Mystery Shopping Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Them

Mystery Shopping scams

mystery shopper scamsIn recent years, mystery shopping has become one of the popular methods for businesses and companies to evaluate their customer’s satisfaction with the overall performance. However, with the rise in popularity, mystery shopping scams have emerged, resulting in financial loss and the compromise of personal information.

This blog will explore mystery shopping scams and their types and understand the red flags. We will also explore the best practices to avoid mystery shopping scams. So, let’s get started!

Common Types of Mystery Shopping Scams

Mystery shopping scams usually target individuals who want to earn extra income to participate in mystery shopping. Here are some of the most common types of mystery shopping scams:

Upfront Payment Scams

Upfront Payment Scams are when the fraudster asks or requests payment from the participants before the assignments. Legitimate mystery shopping companies and businesses never ask applicants for a fee or any payment to participate in mystery shopping. It is a scam if you encounter a mystery shopping opportunity requiring upfront payment. In reality, legitimate companies pay mystery shoppers for these services.

Check Cashing Scams

Check Cashing Scams are another prevalent scam in mystery shopping. Here, the scammers send the individual a check, usually with a significant amount of money, and instruct them to deposit it in their bank account. Individuals are then asked to make a small purchase using the check and return the money to the scammer. The initial check is counterfeit, and the victim learns that the deposited check has bounced, leaving them responsible for the entire amount. 

Identity Theft Scams

Mystery shopping scams are usually the gateway for identity theft scams. The scammers pose as the mystery shopping business owner or company and ask for sensitive personal information like credit card numbers, bank account details, or social security numbers. They often claim that these details are needed for verification or payment processing. Therefore, it is crucial to be cautious when asked about personal information over the phone or online. 

Job Offer Scams

Sometimes, scammers post fake mystery shopping job opportunities on many online platforms. They usually appear legitimate, and compelling and promise high pay with flexible working hours. Applicants who apply for these jobs have requested a fee to proceed or provide personal information. Therefore, it is indispensable to exhaustively research the company before applying for a job offer.

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Red Flags to Watch Out For While Hiring Mystery Shoppers

Since the demand for mystery shoppers rises, so does the potential for fraudulent activities and scams. Here are some of the red flags to watch out for while hiring mystery shoppers and with guidance on avoiding such fraudulent practices:

Unsolicited Approaches

The first red flag that you should be aware of is the unsolicited approaches from people who claim to be mystery shoppers. Legitimate mystery shoppers apply on well-established platforms and respond to job postings. 

You must be cautious if you receive an unexpected message, phone call, or email from someone offering mystery shopping services without any application or contact. It is recommendable to thoroughly verify their credentials and conduct research before engaging in the services.

Request for Upfront Payment

Beware of the mystery shoppers who ask or request the upfront fees or payment before completing the assignments. Legit mystery shoppers and companies don’t require the shoppers to pay for participation in the assignments. It is the reverse, as the shoppers are compensated for their participation. 

Scammers often use the upfront payment to defraud people and businesses seeking mystery shopping services. If the mystery shopper asks for the payment in advance, it is a big red flag that they are not genuine.

Poor Communication and Unprofessional Behavior 

Communication is a critical part of mystery shopping. Legitimate mystery shoppers ensure personal communication to provide concise and clear sports. If mystery shoppers have poor communication skills like using excessive punctuation and capitalization, misspelling, and improper grammar, it may indicate their lack of credibility and professionalism. 

It would be best to look for signs and behavior like unwillingness to answer queries, rudeness, and impatience. Professionalism and effective communication are key qualities for a reliable mystery shopper.

Lack of Experience and References

When hiring mystery shoppers, it is crucial to consider the track record and experience level. Legit mystery shoppers most often possess prior experience and provide references from renowned companies they have worked with. 

You must know that mystery shoppers are scammers if they fail to provide references or evidence of their experience. In this case, you may require information about the previous clients to validate the credentials and ensure they possess the relevant skills to do the job effectively.

Inconsistent and Vague Answers

When hiring, it is crucial to ask mystery shoppers questions to gauge their expertise and knowledge. You must be cautious if the mystery shoppers provide vague and inconsistent answers to the queries. 

Legitimate mystery shoppers must provide concise and clear responses demonstrating an understanding of their role and the industry. If the answers lack detail and are evasive and inconsistent, it may indicate their potential dishonesty and lack of knowledge and expertise.

Requesting Personal Information

Legitimate mystery shoppers appreciate the significance of data protection and confidentiality. Beware if the mystery shoppers ask for personal information irrelevant to the job. Mystery shopper scammers may attempt to acquire personal information for fraudulent activities, like financial fraud and identity theft. 

Legitimate mystery shopping businesses only require the essential relevant information for payment and are proficient in handling the data responsibly and securely. You must ensure data protection measures and share only information with authorized parties.

Tips for Spotting Legitimate Mystery Shopping Opportunities

People who want to engage in mystery shopping must spotlight legitimate opportunities to avoid falling victim to scams. Here are some of the tips for spotting legitimate mystery shopping opportunities:

Research the Company

Before applying for it, conducting exhaustive research on the company offering mystery shopping opportunities is crucial. It would help if you looked at the company’s reputation, longevity in the industry, and background.

