Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa warns that if you’re looking for extra income, it can be tempting to consider ads that recruit “mystery shoppers.” Legitimate businesses, nationwide, do use mystery shopping – also known as secret shopping, performance evaluations, service monitoring and quality auditing -- as a means to monitor service quality. Market research firms, training companies, merchandisers, temporary agencies and other businesses specialize in recruiting mystery shoppers. Unfortunately, so do scam artists. Their advertisements claim: “You get PAID for shopping at big name, recognized companies because we need Professional Business Evaluators!”
A consumer from Wakefield was looking for additional job opportunities online. She clicked on a pop-up advertising “work at home.” Shortly after providing her name and address, she received a letter stating that she was “accepted as a secret shopper” for a job “sponsored by Walmart, Kmart, and Home Depot.” The letter appeared to come from a company called DA Systems, LLC in Auburn Hills, Mich. It gave the name of a contact person, an email, a fax and a phone number, but there was no street address. A check for $1,983.15 was included with the letter.
As directed, the woman went to the company’s website at www.dasystemsgroup.com and entered the ID number and Password provided in her “job” acceptance letter. She was also instructed to activate the check online by providing her name, address, Social Security number, date of birth and to deposit the check in to her personal bank account.
After several days, the woman went back to the company’s website and was given Assignment #1 - to test the services of Western Union. As directed, on Monday, Aug. 4, she sent $976 (plus a $68 fee) by Western Union to a person in Madrid Spain, who had her identical last name. Her second assignment was to test the services of MoneyGram. On Aug. 5, she wired $476 (plus a $9.50 fee) to a man in Atlanta, GA who had a different first name but also happened to have the same last name as hers.
BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty stated, “The wire transfer services are trained to ask consumers questions, especially when wiring money out of the country. In this case, they did not question the woman because they probably assumed it was being sent to a relative.”
The third assignment was to spend $76.15 at Walmart where she purchased food for this amount. She answered the surveys for each assignment and submitted them online. During this entire process, the consumer never spoke directly with any person. All communications were via the Internet.
On Wednesday, Aug. 6, her bank contacted her and said the check was returned as “no account,” and that she will need to pay the bank $1,960. Unfortunately, the woman did not have the money, so she had to take out a loan for the amount she owed.
BBB offers the following tips for persons contacted about mystery shopping jobs:
• Ignore claims that you will make big profits easily.
• Avoid falling for claims that “guarantee” a position, without training.
• Be cautious of unsolicited mailings, e-mails or advertisements offering “work-from-home” jobs.
• Be on the lookout for businesses that send checks and ask that you use money from the checks to pay for your shopping assignments. Bogus checks often look real.
• Never pay money in advance. A legitimate mystery shopping service will not charge money for materials, training or recruiting. Never give them your credit card or bank account numbers.
• Never wire money to businesses you know little or nothing about. Wiring money is the same as sending cash. Once the money is gone, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover.
• One resource for determining whether a mystery shopping job is legitimate is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) at www.mysteryshop.org.
• Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 800-649-6812 or 800-856-2417(Kansas only).
Better Business Bureau, Inc. (BBB) has been assisting U.S consumers and businesses since 1912 and is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing trust in the marketplace. Accountability, education and recognition of business role models are key components to the BBB’s mission. Today BBB serving Nebraska, South Dakota the Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa is supported by approximately 10,000 Accredited Businesses that have voluntarily committed to adhere to BBB’s Standards of Trust. Consumers are encouraged to visit bbb.org for Business Reviews on over 4 million companies or to report complaints and possible scams.