12 Signs Of A Mystery Shopping Scam

If you’ve ever been curious about becoming a “mystery shopper,” a person paid by a company to check in on a store’s performance, you should know there’s lot of fraudulent mystery shopping companies out there. Bargaineering has 12 warning signs to look out for if you think one of these jobs is a good way to pick up extra cash, like:

“An application fee is a sure sign that your mystery shopping company is a fraud. What job would ask you to pay an application fee? The answer is none.”

In general, you should beware of an “opportunity” requiring anything in the advance payments. And anything that looks too good to be true, like promising lots of money for very little work, is also highly suspect.

12 Signs of a Fraudulent Mystery Shopping Company [Bargainnering]
(Photo: Getty)


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  1. kenposan says:

    My wife and have done mystery shopping. Can’t beat a free meal that REQUIRES you purchace an alcoholic bevrage. LOL

  2. coan_net says:

    I did a Mystery Shopper thing a few years ago. It was for Wal-Mart.

    What I was to do was go into Wal-Mart, buy a gift card for $15 – then use the $15 at the Wal-Mart gas station.

    After that, fill out an on-line form and then wait for my $15 check.

    (Not a big deal since I need gas, and at most I would be out time for doing the survey).

    After about 2 months, I was getting offers to do more mystery shopping, but declined basically because I never got my $15. But then after about 4 months (A VERY LONG TIME), I did end up getting a check for what I was owed, but since I declined some of the other mystery shopping tasks, they never did offer any more to me.

    Anyway, yea – as long as (1) you don’t pay any money upfront, and (2) it is not to buy something you don’t need or waste money (for example, they offered me tasks to buy smokes – but I don’t smoke, so I wasn’t about to lose my money with those) – the only thing you might lose is the time to fill out the survey.

  3. kimdog says:

    Back in the 80’s my family was a Shoney’s mystery shopper- we went WEEKLY, and they paid for the entire meal for a family of four. Man, I got really sick of Shoney’s, because we did this for 2 years. But since we were kind of poor, it was a great thing. Although my mom was always scared they would figure out we were shoppers, and we would be fired. You had to report on everything down to the minute (when you walked in, were greated, were seated, were given water, orders taken, food arrived,etc.) My mom had a little notebook, and she would write everything down covertly. I think I’ve eaten at Shoney’s once in the last 15 years.

  4. legotech says:

    I used to mystery shop and recently came across the journal I used to keep track of how much I was owed and by whom…the jobs were usually for between $5-$10 plus reimbursement for lunch/dinner which wasn’t bad, it was the retail ones where you got $5 and had to go buy something and then return it the next day and do two surveys and you didn’t even get to keep the product.

    There were a few jobs that were worth it, but you have to keep on top of signing up for the jobs and do them right on time and within every little detail they say or they won’t pay.

    Volition.com used to have a good list of solid non ripoff companies.

  5. XTC46 says:

    Mystery shoppers are funny. They are typically really easy to spot and are fun to toy with. At one store I worked at, we new who the mystery shopper was, but never told the managers. The company sent the same person once a month for the year I worked there. She would always come in around the same date and the same time. I would send waves of sales people at her offering every single service and product we had to offer at the time, and while in the store she was almost never out of arms reach of an employee, even if they were just straightening shelves.

    We were the number 1 store in the country for mystery shops and got a bunch of awards for it. When me and the people I worked with all quit (manager was a bitch) we took our awards with us and let corporate know that our manager knew who the shopper was for the past year.

  6. theblackdog says:

    Corporate got sick of hearing from us after we installed cameras in the store. We would reference the video tapes after we got our secret shopper reports, and often we caught them falsifying some info.

  7. fluiddruid says:

    I do a lot of mystery shopping. A good place to start, if you’re interested in the trade, is mysteryshopsmart.com. The community is really active in forums, too, like msfreedom.org.

  8. fluiddruid says:

    D’oh, I should have made them direct links like a smart person:


  9. fluiddruid says:

    D’oh again, it’s [www.mysteryshopsmart.com]

  10. North of 49 says:

    Ms No49 was a mystery shopper – until she got a nasty infected second degree burn that required heavy antibiotics and missed doing an “emergency shop” that the organization “desperately needed” done. Those “desperate needs” shops drove her nuts because she would offer to do them and would never get it, yet a week later, another email would come in and there’d be the “desperate need” to do one.

    They never contacted her after saying “sorry, I got badly burned” and checked on her to see if she was better or able to do more shops.

