The universal adoption of credit card and wire payments have certainly made life much easier for consumers and producers everywhere.
Transactions are now routinely completed on the promise of payment, giving consumers quicker and more predictable access to the goods and services they seek.
An unfortunate side effect is that this ‘convenience’ creates new and ever-evolving opportunities for identity theft, credit card fraud, and wire fraud. It did not take long for fraudsters to find opportunities in the mystery shopping industry where millions of transactions occur each day between people and organizations that trust the other party is legit.
The Scams That Put You and Reputable Mystery Shopping Companies on Notice
The following detail some of the scams that have taken place. As you read about them, it is clear that these scams exist because they are compelling stories, solve immediate financial problems and are something you want to keep secret
These scenarios also offer some steps to take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you or someone you love.
How it works:
You receive an email or phone call saying you have been selected by a well-known legit mystery shopping company to do shops. The company is sending you a certified check for several thousand dollars to get started and a list of shops to do. Deposit the check, deduct what is owed to you and wire the mystery shopping the difference (usually a few hundred dollars).
What Goes Wrong:
The check they send you does not clear, and the wire payment the mark sent, often through Western Union, is irrevocable. The mark is out several hundred dollars and bank fees.
Accounts Payable Person Needed
How it works:
You send in a resume for a ‘work-at-home’ job and are delighted to learn you have been selected for an Accounts Payable job. The job is easy, you will be sent a series of checks which you are to deposit to your account and forward on 90% of the payments to the company. You keep the 10% difference.
What Goes Wrong:
The checks you deposit do not clear and the 90% you forwarded on, usually in a wire payment, is irrevocable.
These scams work because the mark gets official-looking checks in the mail, often via Fed-Ex or UPS, and they are told the work is confidential. It all seems to make sense. When things go badly, many people are so embarrassed, they don’t report it.
Some more illustrations can be seen at:
How to Avoid Being Scammed
1. Never Pay to Play
No legitimate mystery shopping companies charge a fee to get assignments or offer access to other company’s listings. Steer clear of anyone offering a ‘guarantee’ of any kind. You should be the one getting paid.
2. Never Give Out Your Social Security Information
Anyone requesting a social security number or other bank information as a requirement to work with you should raise serious concerns.
3. Never, Ever Wire Money
There has never been a legitimate mystery shopping assignment that has required a shopper to wire money. No matter how good it sounds, it is a scam.
4. Check the Address
Scammers rely on the anonymity of email and often use free email accounts like AOL, Yahoo, and Gmail to conduct business (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org).Legitimate businesses do not use free mail services to correspond with customers or clients.
5. If It Sounds too Good to Be True…
Mystery shopping is competitive and mystery shoppers are independent businessmen and women. Expect to start near the bottom and establish yourself on your own. Any company making guarantees or offering ‘luxury’ anything to newcomers is likely scamming you.
6. Do Your Research
The vast majority of mystery shopping companies belong to the MSPA.
At the very least, they have bona-fide web domains and web sites designed to attract customers and shoppers. Look for testimonials, client lists, and presence/mentions on Facebook and Twitter. Legitimate companies invest in being found easily.
Shopper forums are another good place to check. These are often very active communities of professional shoppers who have already outted scammers that have approached them. A few good ones are:
7. Report the Bums
If legitimate mystery shopping companies are being used as fronts for scams, they want to know. Coyle takes a zero tolerance approach. Our process when a scam is brought forth goes like this:
- We immediately inform the person who is attempted to be scammed that the offer is not legitimate.
- We request all correspondence and materials and we turn these over to the appropriate authorities.
- The ISPs, hosting companies, and free email services used to perpetuate the scam are immediately notified.
- Coyle lets the scammer know the game is up.
Scammers don’t want to work, they want it easy. Once they know that legitimate mystery shopping companies care and take action, they move on.