FTC: Beware Mystery Shopper Scams

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Being paid to shop and eat out with someone else’s money sounds like a great job, right?

While being a mystery shopper can be fun, sometimes an offer is too good to be true, and it can cost you.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, many unwitting Americans have fallen victim to mystery shopper scams. In a recent scam, people are receiving emails offering them a secret shopper job at stores like Home Depot or Walmart.

After providing personal information, respondents to the “job” receive a cashier’s check for about $1,500. The “applicants” are told that in order to activate their employment, they need to deposit the check and then wire back all but $300. The FTC said:

Problem is, the “job” isn’t real and it’s not associated with any actual stores. You’re dealing with a scammer. That check is a fake. If you deposit it, you’re on the hook to pay the bank back.

Mystery shopping can be a legitimate job. The FTC said these tips can help you figure out if a secret shopper job opportunity is the real thing or a fake:

  • Do some homework. Research the company to see if it’s real. “A quick Internet search can help you verify the company’s reputation, legitimacy, or flag any complaints,” the FTC said.
  • To wire or not to wire? If you don’t know the person (or company), do not wire them money. Once it’s sent, you can’t get it back.
  • Be careful depositing checks. You don’t want to be on the line for a rubber check from a fake company. You are responsible for the checks you deposit into your account.
  • Don’t share any personal information. It’s never a good idea to share personal or financial information online. “Guard your personal information, and treat it as if it were cash,” the FTC said.

You don’t have to pay to become a mystery shopper, that’s definitely a red flag. If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper for a reputable company, check out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association’s website.

If you’ve been scammed or think you’ve seen a mystery shopper scam, report it to the FTC.

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