It is some comfort, in these uncertain economic times, to know that there are still rewarding occupational opportunities out there, such as being a mystery shopper.
How else to explain the messages that appear daily in the email inbox and spam filter (including one that arrived as this column was being written), offering employment? “The assignment will pay $300.00 per duty and you can be able to get up to 2-3 duties in a week depending on how fast you are able to execute the first assignment,” promises one.
Alas, the likelihood of launching a highly remunerative career as a mystery shopper is as great as landing a career as an NFL starting quarterback. One tipoff is that most of these recruitment messages have been sent from AOL and Gmail accounts, an odd practice for companies purporting to work for some of the world’s biggest retailers.
Another is the scam-alert messages posted on websites of at least two legitimate companies whose names appear in these suspect emails.
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And if those aren’t convincing enough, there’s the warning from the Federal Trade Commission that mystery shopping is a real business, but emails invitations to become a mystery shopper are a long-running scam.
A milder form of the scam is to charge applicants to become mystery shoppers. Says the FTC, “It’s unnecessary to pay anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The certification offered is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free, and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are listed on the Internet for free. If you try to get a refund from the promoters, you will be out of luck. Either the business won’t return your phone calls, or if it does, it’s to try another pitch.”
Secret Shopper, one of the legitimate firms whose names get used in those pitches, backs up the FTC’s warning. “Secret Shopper does not and has never charged a shopper to affiliate with us,” the company says.
The company also outlines a more severe form of the mystery-shopper scam. “Someone claiming to be with a legitimate company such as Secret Shopper (sends) out large counterfeit cashier’s checks or money orders. The shopper is told to cash it and wire the majority of the funds via MoneyGram or Western Union, then keep the rest as their ‘pay’ for the shop. … The FDIC requires banks to make funds available on cashier’s checks and money orders within 1-5 days, so the scammers are counting on you receiving the funds and going through with the wire transfer before the check or money order has actually cleared the bank. By the time you find out that the check is not legitimate, you are out the money you sent and will be held accountable for the bounced check by your financial institution.”
Well, that doesn’t sound pleasant. And as for the prospects of big paydays, Secret Shopper advises that for its assignments, “The normal range of payments is $12 to $25. For some shops, such as a restaurant, the payment may be to reimburse you for the cost of a meal for two.”
There goes that fantasy.
The mystery-shopper scam, again to judge from the flow of emails, is in full bloom, but it’s been around awhile, and eventually it will wilt in popularity, to be replaced by the next. The volume of messages imploring the recipient’s assistance in moving millions of dollars from some West African country has dwindled to the occasional missive.
The inbox used to be stuffed daily with emails purporting to be from a bank phishing for personal account information. Most were from financial institutions the targeted victim had never done business with, or were riddled with grammatical and typographical errors; in either case they could be easily dismissed as fraudulent. Those too seem to have fallen out of favor with the criminal element, again judging from the recent dearth of such messages. Our friends at the “Windows Security Center,” alerting us to a just-detected computer virus on our computer, never call anymore.
Still popular, however, are the messages that one’s email account has reached its capacity, or has become infected, or needs to be updated, or is about to be closed, and please be sure to click on this attachment or this link to remedy the problem. Those are likely attempts to grab personal information, or to implant a virus that can be used to send out spam to other computers, or to lock up and hold a computer for ransom, or just for general vandalism.
Eventually those too will be replaced by some new scam. So the time spent imagining how you’ll be spending that wealth garnered from your mystery-shopping career can instead be spent in contemplation of these questions: Where’s the next scam going to come at us from, and in what form?
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.