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Choosing the right mystery shopper

You hear about scams all the time, but you never think it will happen to you. Dolores Mann, of Kansas City, Kansas, was one such person: She didn't believe it was possible until recently. In the summer of 2015, she was ripped off by a fake mystery shopping company, which left her alone in dealing with a $2,000 overdrawn bank account, according to KCTV5, a Kansas City CBS affiliate. 

While many try to assert that the very nature of mystery shopping is deceptive, the business itself is a legitimate one. That being said, there's no reason that you should trust every online advertisement trying to sell you mystery shopping services. Whether you're looking to become a mystery shopper yourself or you're looking to hire a mystery shopper for your business, there are plenty of benefits that you stand to gain from hiring such an individual (or company), as long as it's not a scam.

By doing just a little bit of research, you can save yourself headaches down the road. Instead of falling prey to one of the numerous scams out there, follow these guidelines to ensure that you are protected in your search for the perfect mystery shopping company:

Do your research
Start your research by simply checking out the website of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. The company was designed specifically to protect you from the seemingly infinite number of scams out there. Most of the major mystery shopping companies are members of this site, and you can find out plenty about them just by visiting this one website yourself. If you're looking to hire a mystery shopping service for your company, it's a good idea to look into the finances of any prospective mystery shoppers. Find out if they have a line of credit with an accredited bank, and see if they're willing to give you their company's own past financial statements for you to review. Ask for their list of references, and peruse the list of past clients that have used their services before. It shouldn't be difficult to find enough reviews on the company to give you a better idea of its history.

"You get what you pay for."

Don't be cheap
The common expression is that you get what you pay for. The same can be said when you are looking to hire a mystery shopping service. The cheaper the charge, the more likely it is a scam in some capacity. Oftentimes, companies like these will give you a low initial price because they hide various service fees that end up making the transaction far more expensive than you bargained for. Look into their policy on changing the amount that it costs for their services, too. Before you sign any contract, it's a good idea to make sure that there won't be any chance for fluctuating costs throughout your time with them.

Stop by in person
A great way to check the legitimacy of a company is to simply stop by its office. If you look into prospective mystery shoppers' websites, they will have a business address listed somewhere on the page (if a site doesn't, that's probably a red flag right there!). Make sure the address that is listed is not a fake one, for starters. It's possible that the address listed on the webpage is not a real one or belongs to another business. If you make it past this test, it's not a bad idea to go inside the office to check it out for yourself. Make sure there's at least some level of professionalism around the workplace before you hire the company.