Thursday, April 19, 2012

Consumer Scams and Frauds: The Secret Shopper Scam

Imagine you’ve recently been laid off or you’re a housewife trying to earn a little extra money to make ends meet, and you come across a listing on the internet for a “secret” or “mystery” shopper. You respond to the ad and are told you could earn extra money by purchasing items at area stores or by dining at certain restaurants. This sounds like a good deal, so you tell them to send you an information packet.

Once the packet arrives, you look inside and find training materials and information about where to begin your assignment. Also inside the envelope are two cashier’s checks totaling around $2000 up to $4000. The amount of the checks was much more than what you were told initially. When you call the company they assure you the checks are legitimate and instruct you to cash them and do your shopping within 48-hours. The other thing they ask you to do is to wire the extra money via Western Union to another “secret shopper” in locations such as the Philippines, Canada, California, Georgia and various other places.

The scam here is that the check is a fake and will eventually bounce; placing your checking account at a loss for the entire amount of the check, plus you’ll be out the money you forwarded to the other shopper. You are eventually responsible for anything you place into your account. This is the reason why scammers pressure you to place it into your bank account and forward the money quickly.

There are certainly numerous legitimate secret shopper companies out there that are reputable. The following information is provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to go about applying for these jobs.

The FTC encourages you to visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don't need "certification" to look – or apply – for assignments in its database.
In the meantime, the FTC says consumers 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.”

If a company asks you to do any of the following things, consider them red flags:
• Require that you pay for “certification.”
• Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
• Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
• Sell directories of companies that employ mystery shoppers.
• Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.

If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with your local police jurisdiction, the consumer protection agency, the Better Business Bureau, your state Attorney General, or the FTC.

For more information on this scam, visit the FTC website at:

http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt151.shtm