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How to spot and protect against mystery shopper scams


April 23, 2024

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How to spot and protect against mystery shopper scams

Are you looking for a part-time job to earn some extra cash? How about mystery shopping?

Mystery shopper positions are real and require people to conduct assignments, including reporting on customer services and experiences while shopping or visiting different retailers, restaurants, hotels, and even tourist attractions or golf course venues.

Unfortunately, many scammers exploit people’s interest in such work. They are not interested in your feedback as an undercover shopper and want to steal your money instead.

How does a mystery shopping scam work

In a mystery shopping scam, fraudsters pretend to be from a well-known business and post mystery shopper job opportunities on social media platforms or online job boards to lure potential victims. Additionally, scam artists may try to reach unsuspicious targets by contacting them directly through cold calls, unsolicited emails, texts, and even mail.

Once you apply for the position, the scammers may:

  • Ask you for money for training, certification or access
  • Send you a check or money order and ask you to deposit the payment in your account, after which you are advised to send them a portion of the funds via wire transfers or gift cards

Here are some real-world examples shared with the BBB by individuals who received such fraudulent correspondence:

“My wife was contacted by [redacted] via text, she said I should try this, it seems like fun to make extra $$ to be a secret shopper. of course I qualified, and gave him my first name last name and mailing address. I was notified that a pachage had arrived and my mail box was empty, i start getting suspicious. I contacted Luis tpo ask for a tracking number, he claimed that he had one but keep making excuse why he could not sent it right away, I finally google his name and comonay name and BOOM, big scam,” one consumer said.

“Sent by mail letter and check, out lined secret shopper assignment to buy Apple gift cards with check from CVS and Walgreens. To then send copy of card and receipt to email or by text,” reported another.

“I applied for a customer service Mystery Shopper job and received a package in the mail with the letter and a check for $2950 to purchase eBay cards and and gift games of cards to keep $500 of it and then wait for my next assignment for the gift cards Not cash check or anything I had to sign my name and get my birth birthdate and such at the post office to pick that package up,” another consumer explained.

How to protect against mystery shopper scams

Know the red flags

  • You receive an unsolicited mystery shopper job opportunity via email, text, phone or mail
  • You are asked to deposit a cheque at your bank and return a portion of the money to the sender
  • You are asked to purchase gift cards, scratch the coating hiding the PIN codes and send them to the recruiter
  • Guarantees of quick and significant cash returns
  • Requires you to pay upfront fees
  • The employer provides vague details regarding the job listing
  • The job sounds too good to be true

Handy advice to help protect your identity, money, and reputation

  • Research all mystery shopper listings you come across online, even through legitimate job boards. Cross-check the company or individual's name alongside words such as “complaint,” “scam,” or “review.”
  • Scrutinize all unrequested messages or communication asking you if you are interested in mystery shopping assignments and ask you to provide personally identifiable information.
  • Never pay for work. No legitimate organization or business will charge you to begin working for them. Anyone who claims otherwise is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links in emails or texts asking you to provide financial details or passwords.
  • Never wire money or purchase gift cards as part of any mystery shopping assignments.
  • Don’t trust any guarantees of significant financial returns. Part-time or occasional jobs such as mystery shopping never pay thousands of dollars.
  • Keep all unsolicited and fraudulent correspondence and report suspicious activity to the FTC, BBB and local police.

Pro tip:

Use Bitdefender Scamio, our free AI-powered scam detector to uncover scams and scammers before they can harm you financially. Scamio is free and available on any device or operating system via your web browser,  Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Provide a description of the scam, upload an image if necessary, and send a link or text. Scamio will analyze the information and tell you whether it's a scam.




Alina is a history buff passionate about cybersecurity and anything sci-fi, advocating Bitdefender technologies and solutions. She spends most of her time between her two feline friends and traveling.

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