How to Spot a Mystery Shopper Scam Web Site

mystery-shopper-scamThe people running mystery shopper scams are getting more sophisticated. Because more people are becoming aware of the scams, some of the scammers are making an attempt to look more like legitimate mystery shopping companies, and that can include putting up a web site with a professional appearance.

I was recently contacted by a shopper who got a mystery shopper job offer that just didn’t look right. I looked at the web site of the company that wanted to hire scam him, and I saw several things right away that made me think this was not legitimate.

Of course, when a company sends you a large check before you have done anything with them, it is a scam. Always. Read more about the mystery shopper check scam elsewhere on this site. But that was not the case in this situation. This company had a nice looking web site and were acting in some ways like they were a real mystery shopping company.

Here is what you can do to check out a mystery shopping company’s web site. Although seeing one bad sign doesn’t mean that you are dealing with a mystery shopping scam, it could. Several red flags should send you running in the other direction, as fast as you can.

Do a Google search. The secret shopper who contacted me had already done this, and couldn’t find any information on them. The only results were their own web site and a few job listings they had posted on online job sites. That is a bad sign, and one of the things that caused the shopper to wonder if the company was legitimate.

Does the information match? Some scammers have used the names and web site addresses of legitimate mystery shopping companies in their mail and email solicitations of shoppers. However, the mailing address and phone numbers given were not those of the legitimate company. Compare the information on the web site to the information in the letter or email you received.

Search for the address given. It may not be their actual location, but it could provide insight. A quick search for the address given to the shopper turned up several company names at that address involved in a variety of scams. In other cases, you may find that the address does not exist, or that it is the address of someone other than the alleged “mystery shopping company.”

Find out how long their domain name has been registered. Go to a site such as http://whois.domaintools.com/ and enter the domain name (e.g., NameOfSite.com). Under Registry Data, one entry is Created. That tells you when the domain name was first registered. If it was within the last few weeks or months, I would be concerned. (Note: It is possible that a legitimate company would have a recent registration. They may be a new company, or they may have changed their domain name due to a change in their business. Likewise, it is possible that a scammer is using a web site that has been around for years. This is just one thing you should look at.)

Determine if the site is plagiarized. Many of the fake sites I have run across take their text from a legitimate mystery shopping company site, or use the same text over several different sites. Run a couple of pages through the free checker at http://Copyscape.com/ to see if the same text can be found on other sites. (Note: There are reasons that the same text might appear on more than one site. For example, they may have written articles that appear in multiple locations. No problem there. And there are some companies that, although legitimate, think it is acceptable to copy from other web sites. Not scammers, but not very ethical, either.)

How do they handle shopper applications and assignments? Many legitimate mystery shopping companies use one of the well-known systems developed for the mystery shopping industry, such as SASSIE, Prophet, ShopMetrics or ClientSmart. If they are using one of these systems, they are most likely legitimate. Not using them does not mean they are running a scam. They may use a “home grown” system they developed in-house or some other system. The company the mystery shopper contacted me about had no online system at all, not even an online application.

Is there information about the company and its principals? Most companies include biographies or the owner/founder or executives of the company. They do this to let potential clients know about the expertise of their team. If there are no bios or other information about the management, that is a bad sign.

Does the site say anything about paying you to complete “offers”? This usually means that you are going to be asked to sign up for trial memberships and similar programs. There may be little or no expense to you for signing up, but if you do not read the fine print and cancel the trial you will get hit with charges to your credit card every month, often $49.95 or more per “offer.”

Does the company display logos saying they are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, the Better Business Bureau or other associations? That is a good sign, but do not assume that they are actually members. Ccheck them out. After all, if they would scam people out of money, they would lie about their affiliations. You can search the MSPA member data base or BBB web site for information about member companies. Most other associations also allow searches of their member data bases.

Although this is not an exhaustive list, this checklist should give you a good idea of whether or not a company is legitimate based on its web site. Also read the other articles about mystery shopper scams on this site.

Comments

  1. I almost got scammed today I got a check for 2500 and went to the bank to verified it and when they called and asked to verify the check they hung up. I was so disappointed, I was looking forward to spending the money oh well anyway I called back when I got home and gave a fake name and cursed the guy out I feel a little better now lol

    • As disappointing as it is to find out the offer isn’t real, it would be worse to find out AFTER sending the money off. At least it got caught before you were out any cash. ;o)

  2. I just received a check for $2500 from Equity Mystery Management Co. SCAM. They wanted me to wire $2,070 to Spain , $50 to shop at Walmart, $50 to shop at JcPenney, and $200 for payment. I was into it until I saw the Western Union part. I signed up at premiumsecretshoppers.com. Major scam :/

    • Yes, any time they send you a check BEFORE you have done the work and tell you to wire money somewhere it is guaranteed to be a scam. Glad you caught it and it didn’t catch you.

  3. Same as Kiara I received a check in the mail for $2495 from Equity Mystery Management Co. They wanted me to also wire $2070 to western union, spend $50 at Walmart, spend $50 at JCpenney and my paid from the checkl is $200. Yes the Western Union part stop me!! too. YUP too signed up at premiumsecretshoppers.com, I immediately tore the check up.

