What is a Secret Shopper Scam?

Mary McMahon

A secret shopper scam is a scam which takes advantage of people who are interested in secret shopper jobs. Entirely legitimate secret shopper jobs do exist, and are an important part of the evaluation process for many companies, and wide public awareness of such jobs has led to increased interest in them, and a subsequent plethora of scams.

Secret shoppers are vital in the evaluation process of many companies.
Secret shoppers are vital in the evaluation process of many companies.

In the most basic secret shopper scam, someone responds to a solicitation which claims to be seeking secret shoppers and is told to shop at a series of stores. The shopper is supposed to send the receipts and evaluation paperwork to the company coordinating the job, so that reimbursement can be provided, but it never arrives.

Check scams are extremely common.
Check scams are extremely common.

In more complex scams, people are asked to pay a fee to access a database of secret shopper jobs. They are guaranteed employment, told that the database is extremely detailed, and assured that they can make a great deal of money as secret shoppers. After paying the fee, the database may not exist at all, or it may contain readily available public information which could have been obtained for free. Needless to say, there is no guarantee of employment, let alone the ability to make money as a secret shopper.

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The most serious secret shopper scam involves tricking someone into cashing a fake check. The victim responds to a solicitation or is mailed a solicitation out of the blue, receiving a packet of evaluation paperwork and other materials designed to make the job look legitimate, along with a cashier's check for a large sum. The secret shopper is told to cash the check, keep part of the funds for expenses, and create a money order for the rest, sending the money order to another location.

In this scam, the victim cashes the fraudulent check and mails the funds, only to realize later that the check was bad, and that the funds came from the victim's own account. In some regions, the victim may be held liable for the amount of the bad check, getting into legal trouble in addition to losing a great deal of money.

There are a number of ways in which people can avoid a secret shopper scam. In the first place, people should know that secret shopping companies will never ask their employees to cash large checks and send part of the funds from the check to another location. Check scams are extremely common, and people should avoid any type of business deal in which they are asked to cash a large check, use the funds to create a money order, and send the funds to someone else. Secondly, people should avoid paying fees to access information about secret shopping jobs, and they should ignore solicitations which look too good to be true.

People should be aware that there are a limited number of positions for secret shoppers in the world, and most people who do secret shopping do not do it as a full time job. Secret shoppers also do not make very much money; often, their compensation comes in the form of being allowed to keep the products they buy with the funds provided by the secret shopping firm. If people are not sure if a job offer is legitimate or a secret shopper scam, they should check with the regulatory agency which oversees businesses which operate in their region of the world.

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