    Wtf ever. If the shop wasn’t done “just right” they wouldn’t pay her either and it was always some sort of small technicality too. Missed a name tag, didn’t write the stuff in the right order, whatever. She’s says she’s never been happier since being “fired.”

  11. RandomHookup says:

    They can be a lot of work for only a little money. The best way to make out on them is to stick to one kind of shop with the same company (such as fast food). You get a free meal and a little scratch for your efforts. If you do well and meet some requirements, you can move up to the ones that pay better money. But you are competing with housewives and students and freelance writers, so it all works to keep the pay down (though I’m amazed how well they pay when they are up against the wall to get the shop completed).

  12. BigNutty says:

    I thought about this once but didn’t feel the pay was high enough for the time involved.

    Does anyone know of a company that pays about $10 per hour or is that unrealistic in this type of industry?

  13. gacompguy says:

    My wife and I used to mystery shop for Bugaboo Creek. It was a pretty good deal: get an appetizer, main course, and desert and they would cover the cost (up to a $50). When they complained to me that we always ordered the same thing, I pointed out the what we ordered was under $50 and that we had never been told to order more than that. We had one really bad experience on a particular mystery shop and it was reflected in our report. We stopped hearing from them after that.

  14. thalia says:

    Heh, my roommate tried signing up for one of those, but because she was new they would only give her a $10 job (which would cover her ticket at the particular shop). She ended up going to a party and forgetting about it, called me at the last minute and said that if I did it, she’d split the profits with me. Gee, so, spend $10 on a ticket, do all of her work for her, and maybe get $5 from her eventually? As if. She was really pissed when I told her no thanks.

  15. RandomHookup says:

    @BigNutty: While you can make $10 (including the freebie — meal, merchandise, oil change), it takes a while to do it consistently. There’s a food chain with these…experienced shoppers get the best shops and the better fees. Once you factor in the prep time, travel time, shop time and report out time, it’s maybe $5 an hour until you are doing some of the higher end ones. The best are when you can combine one trip into 2 or 3 shops at one time.

    There is one company that pays $10 to ship packages…usually only takes me 30 minutes and I can do 10 a week.

  16. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    I’ve been a shopper for about four years and shop just about every type of service and product-oriented business you can imagine.

    It is NOT a way to support yourself. It’s not easy work, it’s not for the non-detail-oriented, it’s not $10 in 10 minutes, or even $10 an hour.

    I started doing it to help make ends meet, then kept it up because I enjoyed the work and the occassionally freebie. I’m extremely picky about shops and do only those that are so convenient I’d be going to the store anyway. It’s now just free money in my Paypal account that I can spend on ebay or Silver Jewelry Club.

    Rule #1. Don’t pay for shops, including for certification. Research companies for legitimacy on sites like Volition’s forums.
    Rule #2. Don’t expect it to be something it’s not. TANSTAAFL–no one wants to give you something for free. There will be work involved, you will be required to be meticulous about noting timing, details, names, descriptions, number of customers and staff, prices, exactly what was said and by whom, and more. You will not only have to spend x amount of time in the store, but you will need to submit a report online within a specified amount of time, submit the receipt via a certain method (online, via email, fax, or mail) within a specified amount of time, and keep records until you get paid (which ranges from a few weeks to a few months after the job). If this comes naturally to you, as it does to me, it may very well be worth a free meal and $10.

  17. homerjay says:

    I can’t believe so many of you have done this. I had no idea it was such a popular gig.

  18. quail says:

    When I did retail you could always tell when the mystery shopper / price comparison shopper / corporate spy came through the store. Certain areas always had their price tags missing from the shelves. Come on guys, bring a notebook and write things down for goodness sakes. It always meant 20 minutes or more to replace the tags.

  19. CamilleR says:

    The secret shoppers who come to our store generally ask for something we don’t carry and then buy the cheapest thing in the store. Our store failed a couple of shops because we didn’t suggest alternate items (she asked for narrow width shoes and we didn’t suggest she try the normal width that wouldn’t have fit her) and we didn’t ask her to open a charge (who’s going to open a charge to save 10% on a $3 pair of clearance earrings?).
    Of course, after reading the reports, I’m convinced the shoppers our company hires are idiots. One asked for a sweater and said the clerk asked if she wanted cotton or polyester (not a question any of our employees would ask since none of our sweaters are 100% cotton). My favorite described the clerk as having short hair when the girl in question has hair down to her waist. Anyone that unobservant shouldn’t be a secret shopper.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the article and the comments. I believe any job that asks you to pay them is wrong. Who pays their employer? It should be the other way around. Most people do mystery shops to earn a little extra cash and most shops only pay a few dollars anyway.