12 Signs Of A Mystery Shopping Scam

Common sense will go a long way in protecting you from scammers masquerading as mystery shopping companies, but here’s a list of warning signs just in case you’re feeling especially gullible the next time you come across a mystery shopper ad and think, as you stare across the cubicles at all the assface jerks you work with, “This might be my ticket out of here.”

  • You must pay an application fee.
  • You must be certified, likely by the company.
  • You have to buy a list. You’re asked for lots of personal information.
  • They contact you because of a resume you posted on a job Web site.
  • You’re guaranteed that you will get jobs.
  • You’re told you get to keep thousands of dollars in merchandise.
  • You’re promised that it will take only a few minutes a day.
  • You are promised that you’ll earn thousands in your spare time (or even a more modest $30 an hour).
  • The company is based outside the U.S.
  • You will have to handle lots of money.
  • They’re not in the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.

“12 signs of a fraudulent mystery-shopping company” [MSN Money]

Mystery Shopping Providers Association
(Photo: ninjapoodles, who is a regular Consumerist reader, so please don’t call her kid a “creepy looking woman”)


Edit Your Comment

  1. fluiddruid says:

    Here are some other good sites to check if you’re interested in getting into the industry (MSPA is an industry site, it does have some shopper information, but it’s paid for by mystery shopping companies):

    [www.volition.com] (Info and forum)
    [www.msfreedom.org] (Forum)
    [www.mysteryshopsmart.com] (Newbie info)

  2. smitty1123 says:

    They forgot this one: you found out about the company from a pop-up ad on a “free” porn site.

  3. joemono says:

    Some of those sound like qualities of any kind of scam. No one earns thousands in their spare time, unless maybe they’re already filthy rich.

  4. joeblevins says:

    Yeah, while I was stuffing envelopes at home for cash these ads keep popping up.

  5. fluiddruid says:

    Also, mystery shopping companies typically don’t pay hourly, but their sites sometimes do legitimately advertise that way. I just did a mystery shop yesterday that paid $30, and took about an hour, so it’s not unreasonable (though that is above industry standard especially if you are a beginner).

  6. JPropaganda says:

    That mystery shopping site requires that people shell out a hundred bucks to be certified…going against number 2.

    I’m so very very confused.

  7. beernut says:

    I did some MS for 7/11 where all I bought was beer and smokes, fully reimbursed for it all, got to keep it all and paid on top of it all. ahhh the good ole days

  8. topgun says:

    That woman in the picture is creepy looking.

  9. vildechaia says:

    I don’t think that’s a “woman.” Looks more like a pre-teen to me! And, yeah, she IS creepy-looking.

  10. @vildechaia:

    yeah; 1, maybe 2 years too young for you =/

    in any event, I assumed all “myster shopper” postings were scams, and that most (if not all legitimate companies) hired their own “inside rating” division

  11. saltmine says:

    This is hilarious. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says never to pay to become a shopper. And then offers certification. That costs $15.

  12. ninjapoodles says:

    Um, the “creepy-looking woman” in that picture is my FIVE-YEAR-OLD daughter. She’s like three and a half feet tall. Wow, folks.

  13. Auntie M. says:

    You don’t have to be certified to mystery shop, though. I’ve done several and it’s a great deal – I get my oil changes free. I’ll be doing other shops – I’ve never paid a fee.

  14. algormortis says:

    Same here, Auntie M. In fact, I had an awful experience with this chain (a local one) and wrote to the customer care people. Someone saw this email, sent it up the chain, and the director of customer service refunded the oil change and the errant, unwanted work, gave me a freebie transmission flush (i needed that) and pulled me on as a mystery shopper. (It’s a Northwestern chain, if you’re curious.)

    I’ve also done shops for a couple of major national restaurant chains that don’t compete with the restaurant I work for on the weekend, and though it’s not my kind of food you can’t beat free dinner for two AND $10. They tend to be especially interested on the waitstaff perspective.

    I think part of mystery shopping is that it lets the good eggs be recognized for being good and it sorts out the bad apples fast.

  15. @ninjapoodles: ha ha ha
    Yeah, I thought it was obvious that she was a child from, you know, her height relative to the cart. And also because she looks like a child. *shrug*
    Sorry your kid got called a “creepy looking woman.”

  16. @ninjapoodles: Also: small world! I found the photo by doing a generic search on Flickr. Funny/odd that it ended up belonging to someone who’s a regular Consumerist reader…

  17. Xerloq says:

    @JPropaganda: You don’t have to be certified to get a job. From their site:

    Am I guaranteed more work or higher pay if I am certified?

    No, however the certification may give you an edge with some companies. Imagine two shoppers in the same town, with the same experience and work performance. One is certified and one is not. All other things being equal, the certification sets one shopper above the other with some companies.”

  18. ninjapoodles says:

    @chris walters: Anytime I happen to snap one out at a store or something that I think would apply, I try to add it to the Consumerist pool on flickr. And I’m not *really* bothered by some random stranger’s weird comment (because, honestly, she’s a beautiful kid, inside and out)–just thought it was odd that anyone would think she was older than preschool age!

    Maybe it would have been more clear if you’d used this one, from another shopping trip: [www.flickr.com]

  19. stickystyle says:

    Okay, let me get a pen so I don’t forget….

    ‘Sounds too good to be true, probably is.’

    Okay, got it.


  20. girly says:


    She is cute and but I think that in this particular picture her naturally defined features make her look like she is wearing makeup.

    I think that was what confused/disturbed people.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    @ninjapoodles: She looks like a great kid, smart and sweet. I particularly like her wry expression in the pict. If she asks, be sure to tell her never trust feedback from people that can’t tell a primary school kid from a grown-up. Or, “They’re just silly-heads”. Whichever works best.

    Oh, and tell her: NEVER put bread in the main basket – it’ll get crushed! :D

  22. misstic says:

    Re: the girl in the picture. Did Dakota Fanning’s agent mess up???? Was a mystery shopping gig all she could get? LOL!

  23. ninjapoodles says:

    Could also be the way she clutches her little handbag like Sophia from “Golden Girls.” I think there was a rock, a plastic ring and a stuffed poodle in there.

  24. girly says:

    @ninjapoodles: You know what I think is really cute, is that she reminds me of the illustrations of Alice in Alice in Wonderland.

    I have a sister that looked like that as a kid, too. (whereas I looked more plain/boyish)

    You should check it out and tell me if I’m just being weird. [www.alice-in-wonderland.net]

    Seems like it would make an awesome halloween costume.

  25. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @ninjapoodles: I thought the picture was hilarious (and obviously a children :)
    Perhaps she is distressed by how much salt is in that prepackaged processed luncheon ‘meat’ product.

    And why is there salt in chocolate milk?

  26. ninjapoodles says:

    Heh–it does look like she’s holding a package of lunchmeat, but it’s actually a kitchen timer!

    And yes, I love those old Alice illustrations!