It’s pretty easy to find a mystery shop provider who is in need of a new mystery shopper. A mystery shopper is usually more limited by the time they want to invest in applying to work for all of the providers rather than being limited by the number of providers available. In fact, there are so many providers that a problem is created for mystery shoppers. Rather than have a core group of five, ten, or even twenty solid mystery shop providers, there are literally hundreds of providers to choose from. This crowded market creates a great opportunity for scam artists to hide amongst legitimate shop providers and prey on unknowing mystery shoppers looking for more work.
There are some telltale signs of a scam artist you can be on the lookout for. If you are knowledgeable of these signs, you can protect yourself from falling victim to a scam and losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Certify Yourself. Getting a certification shows mystery shop providers that you are a serious mystery shopper, committed to growing your skills. Some scam artists will provide you with what appears to be a top-notch industry certification and the promise of high-dollar jobs in exchange for a high fee. In reality, the only certifications that are recognized by legitimate mystery shop providers are those from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MPSA). Even the MPSA certifications are not required to do most assignments, nor do they guarantee a higher paycheck. If you are interested in taking your skills as a mystery shopper to the next level, visit the MPSA website at www.mysteryshop.org for details, and avoid any promises of a certification through another source.
Use The Right List. Some scam artists will lure unsuspecting mystery shoppers to paying unnecessary fees for a list of mystery shop providers they can work with. In some cases, the list these mystery shoppers purchase is legitimate. In other cases, the list is riddled with bad website addresses and other scam artists. The MPSA publishes a list of legitimate mystery shop providers for free. So you never need to pay for a list of mystery shop providers, regardless of if the list is legitimate or not.
Be sure to check with the MPSA first before you sign up to work for a new mystery shop provider to ensure the company you are signing up to work for is legitimate.
Watch The Money Trail. Many legitimate mystery shop providers will require a mystery shopper to purchase a small item. Sometimes you will be required to keep the purchase, and sometimes you will be required to return it. In most cases (but not all), you will be reimbursed at least a portion of the cost of your purchase if you are required to keep the item. These are perfectly normal mystery shop assignments.
Then there are the assignments that require you to cash a check in your own personal bank account, and then write a check for that same amount (or even a smaller amount) immediately after you cash the check. The issue arises when the check you write has been cashed, and the check you deposited into your account to cover your outgoing check bounces. Some mystery shoppers have been duped out of literally thousands of dollars with this scam. If a job seems too easy for the money or if you are required to deposit money or mail checks from your own account, beware!
If you determine you have fallen victim to a scam, or even if you have been approached by a scam artist, contact the Federal Trade Commission immediately so they can take the proper steps to shut the scam artist down. Also spread the word to your fellow mystery shoppers via online forums about the scam you’ve encountered to make other mystery shoppers aware of the scam.