Secret shopping or mystery shopping is a real, legitimate form of work. Mystery shopping agencies send everyday consumers out to the malls and department stores across the US to evaluate everything from prices, to customer service and cleanliness. As a secret shopper you will either be given a pre-loaded debit card to make purchase, or given a flat fee for your time.
While bona fide myster shopping agencies will send you to restaurants and brick and mortar stores that sell tangible goods, scam agencies will send you to financial institutions and wire transfer services, and that is where the fraud begins.
How the scam works:
You’ll receive a letter in the mail or an email congratulating you on being ‘carefully’ chosen for the position of mystery shopper in your city. (Nevermind that you might not even have applied for the job.) Your first assigment is to assess the service at either a bank or money transfer service, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. To do this, the agency will send you a check that you must cash at a designated place. You will then wire the cash back to the agency at another place.
What’s the catch? The check or money order is a forgery, but neither you nor the check cashing place will realize this until a few days later, after they have reviewed the week’s transactions. When they do discover that it was a forgery, you will be forced to pay back every cent. But by that time you will have already wired the money to some person far away, often in Canada. The scammer gets free money and you lose money.
How to avoid getting scammed:
Never agree to any scheme in which you must cash a check and wire the money to someone else. The checks are always forgeries and you will be the one the banks go after. Don’t let your greed and desperation get the better of you when accepting jobs that are easy to get, or that promise big rewards for very little effort. If you think you have been the victim of a mystery shopping scam or have received correspondence from a suspicious secret shopping agency, contact your state’s Attorney General.
Other scams to watch out for:
Website Owners: How to Avoid the ‘Directory Listing’ Scam
How to Avoid Unclaimed Money and Cashier’s Check Scams
Tutors Beware: The Check Overpayment Scam