mystery shopping scams

Mystery Shopping Scams and How to avoid?

Avoid putting yourself at risk by learning more about mystery shopping scams.  However, there are many real opportunities to mystery shop for extra income or free goods – just not often the extremely high rewards promised by scammers.  For information on how to work for legitimate mystery shopping companies, please visit our Mystery Shopper Quick Start Guide.

Typical Scams

Bait and switch: A company will advertise huge and unrealistically high rewards for mystery shopping, but will turn out to be asking you to pay for information about mystery shopping.  Such information is rarely as valuable as is claimed.

Shoppers Be Aware!
Many people have had their initial exposure to mystery shopping through a scam company, giving the entire industry a bad name. This is bad both for individuals who fall for the scams as well as the entire mystery shopping industry; scams create unrealistic expectations as well as distrust. As a shopper, you must always protect yourself against unscrupulous individuals and companies.

Money Order Scams:

Some shoppers have reported e-mails with job offers, claiming to be from mystery shopping providers, that have asked to shop companies that sell money orders. They are asked to receive and cash a large sum money order or (hundreds or thousands of dollars) and then to return most of it, keeping the remainder.

In the meantime, the cashed money order will come back as fraudulent, leaving the shopper holding the bag on both their fee and the returned cash. This is just a variation of the classic money order scam that’s already prevalent. This is a classic case of Mystery shopping scams.

How Mystery Shopping Benefits a Company and Brand?

How To Avoid Being Scammed

There are just a few simple steps to avoid being scammed.  Most of all, just think critically about the offers you are receiving.

Step One: Beware of Unrealistically High or Easy Rewards

Mystery shopping is a price-competitive industry, and clients are always looking to reduce their bottom line.  Retail stores, restaurants, and service providers can choose from a variety of different mystery shopping providers (MSPs) and cost-compare.  If you are shopping at a low-end retail store, why offer a mystery shopper a $500 reimbursement if a $10 reimbursement would be a typical purchase?

I have heard and seen mystery shopping ads advertising hundreds of dollars an hour.  Yet, most companies offer far less.  Why would a company pay to advertise such huge compensations in print or radio ads? They could easily post free on mystery shopping forums online and get shoppers lining up at their door if they had such high amounts of compensation.

There are some higher reward shops out there (such as high-end restaurants and hotels, or cruise lines) but these are often reserved for experienced and high-performing shoppers. As always, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

How to Become a Mystery Shopper or Auditor?

Step Two: Beware of “Pay-To-Play” Mystery Shopping

Most mystery shopping companies, and indeed the good ones to work with, should not ask you for upfront fees. Typically, most of these companies are simply selling information that you can get yourself (much of it false or misleading). These companies don’t provide mystery shopping services; they provide information about mystery shopping.

Often, they will bait potential shoppers with claims that if they upgrade a free membership to a “premium” or “gold” membership, that they will provide them with more job offers in your area.   Some will offer training or certifications.  The only certification you are likely to benefit from is Silver or Gold from the MSPA.

Many of these companies also overstate the rewards of mystery shopping. You’re probably much better off simply applying to mystery shopping companies directly and reading free informational sites like this one.

Other companies do have mystery shops available but require expensive training or application fees.  It is unwise to pay any fee until you know that there will be a real benefit.  You should not have to pay a fee to try mystery shopping.  To locate mystery shopping companies to apply for, please try our Reviews section.

A typical day as a mystery shopper

Step Three: Communicate

Keep in touch with other shoppers. Try joining a mystery shopping online forum like MSFreedom and ask other shoppers about their experiences. This is much better than using a paid service – it’s free and also probably going to give you a truer picture of what mystery shopping is really like. Did you know that the Federal Trade Commission has warned potential mystery shoppers about scams involving the industry?  Read the FTC’s report regarding mystery shopping (PDF).

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