Consumer Advocate

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2017 > Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

Consumer Advocate RSS feeds

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping jobs may appear to be flourishing, but make sure your secret shopper job doesn’t become a surprise you never wanted. Learn to recognize the signs of mystery shopping scams and how to avoid falling for them.   
People try to become mystery shoppers for a number of reasons. Some are looking for a career, while others are simply looking to supplement their income while maintaining flexible hours. In any case, it is vital that you know that many offers to be mystery shoppers are scams.  
The mystery shopping scam has been stealing money and personal information from unsuspecting victims for years. The scam often begins when you answer an advertisement or unsolicited email to become a mystery shopper. The advertisement or email offers a job opportunity to shop at certain stores and then report on the experience for quality-control purposes. One reason the scam works is that there are real mystery shopping jobs. However, so many people are interested in this type of job opportunity that real mystery shopping companies generally do not send out unsolicited emails or advertise to hire people. 
This spring, scammers contacted multiple Ohioans via email. The emails purported to be from “Kroger” and seemed authentic. They offered what appeared to be job opportunities as mystery shoppers and sought information from consumers who were interested. Consumers received checks ranging from $2,400 to $2,900 in the mail along with a letter instructing them to deposit the checks into their bank accounts. The consumers further were instructed to keep a small portion of the funds, and then send the bulk of the money to two other individuals via iTunes cards or via money orders sent from MoneyGram. Unfortunately, the checks were counterfeit, and the job opportunities were scams. 
Mystery shopping scams often take advantage of the delay in time between when a check is deposited and when the bank discovers that it is counterfeit. In some cases, due to the high quality of the counterfeit check, it may take several weeks before a check is deemed counterfeit. At that time, the money is transferred, and the consumer is responsible for repaying the bank for the bounced check. 
To avoid mystery shopping scams, be skeptical of companies that:
  • Send you unsolicited emails or advertisements for mystery shopper jobs through the mail or email.
  • Guarantee you work without a screening process.
  • Send you money although you haven’t worked.
  • Make promises of large sums of fast cash.
  • Demand money for signing you up as a shopper.
  • Claim to be mystery shopping promoters who charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
  • Offer a certification or registration program for which you have to pay a fee.
  • Advertise too-good-to-be-true salaries or benefits.
  • Are located out of the country. 
Finally, remember to never deposit a check for more than you are owed and then wire money back to the person sending you the check. Unlike credit card payments where you can get fraudulent payments erased or sending a check on which you can place a stop payment, wired funds and gift cards are irretrievable after they are sent. Unless you want an unintended surprise, never consider a payment you receive by check as being in your account until it has fully cleared the bank. 
Consumers who suspect a scam or unfair business practice are encouraged to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office by calling 800-282-0515 or visiting