I have written many times over the last ten years about the mystery shopper scam because it continues to ensnare unwary victims. Unfortunately, these scams continue to be effective and are increasing in number so it is important to remind you about them again. 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 deposit the check into your own account and 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. You are instructed to return the remaining funds by a wire transfer.
In a Walmart themed mystery shopper scam, the targeted victim was sent a legitimate appearing, but counterfeit check for $2,940 and told to keep $540 as payment and then go to the nearest Walmart and use the remainder of the check to buy six $400 Kroger gift cards and provide the numbers to the scammer. The scam victim was then told to keep the gift cards for their next assignment although there never is another assignment and the scammers use the numbers on the Kroger gift cards to make purchases, making the actual cards worthless. The victim of the scam loses the $2,400 used to purchase the gift cards from the victim’s own bank account when the check bounces.
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 the companies that do mystery shopping do not go looking for you. A firm 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 Don’t rely on provisional credit which is given after a few days, but which will be rescinded once a check bounces and never accept a check for more than what is owed with the intention to send back the rest.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.
For more information about legitimate mystery shoppers, you can go to the website of the Mystery Shopping Professional Association https://www.mspa-americas.org/scam-alerts/
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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