How to avoid a mystery shopping scam

Posted at 1:06 PM, May 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-05 13:07:19-04

Mystery shopping can be a legitimate way to earn extra cash, but beware of requests that could scam you out of your hard-earned money. 

Companies often hire mystery shoppers to evaluate the quality of customer service at certain restaurant and store locations, but the Federal Trade Commission said it pays to do your research before agreeing to these opportunities.

Here are a few simple tips to protect your wallet:

  • Don’t deposit unknown checks. That fake check you got in the mail? It could bounce, leaving you responsible for bank fees.
  • Never wire money to strangers. Once your money is gone, it can’t be retrieved. You’ll be responsible for the deposited checks. 
  • Do your research. “Remember that legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them – they pay people to work for them,” the FTC says. Check for resources on reputable mystery shopping companies and pay attention to their reviews and comments. (Don't forget to double check to make sure those comments are legitimate, however.) Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and how to apply.
  • Stay alert. Don’t get involved with companies who advertise in the newspaper, by email or through letter correspondence. Watch out for companies that ask you to pay for a certification, charge a fee to access opportunities, or guarantee you a job as a mystery shopper. 
  • Don't give out your personal information. Never provide your Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers--either online or over the phone--to any unknown source. "Guard your personal information, and treat it as if it were cash," Cristina Miranda, Consumer Education Specialist at the FTC said in a release. 

For more information on mystery shopping scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information

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