There are a number of scams out there that masquerade as mystery shopping. They may involve wiring cash out of the country, signing up for “trial offers” that result in monthly subscription payments, or just paying a fee for a useless service. There is also the danger of giving out personal information (e.g., bank account Social Security Numbers) that can be used to steal your identity or drain your accounts.
Look out for these signs that you are about to get scammed:
You are sent a check (often for thousands of dollars) before you have done any work. Ask yourself why they would pay you before the job is completed. And why would they send a check to someone with whom they have no contractual relationship?
The company contacts you out of the blue, or claiming they found your resume on an online job site. Mystery shopping companies usually do not troll job sites looking for shoppers, but scammers often do.
You are required to pay an application or training fee. Legitimate mystery shopping companies do not charge a fee to apply to them, and do not charge you for training. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association, the leading industry association, offers a shopper certification that has a cost. Being MSPA certified can help shoppers get first access to more and better jobs, but no company requires MSPA certification to work for them.
They charge a membership fee in order to access job postings. Legitimate companies do not charge you to access job listings. Many times these “memberships” get you access to data scraped from the job boards of legitimate companies, without their permission. You can get the same information free directly from the secret shopping company or at http://www.Jobslinger.com/, a free job board.
You must use your credit card to sign up for “offers.” Read the fine print carefully. Usually you are authorizing a small initial charge, to be followed by monthly charges of $29.95, $49.95 or more. This is not mystery shopping.
You are guaranteed a number of shops or a level of income. In almost every case, you will be an independent contractor. The number of shops you will get, and your income, will depend on where you live, the number of companies to which you apply, the time you have to devote to secret shopping, the types of shops you do and the quality of your work.
It sounds too good to be true. Your mother told you, and she was right: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask yourself why a company would pay thousands of dollars for a service when they could hire people for much less. Why would someone send you a valid check for thousands of dollars when you could just cash it and keep all of the money?
Use caution and common sense and you can avoid being the victim of a scam.