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Avoid mystery shopping scams

Mystery shoppers must always be on the lookout for scams. Today, many fraudulent secret shopping opportunities are popping up in the mail and through email. It's important to do the research on any potential job before accepting.

The Columbus Dispatch reported on one Ohio woman who received a letter along with a check for almost $1,500. Both appeared to be from Home Depot. The letter asked that she deposit the check, shop at her local Home Depot and take notes on the customer care provided. Then, wire any remaining funds back to the sender.

This is a common mystery shopping scam. The check is almost always a fake and usually arrives in the amount of $1,000 to $5,000. However, if a victim deposits the check, withdraws money from their account and then the bank rejects the deposit, the victim is responsible for those funds. It is very rare that the wire can be traced and the perpetrators caught.

The Federal Trade Commission advises anyone receiving letters or emails asking them to deposit a check before completing a mystery shopping job to be on guard. Until a shopper completes a job, they will not be paid when working for a legitimate company. The FTC also warns against organizations pretending to be certification centers for mystery shoppers.

Consumers aren't alone
Funnily enough, businesses can also fall victim to secret shopper scams. Wal-Mart recently posted a fraud alert on its website after learning that many people were receiving solicitations from what appeared to be a legitimate company email address asking them to become mystery shoppers. Wal-Mart clarified that they do not employ mystery shoppers. This scam worked in much the same way as the Home Depot example. However, the company added that sometimes a victim will be asked to provide their own banking information for additional funds to be wired. This is serious and can result in identity theft.

It is possible that those receiving fake opportunities for mystery shopping gigs had posted their email addresses or resumes on job hunting sites. If this is the case, double check any site that contacts you about your information or potential job offers. Remember, no legitimate mystery shopping company will pay for services before they have been completed. If there is any doubt in your mind that an opportunity is real, double and triple check the source. 

If you are looking for certification or a legitimate mystery shopping career, visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website.