The 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.