5 On Your Side

Some mystery shopper jobs are scams

Posted August 31, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2010 7:47 p.m. EDT

— Advertisements for mystery shopper jobs make promises like “make $40 an hour” and “get paid to shop and eat.” While these jobs might sound great, many are scams.

“There's no reason to pay anybody any money to mystery shop,” said Elaine Buxton, head of Confero, which employs real “secret shoppers.”

“We do thousands of mystery shops each year all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico,” Buxton said.

From restaurants to retailers to banks, Confero’s mystery shoppers help businesses find out how they're doing.

Buxton said she is concerned about recent scams that are targeting people desperate to find a job.

Amy Baker told WRAL News that she was bilked out of $1,800 in such a scam.

In the scam, a company offers to pay for a person’s shopping and dining options. People get an official-looking check in the mail. They are asked to deposit it, then wire most of it back, supposedly to test the wire service. When the bank realizes the check is fake, it's too late.

Because the check is fake, the person ends up wiring his or her own money back to the company.

WRAL viewer Michael Martin said he received an official-looking letter along with a check for nearly $3,000 to be a mystery shopper. It listed possible shops for companies such as KFC, McDonald's, Sears and Home Depot.

“You really should be suspicious of something for nothing and wiring money to anybody,” Buxton said.

To make the checks seem real, many of the scammers use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies, including Confero, Buxton said.

“They go to that company's website and they find a logo, they stick it on top of a letter, create a fake letter and then they print these fake checks,” she said.

Just getting an unsolicited check should be a red flag.

“We would never ask you for money. We would never mail you a letter from Canada with a check in it,” Buxton said.

Buxton added not to believe the promises that lots of money can be made by being a mystery shopper.

Typically, if a person mystery shops at a restaurant, the meal is the compensation. The pay for other shops depends on the amount of time involved.

“I think the average compensation for a mystery shop is about $15,” Buxton said. “So, I don't see this as being something that someone could make a lot of money doing.”