We at Elite Survey Sites always advise you to stay away from companies that ask you to pay to join their membership programs in order to take surveys or become a mystery shopper. If they ask you to pay to play, they are probably not legitimate. Generally, the legitimate paid survey and mystery shopping sites are free for users.
However, even the free sites can lead to trouble. There are some scammers out there who offer a free signup, but they use it to entice people to give them their personal details. They will post mystery shopping ads that are paying more than anyone else in order to draw you in. Once they do that, they will ask you for personal details that you should never give to any company but you may think it is normal and typical and fall for it. They ask these questions in order to steal your identity or other personal information and take advantage of you.
You should watch out for these scams by following a few simple steps anytime you are signing up for a new paid survey or mystery shopping site.
There are a few signs that you can look for initially in order to recognize these scams and stop them dead in their tracks before they have your personal information.
- They ask for you to pay them to become a shopper
- They want to send you a paper check and ask you to deposit it
- Their offers are too good to be true – if they pay is really high and the work is really easy, it is probably not legitimate
- For example, a site that offers to pay you $50-100 per hour for mystery shopping is likely a scam
- They ask for more personal information than other similar sites
- If they ask for your social security number, it does not necessarily mean that they are fraudulent, but you definitely need to perform your due diligence by following the steps in the next section
More about the check scam
The check mailed to you in exchange for services is a very popular scam that a lot of people fall for every single day. This scam typically goes something like this:
- You stumble upon an ad somewhere or someone emails you or text messages you
- They are offering to send you a check in the mail, which you will deposit into your bank account
- You will then proceed to perform some service for them, in this case, mystery shopping
- You will keep a portion of the check as your payment and wire the remainder of the funds back to the company
How does this scam work?
The check that is sent to you is probably fake or comes from a random person’s account whose identity has been stolen. It may take a week or two for this check to clear, which it won’t. The bank will discover that the check is fraudulent. However, the scammers will not give you enough time to find this out. They will rush you to send them their “portion” of the payment, and by then it will be too late. You may think the check is good because the bank took it, and the funds appear to be “available on X (date)” but the check will bounce. The check will not clear and you will have already sent the wire transfer to the scammer. You will be losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars in this scam.
If a mystery shopping site did not scare you off or show any of the obvious signs of being a scam, and you are considering signing up, the next step is to do some quick research and verify their integrity.
The quickest and easiest thing to do is google the term “____________ reviews” while filling in the blank with the name of the mystery shopping company. If the site is a scam, you will likely know this within moments of performing a google search of this kind. It will often take you right to Consumer Affairs, Snopes or the Better Business Bureau and will confirm whether the mystery shopping site is a scam or not.
Here are a few more ways to identify and verify these mystery shopping offers:
- Call the company that you are being asked to shop for – go to their website and call their corporate office and verify that the offer is genuine. Many of these scams will use big company names on their materials to make you feel safe. Do not use the phone number provided by the mystery shopping offer, because the number may be fraudulent as well.
- Some of these scams are impersonating legitimate mystery shopping companies – one way to avoid this is to keep a very close eye on the URL (web addresses) that you are applying on. They may own a URL that is very similar to a legitimate company – maybe it is just one letter or one word different and if you are not vigilant you may miss it altogether. Also, if you have any cause for suspicion do not hesitate to reach out to the mystery shopping company directly and find out if there is anything fishy going on.
- If you were asked to deposit a check during the process, you could deposit it and wait for it to clear. Just ignore the persistent emails until the check clears. If it clears, it is probably legitimate. If it bounces, it is not.
- Mystery shopping for Western Union is probably a scam – one of the largest check/mystery shop scams going around right now is the offer that you will be “mystery shopping Western Union.” They say this to get you to do the wire transfer, thereby sending them your hard-earned money and having no recourse to recoup it.
- There is a scam marketing itself as BestMark – Bestmark Inc is a legitimate mystery shopping company with a great reputation. There is one scam that is masquerading as BestMark and preying on innocent people. Even if they do a google search on BestMark they will find good reviews everywhere. This scam in particular requires the shopper to deposit a fake check, purchase Vanilla Visa Gift Cards and then take pictures of the cards and send them to BestMark. The cards are immediately drained, and then the check bounces and the shopper is out however much they spent on the gift cards.
- Never send money via WesternUnion or MoneyGram unless you know the recipient of the funds personally. Unlike a credit card, you are sending cash by using either of these two vehicles, and the money is unrecoverable.