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 http://www.mysteryshop.org/
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.