I get emails every day asking about this or that email that someone received, or a company or some specific offer. What concerns me about some of these emails is that people are asking the wrong questions. They ask things such as, “Is XYZ Company a legitimate mystery shopping company?,” overlooking the fact that the email or check they got isn’t really from XYZ Company.
One shopper forwarded some correspondence between a friend of hers and a scammer. Fortunately, the shopper had stopped her friend before she fell for the secret shopper scam. However, I was somewhat shocked to see some of the assumptions her friend had made. It was clear that this woman was bright and educated, but it never occurred to her to question anything the scammer presented about himself. For example, at one point she informed the scammer that she had checked out his company with the Better Business Bureau, and was pleased to find that they had a satisfactory rating. That would not be a bad idea, except that the scammer had no affiliation with the company whose name he was using. You read that right: a criminal was willing to lie. Are you surprised?
First rule of scams: Do not assume that scammers are telling you the truth about who they are or what company they represent. If they will steal thousands of dollars from you, they will also lie.
How can you tell that they may be misrepresenting themselves? Start with the email address. If someone is a scheduler or other employee or official representative of XYZ Company, their email address will probably be at that company’s domain. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org. If they are using an address from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail or elsewhere, assume it is a scam.
Another way to check is to do a Google search for the name of the company they claim to be with. If you find nothing, that is not a good sign. That probably means they made up the name. If you find a company that has nothing to do with mystery shopping (e.g., a textile company) they are probably not offering a legitimate opportunity. If they are using the name of a legitimate mystery shopping company, there will probably be a scam warning on the real company’s website, warning of the scam. Pay attention.
Do not rely on calling a phone number or looking at a website provided by the scammer. They can lie about these things, too. Do your own research.
Research is probably not necessary in a few situations. For example, if you get a check in the mail and they want you to cash it and wire money somewhere, it is a scam. No question about it. It doesn’t matter how much the check is for, what company they claim is making the “mystery shopping” assignment, where you are to wire the money or anything else. It is a scam. Do not cash the check and never wire money to anyone you do not know.
I get a lot of questions from people who say they got a check from a company and they want to know if this company is legitimate. THE NAME OF THE COMPANY DOES NOT MATTER. If they sent you a check and want you to wire money somewhere, it is a scam. The one you got is not the exception. One more time: It is a scam.
Do not rely on the judgment of the teller at your bank that the check, “looks good to me.” These checks often look very good. Looking good is not the same as being a valid check. And the teller will not be responsible for paying the money back to the bank, you will be.
Other warning signs of a mystery shopper scam include representations of full-time employment (very rare in mystery shopping) and promises of hundreds of dollars for a couple of hours of work.
The people asking questions about these scams are suspicious or they wouldn’t ask. Trust your instincts. It is trite, but true: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.