Warning: Mystery Shopping Jobs Can Get You Arrested

Written by:  Diane Sweeney – Staff Writer for Market Viewpoint, LLC

ShopliftingIf you receive our blog posts or newsletters you know that mystery shopping is a real gig! When you work for a legitimate mystery shopping company – you can make real money!

There is a lot of press about the traditional scams in mystery shopping where you are mailed a check, told to deposit it and then make a money transfer at Western Union or purchase gift cards and then share the card number and PIN with the ‘business’. The bogus check bounces, you end up out of cash, and the scammer is using the gift cards to make purchases.

Scammers are so rotten, they even pretend they are legitimate mystery shopping companies!

But now – the con men have gone to another level.

At present, it’s only been done in the UK, and it appears to target high schoolers looking for summer work, but we know how these cheaters work – and want to alert you before you, or someone you love or know, gets scammed.

Assignment: Steal High End Items

A woman clicked on a job website and reviewed a list of jobs. One said mystery shopper. She applied for the job and received a call from a company representative who detailed the assignment and then forwarded her legitimate forms and instructions.

The mystery shopper would visit stores assigned to her and she would take items from the store. She was to also note the typical items – cleanliness of the store, staff attire and demeanor, security guards, etc.

If she got out of the store without being caught, she was to put the items in plastic bags and ship them to the mystery shopping company.

If she was caught, she was not to reveal that she was working for the company until arrested and at the police station. Then the police would call the company and verify that she was working for them.

Needless to say, this made the news because the woman was arrested. The scam was revealed when no one could get in touch with the mystery shopping company and the store that she stole from confirmed they do not use mystery shopper services.

Be Warned

No legitimate mystery shopping company will ask you steal from their stores. Ever.

There are integrity shops where you may be asked to observe actions of staff members. But you would not ever be put in a position to steal or do anything illegal that could get you arrested or in trouble with the law. Ever.

With over 8 million real mystery shops conducted in the US alone each year, there is plenty of legitimate work.

Check MSPA-NA’s list of member companies for legitimate mystery shopping companies. Register with the companies and know which you want to work for. Do not open or reply to an email from a company with which you are unfamiliar until you check them out.

Share this with your friends, and especially the younger, job-hungry, vulnerable folks in your social circle. You could be saving someone from a police record and pointing them in the direction of a fun, profitable way to make money.

Let us know if you’ve been scammed. Post your comments below.


About Market Viewpoint

Market Viewpoint offers comprehensive mystery shopping services, complete customer service audits, employee and customer surveys, customer focused marketing strategies, and customer service training to help you improve your customer service and outshine your competition.
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10 Responses to Warning: Mystery Shopping Jobs Can Get You Arrested

  1. Ro says:

    I was asked by a legitimate company to purchase a Coach bag and conceal an item inside. I was to take a photo of the concealed item and attach it to my report and then return it to the store saying I found it inside when I got home. I had a letter from the company to show if I was caught at the store.

    • Rosemary – There may be companies that have done these types of shops in the past. But I don’t think many will take on this responsibility. If you were to ever consider doing one for your own protection, I would make sure I had the name and phone number of the manager who authorized this shop so authorities could immediately call that person to verify. Even then, we would not be comfortable asking anyone to do a shop like this.

  2. tina says:

    There was a shop that required you to leave a store with something left on the bottom of your cart to see if the employees would notice it. I never took it because it made me uncomfortable and I think you could legitimately get in trouble for doing this.

    • Tina – we always work by the ‘trust your gut’ discipline. We have a client who asks shoppers to put something in the bottom of the cart. If it is not noticed, they are to point it out. Should they forget, we advise them to put the item back before departing the store. I believe you are correct that you get legitimately get in trouble for walking out with an unpaid item. Thanks for sharing

  3. Connie Ellis says:

    I too had an offer from a legitimate company that wanted me to leave something at the bottom of the basket to see if it was noticed. If I am not mistaken, I had a letter from the company and was also to let security and the manager know what I was doing. I never did any of them though.

  4. CC says:

    I was going to mention the bottom of the cart shop mentioned above, but there is also the casino shop that has the shopper asking an employee where to purchase drugs.

  5. Clifford Golub says:

    I did an assignment for a well-known MSC. I met the safety and saurvalence area manager outside the store prior to the visit and was advised I was to a sealed item and hide a DVD or CD into the package to check to make sure the cashiers were checking ALL packaged to make sure that they were closed and sealed. I was advised my actions would be on video at all times and I had the backup of management. I was to meet the manager outside if or if not successful and return the items to customer service with the manager at the conclusion of the assignment. The assignment went as assigned and the associate did not check the package. I was told that this was to be used for a store wide training and was thanked after the completion of the assignment. I WAS paid on time and have seen the assignment around the holiday season for several years. Again this is a WELL KNOWN MSC.

    • Clifford – thank you for sharing. This MSC protected you and covered themselves by having you meet with the area manager on site. This is a well controlled situation where no one could be considered to be doing anything illegal. Examples that we cited, and others described, left too questions. You had the back up of corporate management and your MSC. Thanks for letting us know about yet another type of shop. Not everyone would be comfortable doing this shop either, but it is good to know about all these types of shops.

  6. David Mayo says:

    There was a shop that I do not see anymore. possibly because I deleted the MSC from my list of MSC’s I will work with. The shop asks a shopper to go to a drug store. The store is a COMPETOR of the client that requested the shop.

    The shopper was to gather prices of items on the shelf. Some of the shops were in areas where people shoplift. The security has cameras and will confront shoppers who act in a suspicious manner.

    Imagine being stopped by a security person brought into the security office and questioned why you are picking up over 30 items but not buying any of them. You can not say you are checking prices for a competitor. that is commercial espinoge The security might plant something on you to have a valid issue to show police.

    • Don Flynn says:

      David Mayo, I don’t think you are correct. I don’t think it is commercial espionage if you are legitimately checking prices, even if it is for a competitor. If questioned, I would probably say I was checking them for my own personal benefit, and that is not illegal. It is not even illegal to do it for a competitor as far as I know, but I still would not blow my cover.

      A security guard might want to question me as to why I was picking up over 30 items but not buying any of them. Ok, but that is not illegal. I would be polite at first but he would be on a short leash, and if he harassed me I would tell him to mind his own business.

      I suppose this is possible but that security guard would be risking a whole lot to frame someone he doesn’t even know. And the security cameras would likely reveal his antics, and that’s assuming he could plant something on me without me knowing.

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