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
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
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
- Sign up with as many companies on the
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
- 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
Examples of the Mystery Shopper emails
Here are some brief examples and reports:
- 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: