It sounds like the perfect job. Get paid to shop with someone else’s money.

While the role of a “mystery shopper” may sound enticing, not all of those job offers are legitimate.

Your Better Business Bureau recently heard of a local resident who nearly became the latest victim of a long-running mystery shopper scam.

The woman applied for the position months ago but had never heard back from the company. Then a few weeks ago she was contacted via text by someone going by the name “Richard” informing her she had been hired and would be receiving her instructions in the mail. Sure enough, she received a priority letter from Texas with a check for $2,480. She was told to deposit the check in her account and withdraw $2,100 and perform money transfers at Walmart for $1,200 and $800.

Fortunately, the woman was able to spot the red flags and instead of depositing the money into her account, she reached out to her local police department. While her money stayed safe, scammers are always look for their next victims.

To steer clear of get-rich-quick offers, your BBB advises mystery shopper applicants to:

  • Ignore claims that you will make big profits easily. Mystery shopping will not make you rich; at best it provides part-time income.
  • Avoid falling for claims that “guarantee” a position, without training.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited e-mails offering “work-from-home.”
  • Never pay money up-front. A legitimate mystery shopping service will not charge money for materials, training or recruiting.
  • Obtain the name of the company and check the business out with the BBB, local consumer protection agency, and state attorney general.

If the thought of being a legitimate mystery shopper intrigues you, there are better ways to find a trustworthy employer.

Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper with an MSPA-member company. They provide a database of available jobs and additional information on the industry in general.

Look for reputable firms that:

  • Qualify and train mystery shoppers to perform specific evaluations.
  • Enjoy a good reputation with their clients and shoppers.
  • Do not charge a fee to complete an application.

Avoid doing business with mystery shopping promoters who contact you out of the blue and that require payment for certification or charge additional fees or sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers. If you suspect a Secret or Mystery Shopper Scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorney General Office or BBB’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

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