Secret Shopper: Legitimate Job or Scam?

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You’ve been invited to check out a favorite retailer to secretly shop their store and evaluate the quality of service, product availability and the best part – keep the items plus earn a paycheck. It really does sound like a too good to be a true opportunity, however, such a job does exist and is sanctioned by the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) Naturally, for every good opportunity, there is a scam behind it.

The Fake Ads Are Out There

Newspaper ads, email solicitations and online popup ads create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are the path to personal wealth and a high paying job with reputable companies. Fake websites are created where people can register to become a mystery shopper but first, and here’s where the scam begins, you must pay a fee for a certification program, directory of mystery shopping companies or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.

The other key giveaway is the direct solicitation that is received by email is stating the recipient has been hired by a company as a secret shopper. The first assignment is to evaluate a wire transfer service. If they respond to it, they’ll get a check in the mail with instructions to deposit into their personal account, withdraw a certain amount in cash and wire it to a third party. It’s never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back or to another address. In most cases, the check is fake and you’ll be responsible for the overdraft bank fees and unintended consequences afterward.

Legitimate Shopping Opportunities are Free

Legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them – they pay people to work for them. It’s certainly worth taking a few minutes to conduct an internet search for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications online. Just be sure to go past the home page and look at the company itself on to see what other people are saying about them.

Go to the Source

Visit the MSPA directly to search a database of mystery shopping assignments, how to apply for them and what the benefits are. Take note, the Association does offer certifications for a fee, but they aren’t required to look or apply for assignments in its database.

See a Scam, Report It

Avoid doing business with mystery shopping promoters who advertise in a newspaper help-wanted section or by direct email, require payment for certification or charge additional fees or sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers. If you suspect a Secret or Mystery Shopper Scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorney General Office or BBB’s Scam Tracker.

To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to

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