I have written many times over the last seven years about the mystery shopper scam because it continues to ensnare unwary victims including a Massachusetts woman Lisa Zais who responded to a text message that appeared to come from Whole Foods asking her if she wanted to work as a mystery shopper. The company sent her a check which she deposited into her checking account and then followed her assignment of purchasing $2,450 worth of gift cards and sending the card numbers back to the mystery shopping company. Of course the check was counterfeit and when it bounced, Zais had lost $2,450 from her bank account.
Mystery shoppers are people hired to shop at a particular store and report on the shopping experience for purposes of quality control. Unlike many scams, there actually are legitimate mystery shopper companies, but they never advertise or recruit through emails, text messages or letters.
The manner in which the scam generally works is that when you answer an advertisement, or respond to a letter, email or a text message to become a mystery shopper, you are sent a bank check. You spend some of the money on the goods that you purchase which you are allowed to keep and also are directed to keep some of the balance of the check as payment for your services. Often you are instructed to return the remaining funds by a wire transfer. In a recent Walmart themed mystery shopper scam that targeted a Scamicide reader, the targeted victim was told to wire $1,225 of a $1,595 check back to the scammer. The problem is that the check or money order sent to you is counterfeit, but the money you send by wire from your bank account or through prepaid cards is real and is lost forever.
Here also is a link to a news story from ABC’s Western Mass News in which I was interviewed about this type of scam. https://www.westernmassnews.com/news/pittsfield-woman-warning-others-of-mystery-shopper-scheme/article_af658312-45ca-11e9-855b-777f943a69e1.html
One reason why this scam fools so many people is that there really are mystery shopping jobs although the actual number is quite few and they do not go looking for you. An indication 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 your 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 which is given after a few days, but which will be rescinded once a check bounces 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 or send gift cards because this is a common theme in many scams because it is difficult to trace and impossible to stop. Legitimate companies do not use gift cards as payments.
If you receive a mystery shopper scam solicitation or check through the mail you can report it to the United States Postal Service at
You also can report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which investigates these scams at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1
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