Are "mystery shoppers" on the Internet a scam?

Although there are valid mystery shopper jobs available on the Internet, scams are common as well, reports the Federal Trade Commission. A number of signs, including over-compensation and email solicitations, indicate the illegitimacy of a mystery shopping opportunity.

Mystery shopping scams typically offer large amounts of money as compensation, whereas legitimate mystery shopping pays quite modestly, according to CBS Money Watch. Real mystery shopping companies require shoppers to purchase goods or services at their own expense, states the Federal Trade Commission. Shoppers then send in an evaluation, and the company reimburses them for the purchase. They are allowed to keep the product, and they sometimes receive a small fee. Scammers typically solicit mystery shoppers via newspaper ads or email messages, offering large rewards for enrollment fees, certification fees or the cashing of fake checks.

Consumers should not pay to receive mystery shopping opportunities, as lists of mystery shopping jobs are available for free on the Internet, warns the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers should never give out personal or financial information, or deposit checks and wire money to unknown people or companies. One of the most common scams involves illegitimate mystery shopping companies sending bogus checks for large amounts of money, and requesting excess funds be returned or forwarded via the mystery shopper's personal bank account. When the check bounces, the consumer is liable for the whole amount plus penalty fees.

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