I ran across a story about a secret shopper scam with a new twist. If true, it means that mystery shopper scammers are trying to get ahead of the curve to continue their schemes as more people get wise to them. However, I suspect that this story may not be exactly as it appears.
Here is the story about a secret shopper scam that appeared on a Wisconsin television station. According to the report, a woman signed up to be a mystery shopper and completed some price audits. She was paid $10 to $20 for each of them. Fairly common, right?
According to the news story, after doing several of these audits over the course of six to eight months, the company for which she had been working sent her a check for $1975, telling her to keep $100 or so for her fee, and to wire most of the money to someone. You know how this ends, right? Of course, the check she received was fraudulent, and she was out the money.
It is possible it happened exactly as stated in the report: A scammer actually made several small payments to a potential victim to convince her that she was working for them as a mystery shopper, so that she would not question it when they sent her a large check and told her to wire money somewhere. However, I doubt that.
Why would scammers spend so much time (and work that hard) over the course of six to eight months for $1500 or so, when there are still people lining up every day to fall for their scams without all that effort? That makes me think that the story is not exactly as it appears.
My theory? I think the victim signed up as a mystery shopper and was doing some actual mystery shopping jobs for a real company. When the check showed up, she assumed that it was from one of the companies for which she had been working.
Many scammers use the names of legitimate companies when they run their scams, and the names of many mystery shopping companies are very similar. It would be easy to confuse them if you are not paying attention.
The most important thing to remember is that NO MYSTERY SHOPPING COMPANY WILL ASK YOU TO CASH A LARGE CHECK AND WIRE MONEY TO SOMEONE. It is always a scam.
What else could this woman have done to avoid getting scammed? If something is out of the ordinary, check it out. Most mystery shopping assignments are made over the Internet. If you have been getting assignments via a website and suddenly something shows up in the mail, contact the company and ask about it. And do not use the contact information in the mailing. Go online and look up the company to find out if the legitimate company is the one that sent the mailing.
Not sure what the real company website should be? Check to see if they are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. There are links to member companies there. Or check this list of legitimate mystery shopping companies.
Likewise, if you have been dealing with schedulers at a company and suddenly get an email from someone claiming to be with that company but using an email address at Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or some other service, it is probably not legitimate. Mystery shopping companies and their representatives tend to use the email addresses associated with their company websites, not free services such as Gmail.
Another out of the ordinary thing about this assignment was the pay. She was offered at least $100 for a simple shop, when she had been receiving $10 – $20. Huh? What’s up with that? Something sounds fishy.
Keep track of where you have applied and which companies you have worked with. Do not assume that when a possible assignment comes to you, it is from the company you know and trust. Many of these names sound similar: Mystery Shoppers Something, Something Secret Shoppers, Customer Service Whatever…
Do not become so excited by the possibility of making a couple of hundred dollars that you allow yourself to be scammed out of thousands. Be vigilant.