Taking the Mystery out of Shopping Scams

Taking the Mystery out of Shopping Scams

It’s no secret that being a mystery shopper for a reputable company is a legitimate way for an individual to earn some income. Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is estimated to be a $1.5 – 2 billion dollar industry with over 8.1 million mystery shops conducted a year. This profitable enterprise has been around for decades.

Contrary to what many believe, mystery shoppers don’t get paid to shop. They are independent contractors who pose as shoppers in order to gather data about the customer experience in a specific environment. Mystery shoppers complete reports, often using an online form, after leaving the establishment they observe. They get paid for their work and do not front any money first in order to work.

Fake check fraud is an exploding epidemic and scams involving the mystery shopping industry have made a big comeback … unfortunately, our tech-savvy teenagers are the targets of late.

Anyone with a bank account and the desire to make some extra cash on the side can be a victim. High school and university students across the nation are increasingly being pursued. Why students? Students are easy targets for scammers due to their need for money to help fund their education.

Thousands are being contacted and thousands of dollars are being lost. The latest mystery shopping scam reported in the media last month disclosed that University students in Fargo, North Dakota had been targeted. One devastated student ended up losing $3,850.75. Being educated on how this type of scam operates will help prevent this from happening to you and your child.

How Does a Mystery Shopping Scam Work?

  • Scammer reaches out to victim with an offer in the mail to be a secret shopper and a check is included. Often times the amount on the check is for over a thousand dollars. The victim is told to deposit the check and understands that they will eventually keep several hundred dollars as payment for their upcoming shopping services.
  • Victim deposits the check and waits the expected day or two for the funds to clear. Note that even if the bank says the funds are available in a couple of days, the process of uncovering a fake check can take financial institutions weeks.
  • Victim is asked to buy something. Typically, the first shopping task is to test the in-store money transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram by sending some of the money that was deposited back to the company.
  • Victim is then asked to buy a product, “often from a Walmart,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Common items purchased are reloadable gift cards, such as iTunes. Part of this task requires the victim to send pictures of the purchased cards or to give the numbers on the cards to the company.
  • Two to three weeks later, the victim receives a notification from their bank that the deposited check was a fake. The realization that they have been scammed sets in. Victim is responsible for paying back the amount to their bank. Another unfortunate bonus is that the reloadable gift cards that the victim had purchased are suddenly empty of funds.


What Can You Do?

Help stop these scammers from making money. Educate your children about the issue. Explain what check fraud is. Let them know that they should never pay to become a mystery shopper. The fact that these scammers are targeting our children is another great reason to make sure that your identity theft protection covers every member of your immediate family.