Legitimate mystery shopping businesses have a strong track record and provide references and testimonials from their previous clients. You may also check online ratings and reviews to see what other businesses and shoppers say about their experience with the business and the company. Reliable companies usually have professional websites detailing their shoppers’ requirements, services, and client base.

Verify the Company Credentials

Legitimate mystery shopping businesses and companies are often members of recognized industry organizations like the International Association of Service Evaluators (IASE) and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). These organizations have strict ethics and organizations that the member companies must comply with. 

You may check if the company you’re considering joining is affiliated with renowned industry organizations. With that, you may verify the company’s phone number and its physical address. Scammers often use generic email addresses and operate anonymously, so it’s crucial to confirm their legitimacy using multiple platforms.

Look for Detailed and Clear Job Descriptions

Legitimate mystery shopping jobs have clear and detailed descriptions highlighting the assignment’s compensation, expectation, and requirement. Be cautious of the generic and vague descriptions that lack details about the payment structure and the task. 

Legitimate businesses invest their effort and time into devising precise job descriptions to attract potential shoppers. You must understand the time frame, location involved, scope of work, and the guidelines and instructions about the job.

No Upfront Fees

Legit shopping companies and businesses do not charge mystery shoppers upfront fees and payment for the assignments. If a company asks you to pay for registration or training fees to get access to the job, it’s a big red flag.

Legitimate companies compensate mystery shoppers for their services and earn revenue from the clients, not vice versa. Be aware of the request for fees and payment connected with participating in the mystery shopping program.

Payment Process and Schedule

Understanding how and when you will be paid before accepting any mystery shopping assignment is crucial. Legitimate businesses have a transparent payment process and usually provide detailed and clear information about the timelines, payment methods, and frequency. While some companies might pay via direct deposits, others might use alternative payment platforms.

You must ensure that the payment terms match your needs and preferences. It is recommended to inquire about the expected timeframe for the payment before the completion of the assignment to avoid any confusion and delays.

Avoid Unsolicited Job Offers

Legitimate mystery shopping job opportunities are commonly posted on the company’s website or through reputed job platforms. Beware of any unsolicited job offers that may come out of the blue. Scammers may contact you via phone number, email, or social media with promising high pay, attractive offers, and flexible working hours.

Legitimate companies don’t randomly approach people without any application and prior contact. If you discover any unexpected job offer, you must independently verify the legitimacy and credibility of the company and its offer before proceeding further.

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What to Do If You Encounter a Mystery Shopping Scam?

Even when the best efforts are made to avoid mystery shopping scams, it is still possible to encounter any such scams and fraudulent activities. Therefore, if you are in such a situation where you realize that you’ve encountered a mystery shopping scam, you must take immediate action to protect yourself. Here’s what to do if you encounter a mystery shopping scam:

Cease Communication

If you doubt you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, the initial step is to cease all communication with them promptly. You must not respond to their phone calls, emails, and messages. By ceasing communication, you lower the risk of being further manipulated and deceived by the scammer. 

Document All the Evidence

You must document all the evidence connected with the scam, including the phone numbers, emails, text messages, or any other communication you may have received from the scammer. You must print the copies and take screenshots of the communications as proof. These records will be handy when reporting the scam to the related authorities.

Report the Scam

It is indispensable to report the secret shopper scam to the appropriate authorities. You may start connecting with the local law enforcement agency by providing them with all the information and evidence you’ve gathered. They will guide you through the procedure and look into the matter further. With that, you may report the scam to organizations like Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) so that you can inform others about the scam by taking necessary action.

Notify the Mystery Shopping Company

If you were contacted by someone claiming to represent any mystery shopping company, you must connect with that company, informing them about the scam. You must provide them with all the associated deals of the scam, like the person’s name who contacted you, his phone number and the email address used, and your communication with him. Legitimate mystery shopping businesses take these scams seriously by taking the necessary action.

Review Your Finance

If you have provided financial or personal information to the scammer, it is significant to review your finances instantly. You must monitor your credit card statements, bank account, and other financial transactions of suspicious nature. If you notice any unauthorized access or charges to your account, you must contact the financial institution to report the scam and take appropriate measures to secure your finances.

Educate Yourself 

You must use this experience to educate yourself about the common mystery shopping scams and what to do if you encounter any. It would help you stay up-to-date with the scam techniques and familiarize yourself with the red flags. Since knowledge is a powerful tool against scams, you can become vigilant and equipped with how to avoid scams in the future.

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Why is HS Brands Asia Your Best Choice for Mystery Shopper Needs?

HS Brands Asia is the most trusted mystery shopping company with a global footprint in 140+ countries worldwide. We help your brand with well-devised solutions, including identifying the objectives, designing customized programs, and delivering actionable results. We serve many industries like automotive, retail, hospitality, online shopping, food, beverages, and healthcare. So what’s stopping you? Connect with us to protect your brand!

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