  4. Courtney says:

    This shop’s domain name is registered, but I’m nervous to sign up because it wants my SSN.
    “We are required by law to obtain each shopper’s SSN or Employer Identification Number (EIN). Working for Secret Shopper® constitutes an independent contractor relationship; if you are compensated more than $600 in a calendar year, we are required to report that to the IRS. In that case, you would receive a 1099 from us in January stating the amount earned. It would be illegal for us to hire an independent contractor (regardless of the amount paid) without a valid SSN or Employer Identification Number (EIN).”

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “this shop’s domain name is registered.” ALL domain names are registered.

      Almost every mystery shopping company will ask for your Social Security Number, for exactly the reason you mention. Although nothing is 100% safe and secure, a legitimate company will use a secure site and will safeguard your personal information. Make sure the site is secure (https://) before entering any private information.

      The company you mention, Sights on Service, is a legitimate company. They say that they are an MSPA member company. They are, but to verify any company’s claim of being an MSPA member, check them out at http://MysteryShop.org. Also make sure that the domain name listed at the MSPA site matches the domain name you are using to access the company’s site. Lots of scammers use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies.

  5. Has any one heard about this one? They want me to pay a $40 registration fee which provided it’s not a scam is fine but I’m new to this and would hate to be scammed right out of the gate

    • I don’t know if I would say it is a scam, but it is definitely not a mystery shopping company. Never pay a fee to register. Legitimate mystery shopping companies do not charge you. There are many sites that charge fees (one time or recurring) with promises that they will get you mystery shopper jobs. They can’t. Stick with applying to legitimate companies.

  6. If you receive anything through the mail that is suspicious, ALWAYS bring it to your local post office so that it can be forwarded to the Postal Inspectors for investigation, don’t just through it away!

  7. I almost got pulled into a scam. I received what looked like a genuine money order for $850.00 with nothing but two blank pages wrapped around the money order-delivered UPS. Was sent from Los Altos with the phone number on the envelope and the sender was someone in Idaho (I googled the name) Today I received “instructions” but I said I wouldn’t proceed until my questions were answered. Why the two names from different cities?
    Why no instructions were included in the package?
    business name and physician location and phone number

    I did deposit the money but have taken no action on this “assignment”-good thing. I have not heard back with the answers to my questions. Oh, and the assignment was to send another money order from Western Union, to someone I did not know. Thanks for the site.
    But I did take a class in this and would like to be a “Mystery Shopper” with a legit company! Should I contact the bette business bureau and report these names: 1. Charles Roede, (my contact) Charles Noreen, (the name on the UPS envelope) David Dildine (the name on the money order) and Bryon Medwinter-the person I was suppose to send the next money order to?
    Thank you,
    Cathy

    • Reporting anything to the BBB is worse than useless. They have no authority to do anything about this, and probably even less interest. If you want to report it, contact the Federal Trade Commission or local law enforcement. They can’t do much, either, but that would be where to report it.

  8. I joined that “Canada Mystery Shoppers” site and immediately asked for a refund. They said in two months. In two months I went back and they refused. I got angry and they told me they are going to block me. Kind of funny that a CUSTOMER SERVICE-RATING business has the worst customer service. All they do is give you a list of companies you have to sign up for. Go to the companies website yourself and save $40. CANADA MYSTERY SHOPPERS is a HORRIBLE waste of money.

  9. Hello

    You have been hired as one of our Mystery shopper/Survey Agent.You will be evaluating Wal-Mart Stores and Western Union Services in your neighborhood, kindly check out for 2 Wal-Mart stores and Western union Agent outlet you would like to evaluate, make sure the store and the outlet you will choose are close to your area as much as possible. You will have to send the name and address of the two locations to me. Please note that you are to act Cool, Calm and Confident through out the period which you will be carrying out your survey at the store, in order not to arouse any suspicion.You will be shopping at Wal-Mart stores and also making a transaction at Western Union.

    You will write a report about the customer services, you will send your report back to us via Email, you will have to use the following pointers to prepare your report :

    1) How long it took you to get services.
    2)Ambiance/Outlook of the Shop/Outlet
    3) Smartness of the attendant
    4)Customer service professionalism
    5)Reaction of personnel under pressure
    6)Information that you think would be helpful
    7)Your comments and impressions.

    A package will be sent to you,inside the package you will find Payment in form of Money Orders which you will cash and deduct your Compensation payment and other funds you will use to carry out your survey process.You must not use your personal money to complete any of the survey and there will be no reimbursement of any kind since we are providing you with all the funds you will need to carry out the survey.

    Once you receive the package, you are to Check your EMAIL for Evaluation Instructions……this will tell you what to do at the Wal-Mart and the Western Union location and how to expend the fund at each location.

    Please reply this Email and give us the name and address of the Wal-Mart and Western Union location you will be evaluating , if you have any question get back to me.

    You can get addresses of locations near you, via their website (www.walmart.com & http://www.westernunion.com)

    Best Regards,
    Your prompt response would be highly appreciated.

    Is this too good to be true?

