The most glaring conclusion concerning deals that are too good to be true—is that they most often are. Are there legitimate mystery shopper programs? Yes. You may take part in such ventures and make legitimate money and provide legitimate services. However, if a company approaches you about signing up to take part in a secret or mystery shopper program, be aware of the following tips:
How people are targeted:
- Email Scam. We’ve seen customers receive emails with links to websites outlining their secret shopper program. They are asked to sign up and provide personal information to get started, told they will receive a check, and all they need to do is wire most of the amount elsewhere and keep the rest. This scam occurs because the job isn’t real, and victims are held responsible to pay the money back once the check is deemed fake.
- Mail Scam. Victims receive a letter that contains a check for $3,450 and invites them to participate in a paid mystery shopper program. All that’s needed is to wire $3,000 back and keep the rest.
- Telephone Scam. The same premise applies, but fraudsters will get victims signed up via the phone and send a bad check to get the victims started.
How fraudsters target victims depends on what personal information they have. No method of targeting people mentioned above is particularly difficult to perpetrate.
What do you need to know so you can help protect yourself?
- Do your research. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) points out that most legitimate secret shopper jobs are posted online by reputable marketing research or merchandising companies. Visit the FTC website for more information.
- Legitimate companies will not send checks or ask you to wire money before you have completed any work.
- Verify authenticity. Anytime a scam involves a cashier’s check, official check, or money order from a bank, you should contact that financial institution to verify authenticity.
Once you know you are being targeted by a scam, resist the urge to contact the fraudsters or play along. Your best course of action is to report the fraudulent activity:
Any scam – The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Internet based scams – Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Fraud Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov)
Mail-based scams – U.S. Postal Inspector Service (https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/contactus/filecomplaint.aspx) or 1-888-877-7644.