March 11, 2017 – Steve Weisman’s latest column for USA Today

Mystery shopper scams continue to victimize many people.  Here is a link to my latest column for USA Today in which I describe how these scams operate and how to protect yourself from this scam.

Scam of the day – June 6, 2014 – Secret shopper scam

Although there is nothing new about secret shopper scams or mystery shopper scams as they are sometimes called, they are scams that are still constantly finding new victims.  I picked today to make this the Scam of the day because I received a scam secret shopper email that I am reproducing below:

Secret Shopper


Secret Shopper®

Secret Shopper® is accepting applications for qualified individuals to become mystery shoppers and merchandisers. Its fun and rewarding, and you choose when and where you want to survey. You are never obligated to accept an assignment. There is no charge to become a shopper and you do not need previous experience. After you sign up, you will have access to training materials on our site.

You will write a report about the customer services of the outlet we would give you to evaluate.
The report will be sent back to us via Email, you will have to use the following pointers to prepare your report :

How long it took you to get services.
Ambiance/Outlook of the Shop/Outlet
Smartness of the attendant
Customer service professionalism
Reaction of personnel under pressure
Information that you think would be helpful
Your comments and impressions.

Kindly send us your You can Apply for a job with us now. Email us your

First Name:

Last Name:

House No./Street:



Zip Code:


Mobile Phone:


Alternate Email:

And we would get back to you ASAP with further details on the program

Recruiting Department,
Secret Shopper®

The mystery shopper scam is a tried and true scam that scammers still use to steal their victims’ money because the scam still works.   The scam begins when you are contacted by mail or email, such as the one featured above purportedly by a company asking you if you want a job as a mystery shopper who will be paid to shop at their store and then report on the shopping experience to assist in market research and improving customer relations.  The pitch sounds legitimate and often the emails and letters appear to be legitimate although it is easy to counterfeit a company’s logo and stationary.  Once you agree to be a mystery shopper, you are sent a certified bank check for an amount such as $5,000 which you are asked to deposit in your checking account and use the money to make purchases that you are allowed to keep.  You are then instructed to send the remaining funds back to the company.  Some victims, believing they were being careful deposited the check and thinking that they were being exceedingly careful, waited a few days for the check to clear.   They then wire the funds, as requested back to the company only to learn a few days later that the certified check sent to them was a counterfeit and their bank had only given them provisional credit for the check into their account.  Once the check is found to be a fake, the provisional credit is removed from the victim’s account and the victim has lost the money that he or she wired to the scammer.


One reason why this scam works so well is that there really are mystery shopping jobs although the actual number is quite few and they do not go looking for you.  If you want to find out if a mystery shopping company is legitimate, you can contact the Mystery Shopping Providers Association which is a trade organization of legitimate mystery shopping companies.  Their website is  Other indications that you are involved with a scam is when you receive a check for more than what is owed you and you are asked to wire the difference back to the sender.  This is the basis of many scams.  Whenever you receive a check, wait for you bank to tell you that the check has fully cleared before you consider the funds as actually being in your account.  Don’t rely on provisional credit and never accept a check for more than what is owed with the intention to send back the rest.  That is always a scam.  Also be wary whenever you are asked to wire funds because this is a common theme in many scams because it is difficult to trace and impossible to stop.


Scam of the day – September 28, 2012 – Mystery shopper update

A tried and true scam that continues to effectively steal unsuspecting victims’ money is the mystery shopper scam.  Part of the problem is that there are legitimate mystery shopper companies that hire people to do market research for major companies by shopping in their stores and reporting on the experience.  Unfortunately, the real mystery shopper jobs are few and far between while the scams are everywhere.  The manner in which the scam works is that when you answer an  advertisement or an email to be a mystery shopper, you are sent a bank check for you to deposit and use for your shopping.  You spend some of the money on the goods that you purchase which you are allowed to keep and also are able to keep more of the check as the payment for your services and then you return the balance.  The problem is that the check is counterfeit, but the money you send by wire from your own bank account is legitimate and you lose that money.


The New York Attorney General has recently shut down two mystery shopper websites, and  Real mystery shopper companies will not seek you out by email.  People often are fooled when they deposit the real looking check and wait for it to clear in a few days only to learn too late that the check did not clear, but that they had only received provisional credit which makes your account look like it has money in it when it really does not and once the check fails to clear, the provisional credit is removed and your account is out the money that you sent thinking the check was good.  Also, always be wary of any transaction that requires you to wire the money.  That is a major sign of a scam because the money is impossible to get back after it has been wired.


Mystery Shopper Scam

These scams lure victims by telling them that they will be paid to shop at various stores and then report on their shopping experience to market research firms that work for the retailers to help them evaluate and improve their customer relations.

How the scam works is that once the victim signs up for the program, he or she receives a certified bank check to cover the cost of the purchases (which the mystery shopper is allowed to keep) as well as the payment to the mystery shopper for his or her services.  The scam artist further instructs the victim to wire back to the scam artist the balance remaining of the funds sent by the certified check.  Many victims have thought they were being careful by waiting for the check to clear before making their purchases and sending back the remainder only to find that banks routinely give provisional credit for checks of less than $5,000 within five days.   Once the certified bank check is discovered to be a forgery, the bank deducts the amount of the check from the victim’s account.  Unfortunately, also deducted from the victim’s account are the funds that the victim wired to the scam artist under the mistaken impression that the certified bank check indeed was an actual certified bank check.


Whenever you are provided payment by check, always wait for the check to truly clear before trusting that the funds are legitimate.  One reason that mystery shopping scams work is that there are legitimate mystery shopping jobs although they are relatively few.  A good place to check out if a mystery shopping company is legitimate is with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, a trade organization of legitimate mystery shopping companies.  Their website can be found at

As always, you should also check into the particular mystery shopping company you are interested in with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and your local state attorney general.