    • I don’t know if it is too good to be true, but it is definitely a scam. All of these unsolicited emails about mystery shopping Western Union or MoneyGram are scams.

      • missannmcd says:

        Not to mention the sentence structure is poor (no plurals where needed etc) and unprofessional looking which is another “red flag”.

  10. missannmcd says:

    There is a website called “ShadowShopper” that has an icon “secure server” but the lock sign does not show up in the address bar. Are they legit? I don’t see them listed on your site. Thanks.

    • missannmcd says:

      whoops! It does have the locked symbol on the left side on the address bar. It does not seem to have info on the who, what, when etc info about the company. How do you look for the registry info?

  11. Janis Jacobucci says:

    Has anybody done business with imyst. Inc,They are out of Ann Arbor, Mich. and Farmington, Mich.. If there are clients of this company that are pleased with them, I would appreciate your feedback. If you have been scammed, please give feedback also. I don’t need any trouble in my life, but would like to do mystery shopping for a legit company.

    • Imyst is a legitimate company, and they belong to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. HOWEVER, if you got an email soliciting you as a mystery shopper (and you hadn’t signed up at their site) or if they sent you a check with instructions to wire money somewhere, this is not from Imyst.

      Many scammers use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies. Do not believe what someone tells you without checking it out. Someone who will steal thousands of dollars from you will lie to you.

      Legitimate mystery shopping companies do not send spam email to random people telling them that they have been selected to be mystery shoppers. They do not charge you to apply. And they NEVER ask you to cash a check or money order and wire money to someone. Ever.

      To get jobs with legitimate mystery shopping companies, sign up with several of the companies listed here.

  12. Paula Bryant says:

    I rec’d a MS job for a company called “The Exchange at Annarella, Inc.” I was sent a check, told to destroy it upon arrival and the rec’d. a replacement check the following day for $1,965.70 and told to buy a “MoneyPak” card from WalMart worth $1,500. Then I am to scratch the MoneyPak – send the pin and amount .This is my first assignment…The second is to take the remainder of the money and shop at my choice of several places, then answer a few questions.

    What do you think?

    • Paula Bryant says:

      Also, I can’t find the address to the Bank listed on the check anywhere online.

    • Paula, it is a scam. It doesn’t matter what company name they use or how they try to dress it up, no mystery shopping company sends out checks for thousands of dollars then asks you to send most of the money back to them. The check is a forgery. You are not dealing with a mystery shopping company, you are dealing with a scammer.

      DO NOT send anything to the scammer. Do not have any further communication with them. Do not deposit the check. If you already have deposited the check, contact your bank ASAP and let them know you were targeted by scammers and unknowingly deposited a forged check.

      Do not believe that out of the thousands and thousands of times this has happened, you are going to be the one person who actually makes money. You will be out every penny you send the scammer, and then some.

  13. Hey Cathy. I’ve been ready a lot of your posts and I’m really happy that I was able to get a hold of your post and learn from you how to avoid these scammers. I recently have been sent a check of $1450.00 and told to cash and transfer the rest to another agent. After I read all your post, they say the exact same thing that happened to me. And now I can’t find a legitamit site that I can try to sign up for. Could you locate me to one that I can sign up for?

  14. Hi Cathy, I don’t know if this site is still active but I’m really in a desperate need to know if this company is a scam, I got a text message that I was hired, and this text message was sent from Florida, and the message is consist of a contact of my coordinator here in Toronto, he sent me a package with a check of $1498, and I tried to do research about the company and its given address but they are still no where to be found, I called him and informed that I received the package and he just told me to deposit the cheque first, I tried looking for therir company at BBB and MSPA site but till no sign of them. Hope you can help me thanks!

    • You already have your answer. They “hired” you by sending an unsolicited text message. They sent you a large check. You can not find any indication that the “company” actually exists.

      This is a scam. Trust the instinct that caused you to come here and look. You already knew it wasn’t right. It isn’t.

      I’m glad you were wise enough not to get scammed.

  15. Do you know anything about The Instore Group LLC? I signed up with ShadowShopper and received a request from a scheduler by text asking me if I was interested in a local project at The Home Depot, a brief description of the work and pay amount – if interested I was to send my email address and further info would be provided. I received the information by email and in order to accept work, I need to provide my name, number, email, physical address, exact date (within a range of 5 days) I can do the work. Once I am registered, a vendor packet will be sent in which I need to fill out W-9 and provide copies of ssn and driver’s license as well as sign vendor agreement I am new to this and am concerned about sending this information- I am not sure if they are just new or a scam as all their online info is limited but there – I am new to this and don’t want to get off to a bad start. Thank you for any info you may know of!

    Sherri

    • The InStore Group appears to be a legitimate company, but what you are describing sounds like a scam. Scammers often use the names of legitimate companies to recruit victims. The fact that you were initially contacted via a text message, without first registering with the company, makes me suspicious. Sending copies of a SS card and DL also makes me nervous.

      Did the email you received actually come from the InStore Group, or was it from a free account (e.g., Hotmail, Gmail, etc.)? If it was from a free account, definitely a scam.

      When in doubt, just pass.

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