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How to Identify Mystery Shopping Scams


There are a lot of misconceptions about what a mystery shopper is. Unfortunately, some of these misconceptions lead people to fall for mystery shopping scams. While it is a legitimate job, and many companies in the U.S. hire mystery shoppers to work for them, the vast majority of classified ads that you see are are con artists looking to rip you off. There are a number of red flags to watch out for.

Upfront Fees

If any job asks you to pay a fee just to apply for it, it's probably a scam. This includes jobs in the mystery shopping industry. Usually they're offering a bogus certification program (more on this in a bit), or they're asking you to pay for a list of companies that hire mystery shoppers. You can find this information online for free, so paying for it up front is a bad idea.

Promises of Exorbitant Pay

Some job offers will try to dazzle you with a big paycheck or other benefits. Some try to lure you in with promises that you'll get all of your groceries for free, stay in nice hotels or make hundreds of dollars a week. Mystery shopping providers actually pay a flat fee for you to shop at their store/business and provide a small reimbursement for any purchases you make. Promises of anything more than that should make you run the other direction.

Application Goes to a P.O. Box Address

It's easy to research whether or not a job offer is legitimate by checking for its national or regional address. If you think you're applying for a mystery shopping job from a legitimate provider, check the address where the application will be sent. If your local chain store's regional headquarters is in Nashville, and your application letter is addressed to an apartment in Florida, something is wrong.

Asking for Personal Information

If an application asks for your social security number or credit card number, you should be very careful. Check with the Better Business Bureau, or other consumer protection agencies, to make sure you're dealing with a legitimate company and not a scam.

Identifying a Legitimate Job

With so many mystery shopping scams out there, how do you tell if an offer is real? Cathy Stucker is a professional mystery shopper, and she's written a book called "The Mystery Shopper's Manual". It's full of tips on how to get a real job as a mystery shopper. The truth is, most companies don't advertise in the local newspaper to find employees for these jobs.

There's also an organization called the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. The MSPA does charge a low fee to certify mystery shoppers, but it's a well-known and legitimate association that's been around for years. They can also provide you with a list of real companies that hire mystery shoppers.

Another sign that an offer is legitimate is modest pay. Cathy Stucker says mystery shoppers are usually paid a flat fee of $10 or more for a single shopping assignment. She adds that mystery shoppers can expect to make an average of about $10 an hour and up.

At best, mystery shopping could be considered for a part-time job. You just have to be careful about where you're applying for a job, in order to avoid the numerous scams. If an offer sounds fishy, it probably is.


Daphne Mallory, Esq. is the co-owner of Mallory Writing Services and has written more than 100 articles helping home based business owners and entrepreneurs start and market their business. You can learn more about her here.

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