Warning about mystery shopping scams

By Gray Hall - bio | email
Posted by Shawn Maclauchlan

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It sounds like a pretty good job -- a company pays you to buy things.

It uses the results for quality research and you get a check. But now, crooks are targeting mystery shopping.

There are hundreds of legitimate mystery shopping companies out there. The sad news is there are probably even more crooks looking for ways to get your money.

Experts say before you make the decision to become a mystery shopper, there are some red flags to be aware of.

Sarah Leeke is a mystery shopper.

"Mystery shopping is the process of evaluating the customers experience at a business," said Leeke. "It is fun in the aspect that it is secretive."

It can be fun, but she admits there is a serious side to the business.

"You have to be detailed oriented, you have to be organized, you have to be a good note taker, you have to have an excellent memory if you don't have a good memory, mystery shopping is not for you," said Leeke.

If you want to be a mystery shopper, Leeke says beware -- criminals are using deceptive tactics like phony emails hoping to take your money.

"Mystery shoppers are not going to just going to send out mass emails to the generic public. They don't do that," said Leeke.

The thieves usually send an email or letter wanting you to deposit a check for thousands of dollars in your account.

They tell you to go shopping at certain stores, then want you to wire most of the money back to them -- usually through a Western Union.

By the time you realize it's all a sham, it's usually too late.

"There is no mystery shopping company out there who is going to prepay you for an assignment, you get paid after the work is done," said Leeke.

Crooks are changing up their scheme -- emails now appear legit, they use a real name and company logo, but the email address is usually not a corporate email but a gmail, hotmail, or AOL account.

"You have to do your research and it's best if you are new to mystery shopping and you have never worked with any companies before to just go through one of the companies who is a member of the MSPA, Mystery Shoppers Providers Association at mysteryshop.org," said Leeke.

Mystery shopping companies usually work with people already in the industry, so if you get an email wanting you to be a mystery shopper, Leeke says it's probably a fake.

Another red flag, a company offering hundreds of dollars for an assignment.

"Average price from a shop ranges anywhere from $1 to $20 to $30 to $40. The typical average is between $10 and $20."

If you get one of these phony letters, don't throw it away, experts say keep it and report it to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

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