Drawing the Moral Line in Mystery Shopping

Threads on the forum occasionally raise moral issues. I’ll leave aside the generic question of whether it’s right to lie to people; that’s an occupational hazard. But we lie like actors and actresses lie. We’re playing a part, not lying to hurt someone else or get ourselves out of trouble.

I’m talking about things that have the possibility to cross legal lines, or cost someone who is NOT the client either time, money, or inconvenience. I’m not even going to try to express an opinion on this, because each person has to make the decision on their own. My purpose here is only to get you to think about what you are sometimes being asked to do, and decide whether you will or won’t do that just to make a buck.

Do you ever question the scheduler about certain shops, or are we like soldiers being ordered to fire, assuming it’s the responsibility of the platoon leader to make the decision and be responsible for the outcome? Do we do things just because we were told to by the MSC and they dangled a carrot big enough for us to bite at?

I did a very lucrative bank shop recently involving opening account at a bank. I do lots of bank shops, and don’t mind opening accounts to do them if the money is good. Not having been told otherwise, I naturally assumed the bank in question had commissioned the shop to test customer service. In the midst of this shop (the evaluations went on for a full month) I learned it was a competitor shop. I had been told I could close the account 30 days after starting the shop. I planned to do just that; I didn’t need another set of accounts.

But with this being a competitor shop, that means bankers and other employees not on the payroll of the client have put forth effort and spent time with me in person and on the phone, and gave me materials, and mailed me information, and this bank will never get a dime for their efforts because I will make sure I never pay a fee on these accounts. This competitor bank who gets no value from the shop report because they’ll never see it is going to have spent a lot of time and effort and postage and other expenses so that I could make a multi-hundred dollar fee opening an account I didn’t need at a bank I didn’t want to be a customer of.

Another shop offer showed up in my email today, this one offering to pay a bunch of money to a shopper who had an account with a certain bank and was willing to close it. I wonder who commissioned that shop. Possibly the bank whose account will be closed. Possibly not. If you take that shop, will you ask? Or will you just close the account and move the money somewhere else, costing the bank your business?

Other shops ask us to go to Western Union offices and try to do a wire transaction that is illegal. Is this a form of entrapment, tricking the clerk to break the rules? Or is it meant to avoid rule breaking (since the shopper is not to go through with the transaction) by catching the weak clerks before they break the law, enabling them to be corrected — or fired?

There are shops where young adults or teens are asked to try to do something improper or illegal, such as buying cigarettes or alcohol, or getting into an R rated movie without an adult. Other shops ask shoppers to pretend they want to buy a gun for someone who is not legally allowed to buy one. Even the one-on-one Medicare compliance shops feel a little “icky” since the person you are shopping is usually self-employed, not an employee of the insurance companies. Or is it the government who commissioned those shops? But maybe undergoing the audit is part of the cost for being able to sell those policies. Does that make it okay to let an agent drive 200 miles round trip to do a presentation to someone who lied about being in the market for what agent makes his living selling? Taking up their time is one thing; what about their half tank of gas?

These shops are important to help ensure businesses are complying with the law. But if you knew that agent was going to be out of pocket for you to do that shop, how much would the MSC have to pay YOU to do it? $20? $100? More? Do you have a price at which you can be bought for a shop that feels wrong to you? If you know they know they will be anonymously shopped, does that make it okay? Maybe it does.

You can’t save the target from being shopped. If you don’t take that shop, someone else will. Does that make it okay for you to do it? Or does your conscience say, “No. This just isn’t right.” Would you shut your conscience up if the fee was $500?

I read an interview with a paid international assassin in a magazine once. When asked, “How can you do this?” he replied, “If I don’t pull the trigger, someone else will. My not taking the job won’t change anything. They’ll just get someone else.” Is this sound logic, or rationalization?
Finally, is there a price where you check your ethics at the door and do a questionable shop anyway? Are there “icky” shops you won’t do for $10 or 20, but would for $150?

What will you do for a buck? What will you do for a whole lot of bucks? Where is YOUR line drawn?

I heard a joke once, in which a man accosted a woman on the street and asked, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” The woman considered it for a moment, and finally said, “Yes, I would.” The man then asked, “Would you sleep with me for a dollar?” The woman haughtily replied, “Of course not. What kind of woman do you think I am?” The man replied, “Madame, we have already determined that. Now we are just haggling over price.”

I don’t have the answers. But these are questions we should all think about when a shop feels a little icky to us. Maybe it’s okay to trust the MSCs to be operating on solid moral ground when they put these jobs out on the board. And maybe we should “vet” the job ourselves, by asking for more details before we snatch at that high-priced evaluation without giving a thought to whether we have just crossed a major moral line by doing so.

Not offering advice or answers here … just saying this is something to think about.

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