Mystery Shopping Scams: How To Stay Safe as a Mystery Shopper

Mystery shopping scams are a frequent topic of discussion on Mystery Shop Forum. Often it starts with a post asking, “Is this a scam?” The poster is sometimes posing the question a little too late—after they have deposited the fraudulent check.

To those who are familiar with the scammers’ typical modus operandi, it appears obvious; to those who are not, it often appears as a stroke of good luck. No one is exempt. In fact, several seemingly intelligent shoppers have admitted, in the past, to falling victim to a scam. How does this happen, and continue to happen, over and over again?

The Makings of a Victim

The nights are endless. Your department was down-sized and you were let go. Your once robust savings account is quickly dwindling. You need a job. Worry is now your constant companion. You pray for a miracle.

Like every morning, you arise and go straight to your computer. Ever hopeful, you scour your email, in search of some good news. Your heart starts racing. There it is! A job offer! Your prayers have been answered!

The email is from a mystery shopping company and they are offering you a job as a mystery shopper. They want to pay you $300.00 in advance for evaluating customer service at a Western Union location. The instructions state that the company will send you a check and, upon receipt, you must cash the check within 24 hours. You are told to deduct your fee and proceed to any Western Union and wire the remainder of the money, $2,700.00, back to the mystery shopping company.

Wait! This sounds too good to be true. What if it’s one of those mystery shopping scams you’ve heard about? You stop and Google the name of the company. You are immensely relieved to see it is a legitimate company. You quickly fill in the requested information and hit “reply”, thanking them for the opportunity.

The rest of the day you feel buoyant, picturing the $300.00 addition to your bank account. That night, you sleep like a baby. Life is good!

Until the check bounces….

You are about to become a victim of a mystery shopping scam.

The Earmarks of a Scam

  • The letter or email describes the shop requirements, which are minimal, and includes a high fee (above $100.00) paid in advance of the shop.
  • The letter or email contains grammatical errors or misspellings or odd phraseology or words.
  • The company requests you submit your information via email.
  • The email address is from a free email domain, such as gmail or aol, and not the domain of the actual mystery shopping company it claims to represent.
  • The job requirements involve cashing a check, money order or cashier’s check, deducting a sizeable fee and wiring the remainder back to a specified name and address and advising them of the 10-Digit MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number).
  • The exact location of the Western Union or Money Gram store is not specified.

What Should You Do If You’re a Victim of a Scam?

Since you wired the money, using a method that offers no recourse, do not expect to recoup your losses. It’s gone. Even worse, you probably now owe your bank thousands of dollars.

You can report it, however we do not know how seriously any of these agencies view the reports:

  • Notify the FBI.
  • Notify the Better Business Bureau. The BBB can send post an alert on the mystery shopping company’s web page.
  • Notify the mystery shopping company whose name they have used with the scam so they will know what is going on.
  • Contact the bank on which the check was written.
  • Contact the police, using the non-emergency number, to advise them of the scam.
  • File a report with your State Attorney General.
  • File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at


In a nutshell, a legitimate mystery shopping company does not send a shopper a check, money order or cashier’s check to cash, in advance of performing the shop, and request, after deducting their shopper’s fee, they wire the remainder back to the company. Never. Ever. Ever.

Most Importantly: Do not ever wire money to strangers or to firms that have supposedly hired you.

P.S. On a Positive Note

One member of the Mystery Shop Forum actually credits a scam for introducing her to mystery shopping. She received an unsolicited email from a scammer posing as BARE International, a well-known mystery shopping company. To confirm the authenticity of the offer, she Googled the name of the company and sent them a copy of the email. BARE advised her it was a scam, however invited the member to shop for them and she has been happily doing so ever since.

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