Mystery Shopping Scams

The mystery shopping scams come in a couple of different flavors. They advertise for 'mystery shoppers' or 'secret shoppers'.

The ad creates images of you shopping in your spare time and earning thousands, while you dine at fancy restaurants, stay at luxury hotels and shop at up market clothing stores and get merchandise for free.

If you reply, you will be required to pay a small fee [usually less than $100] to receive information that is freely available.

A more sinister version sends you an employment package, containing business evaluation forms, a training assignment and a cashier's check.

The assignment is to cash the check and wire the money [$3,000 - $5,000] to the scammer, before you find out the cashier's check is counterfeit!

How do the Mystery Shopping Scams Work?

You may receive unsolicited emails, or reply to newspaper ads for work-at-home or mystery shopper opportunities. You may also receive a letter if you have posted your resume on sites like

The email may say you have been selected to become a mystery shopper and you can earn $800 - $1,000 a week. If you reply, either you will be required to 'register' to receive the information to proceed [usually under $100], or you will be sent an employment package.

If you send the money, you will be sent a list of companies to approach [which you could find by yourself] and a worthless certificate. Some mystery shopper scams end there having made money out of you.

If you respond to an ad you will be sent a package that contains professional-looking business evaluation forms, a training assignment and a cashier's check for usually $3,000 -$5,000. This is the more painful of the mystery shopping scams.

The training assignment is to pose as a customer and cash the check and wire the money to your 'supervisor'. Often the assignment is to go to a Wal-Mart and purchase a MoneyGram with the reason being to wire money to a relative in Canada.

You are told to deduct $250 for yourself for the 'paid' training assignment and make sure you complete it within 48 hours or you will lose your job.

The check is fake and when the bank finds out, you will be responsible for the amount that you wired. The 48 hour deadline is to pressure you into wiring the money before you find out the check is counterfeit.

Then you will realise you have been a victim of the mystery shopper scams.

mystery shopping scams

Advice for Mystery Shopping Scams

  • NEVER cash a certified check and send money to anyone. Remember you could be prosecuted for cashing a counterfeit check!
  • Never rely on a cashier's check from someone you don't know
  • If a company asks you to pay a fee to apply, DON'T use them
  • Don't trust a guarantee because if it is placed by a scammer, it is worthless
  • Don't use the advice of so called online 'review sites' that claim to have reviewed hundreds of mystery shopping websites and found only a handful of legitimate sites that they recommend. The sites they recommend almost always charge a fee!
  • Use a company that belongs to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. A list of their members can be found on their website
  • Read about mystery shopper scams on the FTC website and a personal account from an FTC Education Specialist, along with her tips.
  • Avoid the 'mystery shoppers wanted' ads either online or in newspapers. Almost all are scams. If you want a job as a mystery shopper, see the last point below
  • If the company is from outside the country such as Canada and doesn't have an established office where you can talk to someone - beware
  • On average, mystery shoppers earn $10-$20 for a simple assignment [they are not usually paid per hour]. It is not a well paid job and it is not easy to make a full-time living from it. Any claims that make it sound glamorous, well paid and where you get to keep designer clothes etc are a mystery shopper scam
  • If you have been scammed, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or your State Attorney General
  • If you want information about becoming a mystery shopper and learn about work assignments you can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.  You should also visit a site called Volition as this is where real mystery shoppers share experiences and give or get advice.

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