Now that we're halfway through October, I want to warn you about a scam that pops up a lot before the holidays: the mystery shopper or secret shopper scheme. You get a phone call, letter or email explaining how you can make money by shopping undercover at various retailers. You're told you'll earn money for each shopping trip and get to keep what you purchase, after you fill out forms and report back about your experience.
There are legitimate companies that hire people to secretly check out businesses. But there are also a bunch of crooks posing as the good guys.
Marge received a couple of different notices asking her to become a mystery shopper. She knew right away they weren't legit. First, she wasn't seeking such a job. The offers were unsolicited and the emails were from individuals, not marketing research firms with documented backgrounds. They asked for a lot of personal information, which simply isn't necessary.
You know you're dealing with crooks if you're given a check, told to deposit it, spend a certain amount, and wire the rest of the money somewhere. You'll later learn the check you deposited was no good and your bank will ask you to cover the entire amount. Most of the correspondence I've seen from con artists asks you to cash their checks and then shop at big retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or Home Depot. They know those store names carry clout and credibility. Another giveaway is their mailers and emails usually have grammatical and typographical errors.
Genuine groups that use mystery shoppers will never try to "recruit" you. You have to go to them and register on their websites. After you provide a profile, companies will contact you if they're interested. A good source of information can be found at www.mspa-global.org, the website for Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America. The association itself doesn't employ secret shoppers, but it does provide useful information on how to become a secret shopper.
Some companies may also ask you to pay a fee to register or join their group. Again, you shouldn't have to pay anything. Mystery shoppers are independent contractors. They're not marketing company employees. Cathy Stucker has offered great advice for years on this subject online and in her book, "The Mystery Shopper's Manual." She said most secret shopping groups will provide you with a biography of the owner or company executives you are being paid to check. She said if you aren't given any information, that's a bad sign. Her website, www.mysteryshoppersmanual.com also lists mystery shopping companies. You can visit these sites to apply for jobs. Remember, if they come looking for you, you know they're not part of a legitimate secret shopping network.
Contact Betty Sexton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-0000.