Mystery shopping or secret shopping is a legitimate job and a fun way to make extra money but scam artists are giving the industry a bad reputation.



Wendy Bradshaw has been a contributing editor to the Consumer Journal since 2004. An award winning consumer advocate, Wendy is relentless in her pursuit of fair business practices and honest marketing. She is currently assigned to home employment and online business investigations.



Reader Feedback

Doug Oakley, Denver, CO
I never thought I'd be writing to a web reviewer but I wanted to share my experience with you. I found your investigation last Friday when I was looking for info on mystery shopping. It was a real education, I'll tell you. I visited your suggested websites and decided to try out Mystery Shoppers America. You were right, they're the real thing. I was offered my first shopping job on Monday morning. I accepted two more assignments since then. My hat's off to you. Thank you for the education and the honest information.

Barb Franklin, Racine, WI
Nice work Wendy! Keep fighting the good fight.

Merle Garbe, Naples, FL
Your reviews saved me from getting ripped off by an envelope stuffing scam a couple of years ago. Now that I'm looking to be a mystery shopper, I find you again! This is more than a coincidence. You're like my online guardian angel. Thank you Wendy. I'll try out one of your approved companies. I know you won't steer me wrong.

Vicki Coulis, Knoxville, TN
Thank god for your report! You saved me a lot of money. I foolishly signed up for a free list of mystery shopping companies thinking they'd help me find work. Sure enough, they sent me a fake check for $2,200 and an assignment to send money through Western Union at Walmart. I'm so glad I read your warning about this before I got taken. Thank you so much.

Peter Krug, Baltimore, MD
Your a real life saver. I amost wasted 35 on a scam agency. Good thing you warn people and tell us where the real jobs are. Thanks!

Jennifer Bachinski, Rockford, IL
Just letting you know that I've written about you on my blog and linked back to your investigation on mystery shopping. Your report is a must read for anyone interested in getting started as a paid shopper. I truly appreciate the time and effort you put into your research. Sincere thanks for your service.

Jeff Tindall, Provo, UT
Thanks for the tip on Mystery Shoppers America. I joined them last month and I been getting shopping jobs every day. The money is great and Im having tons of fun. You know your stuff. Keep it up!

Velusia Alba, Oxnard, CA
I'm writing to express my gratitude. Thank you again for helping me get my money back from that scam shopping agency. I still can't get over how they take advantage of people especially when times are so tough. Anyway, I took your advice and joined PSP and it's been great. It's good to know there's still a few honest companies online. I'm glad you're on our side. God bless.

Nicole Carter, Dayton, OH
Hey Wendy. It's been 1 year since I started mystery shopping thanks to you. Your the best!

Serena Ortega, Mesa, AZ
You saved me from joining a scam mysterty shopper agency. I found your website and saw the businesses that weren't recommended and there they were. You really opened my eyes. There are sooo many sites on your not recommended list that I thought were legit. I'm glad I found your website before I wasted my money on those scammers. If I joined that site I would've lost $40. I just got laid off and I can't afford to lose any money. So thanks alot. I'll never join any site without checking here first.

Anita Conti, Clifton, NJ
I got a fake check from one of the scams you wrote about. It was for $1685 and they said I could keep $400 of it for doing mistery shopping at a moneygram. I got really excited but my husband didnt beleive it so he did some looking around on the internet and found your artical. I was so mad when I found out the truth. But Im glad I found out before it was to late. You stopped me from making a big mistake. And I found out about the real shopping companies because of you. I joined the msp company and I got lots of offers to do shopping. I did my first shopping job today at Sears. It was alot of fun. Your information really helped me.

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Next: Wendy does an investigation into Rebate Processor work-from-home jobs.



By Wendy Bradshaw, Consumer Journal

. . .
It's supposed to be a secretive industry, yet the ads are all over the Internet: Mystery Shoppers Wanted! With so many online scams, the mystery is - are these jobs real?

