There are several versions of the mystery shopper scam going around, and you need to be aware of them so you don’t become a victim. Before I go into the various versions of them, I want to make it clear that not all mystery shopper programs are scams. There are many reputable companies offering you the opportunity to do mystery shopping. You must check each company out before agreeing to perform this service. You must also know that a real mystery shopping program does not require you to pay any upfront fees to become a mystery shopper for them.
Here are the mystery shopper scams:

  • You receive an E-mail telling you of the opportunity to become a mystery shopper for their company. To qualify, you must fill out their simple questionnaire and return it to them for evaluation. If you are approved, they will contact you with their instructions.
  • So you fill out their simple questionnaire and return it. Then you will receive an E-mail telling you that you have been accepted into their mystery shopper program. You will be receiving instructions for your first assignment shortly.
  • The next day you receive either a UPS or a FedEx package that contains a U.S. Postal Money Order in the amount of $750.00 (This amount can vary). You are told to take the Postal Money Order to your bank and cash it. You are to spend the money in this manner. First you keep $50 for your time and trouble. You go to WalMart and spend $200 on merchandise. You are to “test” WalMart’s new wire service by wiring the company $500.00. During your visit you are to evaluate the employees: if you needed help how helpful and friendly were they, how long you waited in line, how friendly and helpful the cashier was in checking you out; the cleanliness of the restrooms, how clean was the store inside and out, were the isles cluttered with merchandise. All the typical duties a mystery shopper would be asked to perform.

Here’s the catch: When you do a mystery shop for a real company, they never pay you upfront for your shopping trip. You have to complete the forms they send you, show copies of all receipts for anything purchased, and send it to them for processing. Then they pay you.

The U.S. Postal Money Order they sent you is fake, but it will look like the real thing. They don’t want you going to the Post Office to cash it because they know the Post Office is looking for these fake Postal Money Orders. They also know it will take the bank about 3-5 working days before they discover the Postal Money Order is a fake. By then you are out $750.00. Once the money is wired, it is not traceable and it is gone. You have to make good on the $750 to the bank, or they could bring charges against you.
A true story: I was being interviewed on the Frank Pastore Radio Show on KKLA-FM when a lady called the show to tell me about the experience her son had with this same scam. Instead of going to the bank to cash the Postal Money Order, he went to the Post Office. When he presented the Money Order to the clerk to be cashed, he immediately was escorted to an office where he was questioned for over 2 hours. If he had not been able to satisfy the Postal Inspectors he was telling the truth, they were going to haul him off to jail to be booked. By the way, the Postal Inspector said the Money Order he was sent looked so real that only a Postal Inspector could tell the difference. This is why they want you going to the bank, not the Post Office to cash these fake Money Orders.
Version Two of the Mystery Shopper scam goes like this: You receive an E-mail from a company wanting you to become one of their mystery shoppers, or in this case a Feedback Specialist. You fill out their questionnaire and send it back to them. A few days later you receive a UPS or FedEx Letter with a check inside and instructions for you to perform your duties as Feedback Specialist. Here’s the difference: This time the check will be from a major company. Here are their instructions exactly as it was received:
The company wants you to run a survey on a prominent store in your area that is Western Union. There have been reports about lapses in the services of their Management and some of their staffs. Their complaints were based on reports which their customers forwarded anonymously and phone calls which were also made to the head office. The Western Union location was reported for evaluation for the following reasons that customers have reported their money missing, slow services and unbalanced transfer charges.
You are to transfer funds to another Feedback Specialist so as to observe the quality of their services. However, it is your responsibilities to observe and let us know how the agent treated you and how many minutes he or she uses to process the transaction for you. Before doing that, you are to deduct your commission of $200.00 from the funds received, the remainder is what you will use to complete the task. Please have the rest of the funds transfer through them to: Name inserted here @ Address given in London.
As soon as the funds is wired, you are to get back to me with the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN), Sender’s name and address as well as the exact amount sent after Western Union Fees.
P.S. : Western Union information should not take more than 20 minute before forwarded to us, while the other information should not take more than 1 hour. You are given much time to avoid mistake or wrong report. Once again, thanks for being our Feedback Specialist.
Now a follow-up E-mail was sent to ask which Western Union Office was to be shopped since it did not say in the instructions. Now remember, they said “this” office had many issues. Their reply was you could go to any Western Union Office near you to perform this evaluation. Now if that was not a dead give-away this is a scam, maybe all the grammatical errors would have alerted you this was a scam. More importantly, why would a US Fortune 100 company be sending you payment for this service instead of the agency hiring for this position? Answer: They wouldn’t. The check is a fake, obviously, but I assure you it will look real; but that is as far as it goes. No company will pay you and advance fee for a mystery shop/Feedback Specialist, let alone pay you $200 for this type of shop.
You have to understand this is a numbers game, and they know they will get enough people to fall for this and they will make hundreds of thousands of dollars from sending just a simple E-mail.
Here’s how a real mystery shopping program works. If you are contacted by or you contact a real company that provides real mystery shopping for their clients you will fill out a detailed questionnaire. They will follow-up with you to determine how large of a geographical area you are willing to shop. For example, how many miles from your home are you willing to travel to perform a mystery shop for them? They will only send you shopping requests that fit this criteria. They might inquire if you would be willing to travel further, but they will do this before they ask you to do the shop.
When they send you their shopping requests, you have the right to refuse to do any of them or all of them. You can also elect to do all the shops they requested. It is your choice.
They will tell you if gas is reimbursed or not. What constitutes when the clock starts for your shop. The majority of the time you do not count the time to and from the mystery shop as your time doing the mystery shop. Only when you walk through the door to begin shopping and when you leave the store when you are done counts as your time shopping.
You must fill out a detailed report about your shop. You attach all receipts, and of course if gas is to be reimbursed your mileage. You send your report and all receipts to the company for processing. It usually takes 2-3 weeks before you receive your check in the mail. Sometimes if you were instructed to buy a piece of clothing, you get to keep the clothing as well as be reimbursed for it, but not always. Every shop is different, and it depends on the company requesting the shop as to what they are willing to compensate you for your time.
So this notion that you will keep $50 or $200 for your services is a dead give-away it is a scam to be AVOIDED at all costs. You also run the risk of exposing yourself to Identity Theft.