Consumer Beware

This Is What A Mystery Shopping Scam Looks Like

mystery shopping scam, fraud, spotting a scam

Mystery shopping is a great way for a person to earn some extra cash in their spare time. Prospective shoppers sometimes have misconceptions about what the process looks like, having grand illusions of staying in hotels or having a dinner at a fancy restaurant paid for by someone else. While those opportunities do exist, the vast majority of mystery shopping opportunities pay very little. However, it is that illusion of being able to quickly make a large sum of money that exposes them to being ripped off.

A family member who knew I did some mystery shopping called recently to ask about an opportunity he had stumbled upon. He had been in contact with a supposed mystery shopping service, texting and emailing back and forth with them for about a week. Their interactions led to my family member receiving a package in the mail with the materials and directions for his first assignment.

He was to deposit a check for $2700 included in the package into his bank account. Within 24 hours of the deposit, he was to go to various wire transfer outlets in his area, wiring $200 from each location. He was then supposed to fill out a survey for each transaction to rate the quality of service of the wire transfer stations. The transactions would only use $2000 of the funds delivered to him, and he could keep the remaining $700 as payment for his efforts.

He thought it sounded legitimate, but wanted my opinion.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

There are several things about this scenario that raised red flags to me:

The Amount Of Money Involved

Mystery shops usually deal with small sums of money. Only a handful of times in the five years I’ve done mystery shops has a shop dealt with more than $100. Even when that was the case, shoppers applying for such jobs are required to to be experienced and proven that they can get the job done with quality. Never would a first time shopper be given a job that involved this much money.

The Timing Of The Payment

Mystery shopping payment always takes the form of reimbursement to the shopper. Mystery shopping services require their shoppers to prove that they’ve done the work, and filled out all the forms before they payment is given.

Time Requirement

When a person deposits a large check, typically the bank puts a hold on the funds for a certain amount of time to guarantee the funds can be verified.

What I suspect would happen is the check would be deposited, and the wire transfers completed. Someone on the other end would receive the legitimate wire transfers and funds withdrawn from my family member’s account. Then, a week or two later the check would be deemed fake, and the deposit reversed. My family member would then be responsible for paying back the funds used in the wire transfers.

My family member was on the brink of being scammed out of $2000. I recommended that the incident be reported to the local police.

Mystery shopping is a great way to make some extra cash, but potential shoppers need to correctly set their expectations. Most shops pay between $10 and $30, and take a fair amount of work. If the details of a job offer a large payment for little work, it’s likely a scam.

Have you done any mystery shopping? Have you ever personally been offered what you believed to be a scam?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • @MoneyBeagle – True story. I did an internet search, and apparently this is a fairly common scam. If someone falls for it, it’s almost impossible to get your money back since you transferred the money voluntarily….

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