. . .
Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is in fact, a very legitimate job that has been around for more than 50 years. It’s a $1.6 billion a year industry that employs over one million shoppers.

. . .
A mystery shopper is someone who gets paid to visit a store, restaurant or service. While in the establishment, the mystery shopper secretly evaluates things like customer service, store cleanliness and product quality. After the visit, the shopper fills out a brief questionnaire (shopper report) describing their shopping experience and gets paid for their time and opinions.

. . .
Mystery shoppers are paid very well and quite often, they are treated to free merchandise and free meals as part of the job. Professional mystery shoppers can earn over $60,000 a year, not to mention all the free products, perks and free meals they enjoy.

. . .
A shopping career can be very exciting, and for those who love to shop or dine out - it's the perfect job. But the biggest challenge for a new shopper is avoiding the scams while looking for honest work.

"Current investigation reveals that 82.3% of ads
for mystery shoppers are fraudulent."

. . . Over the years, I have conducted 12 full-scale investigations into mystery shopping. With each investigation, I am surprised by the growing number of scams attacking this industry. In the past few months, the scams are at near epidemic levels.

. . .
In my recent investigation, I joined 62 websites that were advertising mystery shopping jobs. And I uncovered one of the worst scams I have ever seen. At first, the scam looks like a helpful free service but you won't believe what's really going on.

Beware of Websites Offering
Free Mystery Shopping Opportunities

. . . In your search for mystery shopping work, you’ve probably come across some websites that promise you free mystery shopping jobs. All you have to do is sign up for their “free service” and they’ll send you mystery shopping jobs or a list of mystery shopping companies - right to your e-mail inbox.

. . .
They’ll send you stuff alright. But you won’t want it. These free offers are just scams designed to obtain your name and contact information.

. . .
First, your name and contact information will be sold to every spammer and scammer out there. Soon, your e-mail inbox will be flooded with junk mail and you’ll get annoying phone calls at all hours of the day from tele-marketers. But it gets worse. Much worse.

. . .
Within a few days of signing up with these “free” sites, the scammers will send you a letter offering a mystery shopping job to evaluate a money wire service like Western Union or Moneygram. Included with the letter is a cashier's check for a large sum of money. The check looks real - but it's phony.

. . .
The “assignment” requires you to cash the check at a local bank and then wire the cash to a designated location, typically outside the country. Your "reward" is that you get to keep a percentage of the original cashier's check as payment for the shopping job. But guess what?

. . .
That check you cashed will bounce and you'll be held liable for the entire amount of the money you wired. This scam could cost you anywhere from $1,200 to $3,500 - or more.

Beware of Mystery Shopping Check Cashing Scams

These Websites Are Not Recommended

. . .
Again, I strongly advise against signing up for a free mystery shopping service or a free list of shopping companies. All you'll get is headaches. These are the worst scams running.

How to Find Real Shopping Jobs

. . . The safest way to find real shopping work is by joining a registered MSP (Mystery Shopping Provider) Membership Site, which will set you up with hundreds of legitimate companies that will pay you for shopping.

. . .
The best sites of this kind offer a qualified support staff and online training for new shoppers. Certified MSP membership sites usually charge a small, one-time administration fee (roughly $30) for new shoppers but it is well worth the investment because these sites will connect you with legitimate work right away.

. . .
But here’s where you have to be careful. 95.2% of the so-called “membership” website are outright scams or downright suspicious.

. . .
The owners of these bogus sites have nothing to do with the mystery shopping business - they are just online marketers looking to make money by selling you an outdated list of non-existent companies for a fee.

. . .
They have no interest in helping you get shopping work, they offer no real customer service and sadly, they have no knowledge of the mystery shopping industry.

