Mystery Shopper Scams – Advance Fee Scams

Another popular Internet scam is the secret shopper scam. They are often advertised as jobs on open boards such as Craigslist. They are another of the make money at home scams that plague the Internet. Remember, this is a real job that some people are employed to do. However, some advertised jobs are run by con artists. So, how do secret shopper scams work?

First of all victims are drawn in by adverts to make money online by working from home. The hours are good, the pay is good, and the work is easy. Victims are made to feel that they are being let in on a wonderful new secret of “harnessing the power of the web” to make money.

The scam works because the victim is made to believe that they are actually working on behalf of a popular store, through an agency. They are set the task of testing the quality of the services on offer. The work is simple – go to a popular retail website, make a specific set of purchases, then receive compensation for those purchases. So as a mystery shopper you receive the goods and receive a payment from the agency to cover your costs. Basically, that means free gifts for you!

The Scam – Register to Become a Mystery Shopper

There are generally two types of scam – the fake registration scam and then advance fee scam.

With the registration fee scam you are simply tricked into registering to become a mystery shopper. It will all seem very professional and you may even be given training and sent a certificate to prove that you can act in such a capacity. Of course, you have to pay for this certificate. You will then be sent a list of orders to make in online stores. You file your report, then never hear anything again.

Advice from the American Federal Trade Commission is clear on the law in America:

“The truth is that it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The shopping certification offered in advertising or unsolicited email is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free; and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are on the Internet for free. Consumers who try to get a refund from promoters of mystery shopping jobs usually are out of luck. Either the business doesn’t return the phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.” Source:

Legitimate companies never charge an application fee to become a mystery shopper. They either require some, or they do not. They may set a simple test to ensure that you are capable of providing a report after a purchase, but other than that they will not charge you.

The FTC suggests that people should be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters who:

  • Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email. While it may appear as if these companies are hiring mystery shoppers, it’s much more likely that they’re pitching unnecessary — and possibly bogus — mystery shopping “services.”
  • Sell “certification.” Companies that use mystery shoppers generally do not require certification.
  • Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
  • Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
  • Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.

The Mystery Shopper Advance Fee Scam

This scam is a clever trick of trust. Generally after your perform your mystery shop and file your report, you will then be sent payment. However, the payment will be sent via a money transfer system that has a minimum allowed transfer, so you will be asked by the agency to send back the difference.

A short while later your bank will alert you (or not) that they money transfer failed as the order was never valid. These scams are also known as “Advance Fee” scams. You have bought the goods and sent money to the con artists. At best you can return the goods, but are still left short after posting the difference, which could be hundreds of pounds.

National Newspaper Adverts

Some scammers are putting adverts in national newspapers, and these are often perceived as being more trustworthy.

Our suggestions to avoid being stung if you with to become a mystery shopper:

  • Only perform mystery shopping for UK companies or websites that you are familiar with and use a credit card that offers some protection.
  • Before making your first purchase, request a small money transfer to test the system. Only work with an agency that can send a BACS payment (electronic payment direct to your bank account). Never send them a payment, ever. Check the receipt of the payment, and wait. I am sure that if you air your concerns to the agency you are working with they will oblige.
  • Ask an agency which companies they will be shopping with, then contact the companies direct to ask if they have employed that agency to do mystery shopping. Don’t spend any money until you receive the confirmation.
  • If the email address of your contact is webmail, i.e. a Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail or Gmail address, do not work with them. Only work with people that provide a domain email address, and then check it out here: – just enter the part after @ and check that it is a real registered company. If their details are set to anonymous treat it with deep suspicion.

Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always do your background checks. Just because someone advertises in the national press does not mean that they are an honest business – it just means that they may be a professional scammer.

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