Secret shopping scam offers more risk than reward

Being paid to secret shop at some of your favorite stores may seem like the perfect job, but that may not always be the case.

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin warns consumers that a secret shopping opportunity may seem real at first glance, but could potentially do more harm than good. Since the beginning of the year, secret shopping scams have been reported 34 times through BBB’s Scam Tracker.

Here is how they work.scam image

The scammer will send you a letter or email that says you have been selected as part of a secret shopping survey for different companies. The message will include a money order or check with a high dollar amount.

Your instructions are to deposit the money into your account and cash it right away. You will then have to use the cash to secret shop a specific business, but will be asked to only use some of the cash. The letter will say anything you buy can be kept and you are allowed to pocket up to 100 dollars as commission.

But here is where the scam starts.

The next assignment is to wire the remaining cash through a money transfer company to a third party. However, you are not allowed to inform anyone of this transaction. Once everything is completed, you fill out a report and send it to the company.

This is the problem, the money order is not real. Neither is the third party.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, banks are required by law to make the funds from deposited checks or money orders available within days. However, figuring out they are fraudulent could take banks several weeks.

Once your bank knows the check or money order is fake, you will be responsible for paying it back. Plus, you will be deducted the amount you deposited from your account.

BBB offers these tips to keep you from falling victim to these type of scam:

  • Research the business. If a company or organization is mentioned in an ad or interview, try to contact the company directly. A search through the Internet can result in reviews and comments about specific mystery shopping companies.
  • Look out for uncommon secret shopping practices. A legitimate secret shopping company will not charge you for working with them or ask you to wire money. Additionally, you do not need a certification to take the job.
  • Never accept money from strangers. Taking money from someone you do not know is a sure way to land you in trouble. Remember, never share personal information like bank or credit card numbers.

If you feel like you have been the target of a scam, remember to report it using BBB’s Scam Tracker.