Anatomy Of A Scam

Recently, our Better Business Bureau heard from a person who had received what they thought was a legitimate job offer. The letter they got in the mail looked quite official, had a BBB seal on it and informed them they had been chosen to become a secret shopper. The envelope also contained a check made out to them for $2,950.75! The instructions they received told them to call the number on the letterhead to “speak with an account representative to activate your check.”

From there, their instructions were to deposit or cash the check and then:
1) Go to any Western Union and wire back $2,320.
2) Visit a local Walmart and purchase $100 worth of items.
3) Visit a Walgreens and purchase $100 worth of items.
4) After doing these things, the letter said the ‘employee’ could keep $300 of the original $2,950.75 as payment for their services. The rest of the money ($130.75) would be for ‘Western Union fees.’

After completing these tasks, the person was told they would have to evaluate their shopping experiences and fax their evaluation forms back to the company to complete their assignment. It all sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Regrettably, it isn’t — at all. The check the consumer received was no good. Thousands of checks like this are sent out to potential victims each and every day. Had this person cashed the check and followed those instructions, they would have been out all the money they spent AND the money they wired back to the scammers. Thankfully, they chose not to accept this “offer.”

Unfortunately, too many people do fall victim to scams like this. Though there are legitimate mystery/secret shopper companies, none of them operate as outlined above. Any time you’re asked to pay money upfront or wire money to get a job “as part of your job duties,” that’s a sign you’re heading for big problems and you should take a step back before you wind up getting swindled-or worse.

The person who was presented with this fraudulent offer had been applying for jobs, so when they received the letter, their guard was down. They simply assumed someone had read their resume and decided to offer them a job. And though the letter looks fairly official upon first glance, there are many, many grammatical, punctuation and capitalization errors through the body of the letter. As an example, here’s how the letter closes:

Help us prevent Identity theft. Do not give anyone the items listed below:

Passport number, drivers License, social security number, with your help we can stop this epidemics.

So even though it appears they’re saying the right things, they’re not stating them well at all, and no legitimate company or organization is going to send out a letter with this many grammatical and spelling errors. If you’re thinking about becoming a mystery shopper or receive a letter like offering you a position as a mystery shopper, you should:

  • Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper with a MSPA-member company, a database of available jobs, and additional information on the industry in general.
  • Remember that legitimate companies don’t charge an application fee, nor will they send you a check, ask you to cash it and then wire funds back to them.
  •  Keep in mind that being a mystery shopper is at best a source of supplemental income; you will not get rich.

For more information on how to avoid scams, visit