By now you have probably seen the infamous check scam that tries to pass itself off as a mystery shopping opportunity. You know how it works: cash a large check, shop at WalMart or some other major retailer, keep a few hundred dollars for yourself, then wire the bulk of the check amount to someone via Western Union or another service.
The scam? The checks are bogus. Although banks are legally required to release funds within a few days, the fact that the check is a fake may not be known for weeks. The victim believes that the check is valid (or why would the bank have given them the money?), they send the money off and later learn that the check bounced and they are responsible for repaying the money from the check to the bank.
There are, however, legitimate mystery shops involving Western Union. Here is how to tell if a shop opportunity you received is legitimate or a scam.
Mystery shopping companies do not send random spam emails to people asking them to do mystery shops. They send job notices to people who are in their database because they registered with them. If you have not applied to be a mystery shopper, the notice you got was a scam.
Have you applied to this company? There are lots of mystery shopping companies out there with very similar names. Keep track of the companies where you registered as a shopper.
Is this email actually from the company it claims to be from? Lots of scammers use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association in their scam emails. How can you tell it is not really from the legitimate company? The legitimate company will send emails from their own domain. So if their website is at WeRMysteryShoppers.com, the email will come from an address @WeRMysteryShoppers.com. Scammers typically use @gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail or some other (usually free) email service.
Most mystery shopping companies rely on an online system to schedule shops. Although there are some legitimate companies that ask you to reply to the email to apply for a shop, most will have a link to their online scheduling system.
Still not sure if the email came from the company it claims to be from? Look up the company online, find their contact information and ask. Do not rely on any contact information in the email. If it is a scam, they will lie to you. It is what scammers do.
Legitimate mystery shopping companies do not pay $200 – $400 for simple shops. A simple shop might pay $10 or so, depending on the complexity and the time required to complete the shop and report. The scammers can offer hundreds of dollars because they do not actually pay it. They take money instead.
Most importantly, never cash a check and send money to someone you do not know. Never. For any reason. A mystery shopping company will not send you a check and ask you to cash it and wire money to someone. The legitimate Western Union shops do not require you to wire money to anyone, although you may have to inquire about sending money.
Still not sure if what you received was a real mystery shopping offer or a scam? Delete it. It is better to miss out on the possibility of a mystery shop than to get scammed out of your hard-earned money by a sleazeball. Do not assume, though, that every email that mentions Western Union is automatically a scam. Most probably are, but Western Union does get mystery shopped.