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Don’t fall for it! Find out how to spot mystery shopping scams

Who wouldn’t like to earn a little extra money, just by shopping or dining out? Being a mystery shopper can be fun and easy to do. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

There are some legitimate mystery shopper jobs. But the field, like work-from-home jobs, has proven to be fertile ground for scammers who want to bilk you out of your money.

If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, we’ll show you how to spot a scam. We’ll also help you in finding legitimate mystery shopper gigs.

Spotting a mystery shopper scam

Mystery shopping is an actual job. Some retailers use them to evaluate the quality of service in their stores or restaurants or check on the competition. The mystery shopper is tasked with making a particular purchase in a store or restaurant and reporting the experience.

Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product or service. Sometimes the shopper also receives a small payment.

That’s how a legitimate mystery shopper gig works. Scammers operate very differently.

For example, they’ll ask you to pay them to get the job. Then, when it’s time to get paid the checks are fake if you receive one at all. In some instances, you are asked to wire them money for things like classes or certifications that you don’t really need.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers these tips to spot a mystery shopper scam:

  • Search the company using the words “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • Honest companies pay you to work for them, not the other way around. If the company asks you to pay upfront to get the job, walk away.
  • Don’t pay companies for “certifications,” directories or job “guarantees.” Companies asking you to pay for such things are likely scammers.
  • If you’re asked to deposit checks into your bank account and send money back to pay for courses, fees or anything else, stop. This is a fake check scam. When the check bounces, you’ll be out of the money you sent and may have to pay more to the bank.
  • Never wire money or buy gift cards for a mystery shopping assignment. These are sure signs of a scam.

These tips are useful to spot many other scam jobs that are making the rounds. It’s a good idea to keep these tips close at hand when evaluating whether a job is too good to be true.


Related: Best paid survey sites to make extra money


How to find legitimate mystery shopper jobs

Not all mystery shopping jobs are scams. There are companies that use them to get a consumer’s view of how their stores or restaurants operate.

You already know how to spot scams. The FTC also offers these tips to find legitimate mystery shopping jobs:

  • Research mystery shopping. Check libraries, bookstores or online sites for tips on how to find legitimate companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well as how to do the job effectively.
  • Search the internet for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications online. Dig deeper. Scammers may be paying people to post positive reviews.
  • Legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them.
  • Never wire money as part of a mystery shopping assignment.

The FTC also recommends you visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at You can search its database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them.

The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee. However, you don’t need “certification” to look or apply for assignments in its database.

By following these tips, you can find a fun mystery shopping job that can earn you extra money. You’ll also learn that something that seems too good to be true sometimes really is true.

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