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Mystery Shopper
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Secret Shopper / Mystery Shopper Scams:
A Job That Only Pays The Scammer!

Have you heard that you can get paid to shop, as a mystery shopper or secret shopper? If you have received unsolicited emails or seen newspaper ads that claim you can earn a living as a secret or mystery shopper by dining at elegant restaurants, shopping at pricey stores, or checking into luxurious hotels, beware!  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, is warning consumers about scams in this area.

What is Secret or Mystery Shopping?

It is true that some retailers hire marketing research companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores and these companies often use "mystery shoppers" to get the information anonymously. They assign a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, for example, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed, and can keep the product or service.

However, many of the professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a part-time activity, at best. But scammers are using newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that they have lucrative mystery shopper jobs to offer with reputable companies. These ads usually promote a website where consumers can “register” to become mystery shoppers.  You become the mystery shopper after you pay a fee for information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.

The truth is there is no real "shopping certification" and the list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free. Legitimate mystery shopper jobs are posted on the Internet for free. Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs are almost always out of luck. Either the business doesn’t return the phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another scam.

How to Find Real Mystery Shopping

Becoming a legitimate mystery shopper for a legitimate company doesn’t cost anything. Here’s how to do it:

  • Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at www.mysteryshop.org for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper with a MSPA-member company, a database of available jobs, and additional information on the industry in general.
    • Sign up with as many companies on the  mysteryshop.org website as you can.
    • Be patient. It's very popular and flooded with new shoppers, so it may take time for you to get your first assignment.
    • Be responsive. When the assignment hits your e-mail account, reply as soon as you can.
    • Follow their directions and complete the first assignment as well you can to increase your chances of being assigned a more desirable assignment in the future.
  • Search the Internet for mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications. Most of the search engine results will be scams - so you will need to evaluate carefully.  Here's one that seems legitimate:  Legitimate companies don’t charge an application fee. Many accept applications online.
  • Do some homework about mystery shopping. Check libraries or bookstores for tips on how to find companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well as how to do the job effectively.

How to Identify Mystery Shopper Scams

In the meantime, the FTC says consumers should be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters who:

  • Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email. While it may appear as if these companies are hiring mystery shoppers, it’s much more likely that they’re pitching unnecessary — and possibly bogus — mystery shopping “services.”
  • Sell “certification.” Companies that use mystery shoppers generally do not require certification.
  • Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper. It is usually sporadic work.
  • Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
  • Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.

What to do, if you think you have been scammed

If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with


Examples of the Mystery Shopper emails

Here are some brief examples and reports:

  1. March 18, 2008:
    I received a letter from a group called "Citi Research center" , Phone # 403-401-4256 , address 940 6 ave, sw calgary alberta canada t2t 3ti. It enclosed a Check for 4367.00 for a "secret shopping Job". I was suspicious, So i did a reverse phone # search and it came up to a cell phone. I did a reverse address loop up on Canada411.com, it advised no such address exists. I called the number and it went automatically to voicemail.So I called the bank listed on the check, and spoke with a woman who advised this was a scam, and she advised to fax the info over.

News and Resources

Here are some news articles regarding this issue:

 


Copyright CFR 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009  - Definition of scam, fraud, etc.Legal disclaimer / corrections / complaints  -  Privacy Policy
Names used by scammers in the examples on this page and others often belong to real people and businesses who often have no knowledge of nor connection to the scammer's use of their name and information.  Sample scam emails and other documents are copies of the scam to help potential victims recognize and avoid it.  You should presume that any names used and presented here in a scam are either fictitious or used without their legitimate owner's permission.
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