Here’s what you’ll get with a Scam Membership Site:

X Worthless Content. All you get for your money is an outdated list of companies and links that don't work. The majority of the companies listed in their “databases” are either not in business any more or simply not using mystery shoppers.
X No Customer Service and No Help finding jobs. Only nine of the 62 sites I signed up with even bothered to respond to my e-mails. To add insult to injury, most of the scam companies that ignored my e-mails were spamming me every day - trying to sell me more junk!
X No Contact Information. None of the shady websites lists a phone number and they bury their e-mail address so that it's difficult to find. These scammers don't want to hear from you after they've got your money. If you ever have a problem or question, it's next to impossible to reach them.
X Poorly Made Websites. The scam websites are all poorly laid out and hard to navigate through. Many have non-working pages and Advertisements! You'll have to click through page after page of annoying ads for get-rich-quick schemes before you even find anything to do with mystery shopping.
X Ongoing Monthly Charges. Many of the fraud sites will keep charging your credit card a recurring fee every month to milk you for every last penny. Legitimate MSP sites charge a one-time only activation fee for unlimited use of their resources and do not re-bill you for anything.
X No Refunds. Forget about getting your money back if you're not satisfied. Most of these fly-by-night membership websites won't respond to your refund requests. And once their website gets shut down due to complaints, they just start up another fake site under a different name.

Beware of Questionable Mystery Shopping "Agencies"

These Websites Are Not Recommended

Investigation Summary

. . .
Of the 62 Mystery Shopping websites investigated, I found 51 to be obvious scams, while 8 were suspicious or questionable. I have reported the scam sites to the proper authorities who assured me that these sites will be dealt with accordingly and probably shut down. I will continue to monitor the 8 suspicious sites.

. . . Now for the good news. You can get paid for shopping - without getting scammed.

. . .
Based on my research, I can recommend three websites out of the 62 investigated, as they have met my stringent standards to be legitimate sources of work. And they are all still accepting new shoppers.

. . .
Although I only rated three websites as reputable and legitimate, you can have absolute faith that the companies I recommend will deliver. I wouldn't risk my reputation if they did not.

. . .
The legitimate mystery shopping provider sites charge a small, one-time administration fee because they offer legitimate resources, qualified support and full training. They offer a valuable service and do not sell your information to anyone. These companies will never send you a cashier's check out of the blue or ask you to wire money anywhere.

. . .
In short, you’ll get real shopping jobs from real companies. Depending on where you live, you'll probably be offered shopping assignments right away. And each of my recommended companies offer an iron-clad money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with their service.

The Legitimate Shopping Providers

1) Mystery Shoppers America

. . . Mystery Shoppers America has received my rating as the best shopping provider for the past three years running. In business since 2002, with almost 19,000 shoppers in their network, they are the largest service of their kind. This company is a certified shopping provider and they give outstanding service to their shoppers and clients alike. Their resources are the best available, they have an excellent support staff for their team of shoppers and they even offer training for new shoppers. You are guaranteed to get shopping jobs with Mystery Shoppers America. Quite simply, they’re the best at what they do.

Click here to visit Mystery Shoppers America

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2 ) Paid Shopping Providers

. . . For the second year, Paid Shopping Providers has impressed me enough to earn my number two ranking. PSP is a smaller company with just over 8,000 shoppers but they’re very good just the same. The helpful staff at PSP are a real joy to deal with and this is reflected in their fun and light-hearted member’s area. This company meets all my criteria of what a shopping provider should be but because they’re a smaller company, new shopper positions get filled quickly. At the time of this writing they were still accepting new shoppers.

Click here to visit Paid Shopping Providers

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3) Shop Til You Drop

. . . Although Shop Til You Drop is one of the oldest mystery shopping information websites, this is the first year they made the grade. They have recently boosted their resources and made a number of improvements that have made enough of a difference for my recommendation. Their website is a little flashy but they provide a decent service and can connect you with some steady shopping work. Their member support is adequate and their resources are well maintained. They also offer some worthwhile bonuses to their members.

Click here to visit Shop Til You Drop

2009 Consumer Journal. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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