Do you love to shop? If so, you may be tempted by
unsolicited emails or newspaper ads that claim you can earn a living as a
secret or mystery shopper by dining at elegant restaurants, shopping at pricey
stores or checking into luxurious hotels. However, marketers who promise
lucrative jobs as mystery shoppers often do not deliver on their promises.
What is mystery shopping?
Some retailers hire marketing research companies to evaluate
the quality of service in their stores. These companies use mystery shoppers to
get the information anonymously. They assign a mystery shopper to make a
particular purchase in a store or restaurant, for example, and then report on
the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product
Many professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a
part-time activity, at best. And, they add, opportunities generally are posted
online by marketing research or merchandising companies.
Nevertheless, fraudulent mystery shopping promoters are
using newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that they are a gateway
to lucrative mystery shopper jobs with reputable companies. These solicitations
usually promote a website where consumers can “register” to become mystery
shoppers after they pay a fee for information about a certification program, a
directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping
The truth is that it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone
to get into the mystery shopper business. The shopping certifications offered
in advertising or unsolicited email are almost always worthless. A list of
companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free and legitimate
mystery shopper jobs are on the Internet for free. Consumers who try to get a
refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs usually are out of luck. Either
the business does not return the phone calls, or if it does, it is to try
Do not wire money
You may have heard about people who are “hired” to be
mystery shoppers, and told that their first assignment is to evaluate a money
transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram. The shopper receives a check
with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account, withdraw the amount
in cash, and wire it to a third party. The check is a fake.
By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks
available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. It may seem
that the check has cleared and the money has posted to the account – but when
it turns out to be a fake, the person who deposited the check and wired the
money will be responsible for paying back the bank.
It is never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you
do not know and then wire money back.
The facts of mystery shopping
Becoming a legitimate mystery shopper for a legitimate
company does not cost anything. Here is how to do it:
Search the Internet for mystery shopping companies that are
accepting applications. Legitimate companies do not charge an application fee.
Many accept applications online.
Do some homework about mystery shopping. Check libraries or
bookstores for tips on how to find companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well
as how to do the job effectively.
You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association
(MSPA North America) website at www.mysteryshop.org for information on how to
register to be a mystery shopper with a MSPA-member company, a database of
available jobs, and additional information on the industry in general. The MSPA
also offers optional certification programs for a fee.
Be aware that some illegitimate mystery shopper promoters
are using the MSPA or MSPA member logos in their materials in order to appear
to be affiliated with MSPA. Check a company against the MSPA member company
list on the MSPA website.
Consumers should be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters
Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help
wanted’ section or by email. While it may appear as if these companies are
hiring mystery shoppers, it is much more likely that they are pitching
unnecessary and possibly bogus mystery shopping “services.”
Sell “certification.” Companies that use mystery shoppers
generally do not require certification.
Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
Ask you to deposit a check and then wire some or all of the
money to another person or business.
Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.
(Information taken from FTC fact sheet “Mystery Shopper Scams,” 06/12)