Business

Saturday, Feb 16 2013 12:00 PM

Action Line: Don't pay to be a secret shopper

BY JOEY FERNANDEZ Contributing columnist

Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line:

I have been approached to be a "Secret Shopper" and have concerns it is a scam. While the company has a website that appears legitimate, a different website is reporting that there are associated scams. I have sent an inquiry to be one, but have not given them any personal information (except what you can find in the phone book) or funds. Can you please advise me? I look forward to your response.

Dear Reader:

This is of great concern to us here at the BBB. We often see these types of scams. There are at least two types of scams that these fraudulent businesses use.

The first scam relates to a company's effort to sell themselves as a pathway to high-paying mystery shopper jobs with big-name companies. Scammers will promote a website where you can "register" to become one of their shoppers. In this scam a fee is required to get information on their "certification" program, get a directory of mystery shopping companies or to guarantee a mystery shopping job.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is unnecessary to pay money to anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The shopping certification offered in advertising or unsolicited e-mail is almost always unnecessary. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free, and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are on the Internet for free. If you are asked to pay money for the privilege of working, you are likely being scammed.

The other and more harmful of the mystery shopper scams involves being "hired" to evaluate a money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. You, as the shopper, would be sent a check for a substantial amount of money; often more than $,2000. You are then instructed to deposit it into a personal bank account, withdraw the cash, keep a couple of hundred for yourself as pay for your services and wire most of it to a third party. The idea is that the shopper will be "reporting" on the experience with the money transfer service.

Later when the fraudulent deposited check is found, the person who deposited it is subject to prosecution or at the very least, they must reimburse the bank out of their own pocket. As transparent as this whole scheme may appear, people who are suffering from economic pressures have found it irresistible, especially when presented with what appears to be a legitimate check for thousands of dollars.

Avoid becoming a victim to mystery shopper scams by taking these steps:

* Use resources like bbb.org or ftc.gov to check out the company you are considering doing mystery shopping with.

* Remember: It costs nothing to become a mystery shopper. Never pay to work as a mystery shopper. Legitimate companies pay you to work for them.

* Never wire money as part of a mystery shopper assignment.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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