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Mystery shopper job ads may be scams

April 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you hear about Grace's job, you just might become envious.

"There is a lot of variety, there is a lot of flexibility, I make a lot of money," she said. "I get so much free stuff I can't even keep it all. I have to give it away."

What exactly is her job? She's a mystery shopper, someone who secretly poses as a regular customer to evaluate the business they're visiting and then report on the service, quality and overall experience.

When Grace first found out about mystery shopping, she nearly got scammed. After responding to an email advertisement for a mystery shopper job, Grace got a packet in the mail from a company called Full Time Shopper Inc. with only a mail drop for an address. Inside the packet was a check for $1,270.

"They wanted me to deposit it in my bank, and then take out," she said. "I think it was $400 and then wire it back to them, so I got to keep a whole $800."

But not for long, according to Janet Eden Harris of Market Force, a legitimate mystery shopper company.

"Of course, the check really isn't valid, and you now have just sent them money," Harris said.

Once you find out the check or postal money order is no good or bogus and you've wired the money, it's too late, there's no way to get the money back and you lose.

"You definitely want to be aware, if you're thinking about doing mystery shopping that you check out the company," Harris said. "Make sure it's legit.

Another tip from Harris is if you ever get offered money before or an advance before doing mystery shopping, be careful.

"That's a great tip off. It's not legit," she said.

Fortunately for Grace, when she got the bogus check, she knew something was wrong.

"The more I look, the more I think this is not legitimate, this looks like a high schooler typed this out on their computer," Grace said. "There is nothing professional looking about it."

If you want to be a mystery shopper, remember these red flags:

  • Legitimate mystery shopper companies do not advertise for jobs with fliers on telephone poles, unsolicited emails or telemarketing calls.
  • Be wary of a company that guarantees you a job as a mystery shopper.
  • Never pay a fee to apply or to obtain a job.
  • Don't ever wire money to the company that is supposedly hiring you.

"People that like to do mystery shopping, they come from all walks of life, but the last thing you want is to get pulled into this scam," Harris said.

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