Beware of mystery shopping scams this holiday season

The holiday season brings an influx of job opportunities for mystery shoppers, but not without its drawbacks.

The holiday season brings an influx of job opportunities for mystery shoppers, but not without its drawbacks. Mystery shopping scams are becoming increasingly prevalent across the country and shoppers need to be extra careful this time of year not to fall for a fake gig. Otherwise, diligent efforts to make extra spending money could turn into a bankrupt holiday season.

Recently, the mystery shopping scam most commonly rearing its head in countless states throughout the U.S. and in Canada utilizes faux checks to hook unsuspecting consumers. Victims receive checks in the mail and are asked to deposit these into their bank accounts. They are then instructed to use some of this money to perform the outlined shop and send back any remaining, unused funds. Unfortunately, these checks are eventually found to be counterfeit. As the Federal Trade Commission noted, banks make these funds available within several days for their clients; however, false checks can take weeks to recognize. No real funding ever gets deposited into the shopper's account. Victims end up sending the scam artists their own savings.

Banks not responsible
In Ann Ogorek's case, her bank was required to take all the money left in her account to make up for the bounced checks. Ogorek told Oklahoma's KFOR news channel that she was sent two checks from varying credit unions. After depositing the money into her account, she was told to keep a certain amount and send another portion to a shopper in the Philippines before purchasing Green Dot Moneypak cards for the providing company.

In Ogorek's case, she received these checks unsolicited from a company whose website appeared legitimate and advertised as being accredited by the Better Business Bureau. It's important to know that no mystery shopping company will ever pay a shopper in advance of performing the work. Typically, shops are not unsolicited, either. If you receive any emails from companies you don't recognize, do not open the messages and do not send your personal contact information to anyone you haven't worked with before on successful mystery shops.

Avoid online advertisements
NBC-affiliate KKCO also reported that several people in Mesa County, Colorado became victims when they replied to a Craigslist advertisement for secret shopping gigs. Again, as the holidays loomed, these shoppers planned to make extra money to get them through the fiscally rigorous season. Unfortunately, these victims deposited fake cashier's checks into their accounts and used money of their own to complete a shop.

Many of these scams work well because they offer a great deal of compensation for very little work. This is where most victims get caught up. The excitement of depositing large amounts of cash ($3,700 in Ogorek's case) into their accounts right away in combination with the relative simplicity of the shop makes it easier to trust the organization making the request.

This holiday season, if you are looking for a few extra mystery shopping jobs here and there to increase your gift-buying funds, make sure you are working with a reliable company. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.