Mystery shoppers – also known as secret shoppers – are hired to perform random checks at various stores to make sure the store is providing a high level of customer service and meeting certain standards.
However, fraudsters and scam artists are capitalizing on this employment opportunity by posing as legitimate mystery shopping companies and then making requests to have the shopper wire them money.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received numerous reports about these types of scams and they seem to be on the rise. Here’s what you need to know:
What are Mystery or Secret Shopper Scams?
Mystery shopper or secret shopper scams are set up to encourage people to sign up as a mystery shopper and provide the “employer” with personal information to set up their profile. The shopper receives very specific instructions to perform their assignment – just like a regular mystery shopping company – except that they are also asked to wire money from the retail location.
The money to be wired from the retail location is supposed to include the check that would be sent to the shopper as payment for their assignment. After the shopper purchases the merchandise and money is wired, they find out that the check they cashed is counterfeit and they are now responsible for the money lost, as well as any bank fees posted to the account.
How do Mystery or Secret Shopper Scams Work?
The scams are set up to target unsuspecting shoppers so that they think they are working with a legitimate mystery shopping company or secret shopper service provider.
Scam artists involved in this type of scheme may go as far as asking the shopper for personal bank account information so that they can get a direct deposit payment for their assignments. When they have this bank account information, they may be able to withdraw money without the victims’ consent and steal their identity.
In other scams, the “company” simply issues counterfeit checks and the shopper ends up paying for the fees.
How to Avoid Mystery or Secret Shopper Scams
The FBI warns consumers that they should not respond to unsolicited email and be very cautious when receiving emails that contain attachments or links. They should also avoid filling out forms that contain personal information and should take steps to verify whether a company is legitimate when they are asked to visit a website through an email link.
It’s also important to remember that no legitimate mystery or secret shopper program will send payment in advance and then request a portion of it back.
What to Do If You Have Been a Victim of a Mystery or Secret Shopper Scam
If you think you have been scammed by a mystery or secret shopper scheme, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. If you think your identity has been compromised, you may need to put an alert on your credit files and contact all of your banks and financial institutions as well. Read this article about what to do if you become a victim of identity theft.