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Making and keeping your cover as a mystery shopper

For certain mystery shopping assignments, you'll be instructed to conceal your identity to anyone employed at the location to get an honest shopping experience. In order to do this, you may need to come up with a cover identity that you can provide at a moment's notice. A good cover identity can be the difference between a successful job and a botched assignment. 

Coming up with a cover
Now's the time to bring together all of the knowledge you've picked up from movies and television shows about deep undercover police officers. The best way of making sure you keep your cover while on assignment is by making sure it's credible .

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to coming up with a good cover identity: 

  • The key is in the detail: A good cover is more than a new name and a fake job title. The strongest cover identities are the ones that have depth and detail. When you create your new identity, think of it as creating a new person. Give them a name, birthday, birthplace and some personal stories to pull from. It's even recommended that you go as far as to imagine what your new identity's home would look like. There's a strong possibility that you won't use a lot of this information, but it's better to have it as backup if necessary than need it and be stumped.
  • Try more than one: You don't have to stick with the first cover that comes to mind. By trying out a few different identities, you'll be able to figure out what works best. You may even consider taking the best attributes from each one and making a new identity altogether. 

Keeping your cover
Now that you have your cover together, the next step is making sure that it works out when it's put up to the test of a legitimate mystery shopping experience. Here are four ways to maintain your cover:

  • Confidence: The best way to sell anything is to do it with confidence. The same practice applies to selling yourself, or at least a made-up version of yourself. This gives the employees less reason to think twice about your intentions. 
  • Don't act suspicious: If your cover is to be a concerned shopper, act the way a genuine concerned shopper would. Do your best to blend in with other patrons. If you're the only person with a shopping list at the auto repair shop, that's probably a dead giveaway that you're up to something. Look as natural as possible.
  • Leave your documents behind: With every mystery shopping job comes an assignment description and a list of requirements. One of the worst ways to blow your cover is to do so as a result of your own mistake, like by walking into a shop you're assigned to review and leaving behind or dropping your assignment papers. This is why most providers strongly encourage shoppers to leave these behind before they enter the establishment. If you must take these with you, hide them somewhere secure on your person and don't look at them anywhere around the shop.
  • Find a balance: If you think that someone is suspicious as to why you're spending so much time in their shop, you should be prepared to handle questioning. If they ask you anything personal, remember the details you created earlier for a moment just like this and answer their questions naturally. Try to not answer them too quickly or hesitate too much and raise any suspicion. 

If your cover is blown
If you've done all you can and things have still gotten to a point of no return, you may have to reveal your true identity to the employees or manager of the shop. For moments like this, your mystery shopping provider should have given you some documentation with proof of your assignment. You may have to show this to someone to make everything clear. Hopefully following the previously mentioned steps will help you avoid this situation altogether. 

The best thing is to handle the requirements of the job in a list of priorities so that the most important things get done first. Just in case your cover does get blown at some point, you may be closer to having what you need than expected.