Mystery shoppers are a popular target for scam artists. With so much of our work being done via the internet and the mail, there is very little face-to-face contact between mystery shoppers and their employers. Most mystery shoppers acknowledge that this arrangement can make them easy prey to scam artists. However, even the most savvy mystery shopper can fall victim to a conniving scam artist.
Building Trust. Mystery shoppers by nature are typically very cautious about signing up to work with new providers. With the large network with mystery shoppers communicating online via the industry forums and with legitimate providers posted on a list with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (www.mysteryshop.org), it’s typically fairly easy to determine before you sign up to work with a new company if they are legitimate or not. After you have signed up with a provider and completed an assignment or two, a certain level of trust is built. At this point, mystery shoppers typically let their guard down and don’t scrutinize their new provider as thoroughly.
Taking Advantage Of The Relationship. Yet the latest scam artist preying on mystery shoppers takes advantage of this trust. After a few legitimate assignments have been completed – or even months worth of legitimate assignments, this scam artist then moves into high gear. The scam involves a fairly well-known con, where the provider mails the mystery shopper a large check and asks the mystery shopper to deposit the check into his or her own account. Then the mystery shopper wires the money to another account. The “assignment” is to actually check on the service of the wiring company (in this case, Western Union). However, after the funds have been wired, the check that was deposited to cover the wire bounces. The end result is a mystery shopper that is out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
What To Watch For. Unfortunately, either multiple scam artists are using this same tactic, or there is one scam artists working under various company names. So it is not safe to simply watch out for XYZ company. In fact, these scam artists don’t just make up company names to work under, but they use legitimate companies’ names. These are company names that are reputable and trusted in the mystery shopping industry, and the list likely includes some of the providers that you currently work with.
Instead of looking for a specific name, instead keep your eyes open for any large bank transfers. This is one of the most common cons and it can take on various forms, but in many cases the most recent cons involve a mystery shopper depositing a large check into their account. If you get your hands on one of these large checks and are in doubt, you can check it out by phoning the bank the check was written from and asking them if the account has enough cash for this check to clear. Most banks can give you a yes or no. If doubt looms or you believe you have been contacted by a scam artist, contact the Better Business Bureau and your state’s Attorney General’s Office immediately. It is also helpful to post your experiences online at the mystery shopping forums to get the word out to your fellow mystery shoppers immediately.
As you get into a routine with a provider, you may let your guard down and work on assignments without questioning them. With mystery shopping, it is best to keep your guard up against scams at all times, regardless of how long you have been working with that provider.