How to spot a scam

Getting paid to shop as a side gig — how cool is that? It can be very cool if the gig is legitimate, but if it turns out to be a fraud it’s not cool at all. While there are many legitimate mystery shopper opportunities to be found, it’s essential to know how to spot the scams.


What is mystery shopping?

Some retailers and restaurants hire people to try their products and services, to then report to them on their experiences. A typical arrangement has mystery shoppers, or secret shoppers, paying for products out of their own pocket to be reimbursed later by the retailer. Shoppers may also receive additional compensation for this service.


How to spot a scam

Mystery shopper scammers are highly adept at masking their scams as legitimate opportunities. Here’s how to tell the difference:


  • You are asked to pay up front for the opportunity to cover training or certification costs. No legitimate company charges people to work for them.
  • The company wants to charge you for a list of mystery shopping jobs. The same information is available for free.
  • You are asked to wire money or buy gift cards as part of a mystery shopper assignment.
  • You are asked to deposit a check into your bank account and send money back. You’ll be sending back your own money because the check is fake.
  • You are guaranteed to make a lot of money. No legitimate company will make that guarantee, especially since it’s only a part-time gig.
  • You are told the opportunity is provided through the MSPA. The Mystery Shoppers Professional Association (MSPA) is a legitimate trade association that does not hire or advertise for mystery shopper jobs.


Legitimate mystery shopper opportunities can be found through the MSPA, which lists companies that use mystery shoppers to collect customer experience data.


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