a mystery shopper usually involves replying to an online advertisement – this is the main form of both legitimate and fraudulent opportunities. Many legitimate retailers greatly value the input from mystery shoppers but account for it as a limited, part-time resource. Recognizing a scam is the best way to avoid being a victim of fraud. Here are some things to help you identify mystery shopper scams.
Look for Legitimacy
As mentioned before, legitimate mystery shopper opportunities are usually set up online. Although some fraudsters also operate online, there are some who target people through email, mail or newspapers. Don’t follow hyperlinks in emails and do not respond to secret shopper jobs in the ‘help wanted’ section of a newspaper. A list of companies that offer legitimate mystery shopper jobs is available for free online. Don’t be afraid to verify your opportunities.
In mystery shopper scams, an upfront fee for “registration”, “certification”, or “information booklets” is requested. There is no such fee associated with legitimate mystery shopper opportunities. There is no registry and no valid certification required. Some scams state that a fee is necessary in order to guarantee your job. No legitimate company would charge you to work for them.
Wily Wire Transfers
Some scams will tell you that you have been hired to assess the money transfer service of companies such as Western Union or MoneyGram. They will ask you to deposit a check and, withdraw the money or wire transfer the money to a third party. To make the transaction seem more legitimate, they may ask you to fill out an evaluation form concerning the services and email it back to the company. The check in this scenario, however, is fake. Because the process of clearing a check is lengthy, it can take up to 10 business days before the fraudulent check is identified. By then, the scammers will be nowhere in sight and you will be responsible for paying back the bank both the check amount and the processing fees.
MoneyGram has stated that they do not employ secret shoppers and the Western Union states that their secret shoppers are not paid by check or money order.
This type of scam also happens outside of secret shopper scams and is called a money mule scam. The same rules apply to both: don’t accept checks or debit orders from unreliable sources; and don’t transfer money to people you don’t know, especially if the transfer is international.
Finding online jobs and work-from-home opportunities is exciting, but it is important to protect yourself from scams and fraudsters. Remember to cross-check the company offering the job with a list of legitimate opportunities. Don’t pay unnecessary fees. Be very cautious of jobs that require you to do money transfers. Report all suspicious activity and keep abreast with the antifraud news.