We all would love something for nothing. Maybe even something for a little work, as long as it’s not too compliated right? What about getting paid for shopping? Sounds like a dream job. In fact, because it sounds too good to be true the mystery shopping industry is rife with imposters peddling mystery shopping scams.
Real, legitimate mystery shopping companies don’t sound too good to be true. They promise you a small yet fair wage for a small, yet specific task. Often you will get paid $10-$20 for about an hour of your time to conduct the shop and submit the report online, plus reimbursed for any purchase you had to make. They have very specific guidelines for what you are to purchase and how you are to interact with sales staff, as well as what pieces of information you are to collect and report back to the company.
Alternatively, mystery shopping scams absolutely sound too good to be true, pay a ridiculously high wage for a very vague and simple task. These are the task where you are told you will receive $100 to make a purchase of any item at Walmart and answer five vague and generic questions about the store. Or, and more commonly, you would be asked to wire money to someone via Moneygram or Western Union, answer five vague questions about the shop, including the transaction transfer number, and then told that you would be reimbursed for the transaction. But the reimbursement never comes because these are mystery shopping scams. So how can you avoid them?
Here’s some simple questions to ask yourself to avoid mystery shopping scams.
Did I Contact This Company?
Unsolicited contact from ANY company should be a red flag. Receiving an email or telephone call at random from a company that says they want to hire you as a mystery shopper should make you think, “How did they get my information? They don’t know anything about me, so why would they want to hire me?” This is an example of mass marketing fraud, wherein a scammer company sends out hundreds of thousands of spam emails to lists of email accounts that they bought on the dark web. They only need a handful of people to respond and fall for it for it to be profitable, so even though it seems like a lot of effort the odds are in the spammer’s favor.
Typos, Affection, and Dead Giveaways
Recieving boiler plate emails from a supposed mystery shopping company that are chock full of awkward sentance structures signal that the writer has a loose grasp of English and lacks professionalism. Most American mystery shoppers will work for an American mystery shopping company which contract with American retail companies. Not that you won’t find a mystery shopping company that is based abroad, but you should expect a level of professionalism and good grammar in their communications with you.
Additionally, be wary of overly affectionate communications. Emails that refer to you as “dear” and other pet names are a frequent red flag in scammer emails. As are emails that are overly professional and stuffed with awkward formalities or even threats.
Always, Always Verify
This amazing thing called the internet allows you to research the legitimacy of almost any company. So please, take advantage of it and verify the company. Check out the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association website which lists their more than 150+ member companies around the world. Some legitimate companies sometimes have their good name besmirched by scammers who pretend to work for them. If anything seems fishy, contact the mystery shopping company through their direct phone number or email, not the one provided to you in an email from a potential scammer. Look for unbiased reviews of mytery shopping companies and experiences of people who have worked for that company. Google the email address or phone number that contacted you to see if it matches the true company.
Does the Pay Match the Work?
Mystery shopping is not a get rich quick scheme. It does not pay beaucoup bucks. The average payment for a mystery shopping job is $5 to $20, depending on the mystery shopping company, client, and complexity of the job. Sure, there are some outliers that pay $50 to $150 but those are usually for high end restaurants with complicated shop reports or ask you to take out a loan or open a bank account, something that would use your personal information and potentially effect your credit score. The complexity of the shop and time to complete and submit the shop report should match the compensation level. If you are being asked to do a very quick and easy shop that entails ordering food and timing how long it takes to be prepared, you should expect a small fee to be paid on top of the food reimbursement amount, likely $10 and under. In contrast, many mystery shop scams will promise fees of hundreds of dollars for ten minutes of your time.
A hallmark of common mystery shopping scams is that they will ask the victim to go to Walmart and “mystery shop” the Western Union or Moneygram there. They will be told to wire a few hundred dollars to a person somewhere else in the United Stated and then submit a report that merely provides the tracking number for the wire transfer and other non-mystery shopping related information. Usually mystery shops are required to capture the time in and out, the names and descriptions of the staff you interacted with, a specific interaction you are supposed to have or question to ask, timing how long you wait in line, etc. Fraudulent mystery shops do not ask that you provide this level of detail.
Also, most mystery shops will not provide you cash upfront to complete a shop. They will ask the shopper to take on the risk and front the money for the shop, complete it to the specific standards set out in the assignment, then get reimbursed and paid a fee after the fact. In contrast, most mystery shopping scams will mail a fake check that the victim is told to cash and then wire most of the money to a co-conspirator and the victim is told to keep the remaining $200 or so as their fee for the mystery shop. That is a very high amount to pay and the reason the scammers can afford to pay the victim mystery shopper so well is because the check will bounce after the victim has sent the money off and then they end up taking a $3000 loss in the end.
Remember, If It’s Too Good To Be True, It Is
If you find yourself unsure of if you should sign up for a mystery shopping job, review this list and ask yourself “is this too good to be true?” If the contact from the mystery shopping company is unsolicited, the communication is way too formal or affectionate to be professional, you are being promised way too much money for such a simple task, and you cannot find any information about the company, that is a major red flag. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Protect yourself and don’t fall victim to mystery shopping scams. Check out the companies, go to their legitimate websites to sign up, and tread carefully. Any work you find over the internet has the potential to be a scam so if anything makes you question its legitimacy, do a little digital sleuthing with your friend Google and see if you can verify the legitimacy of the company. You will be glad you spent those few minutes to verify it rather than jump at an opportunity to make $200 and end up losing your shirt instead.