Better Business Bureau: BBB Scam Alert: Secret shopper job sounds cool, but it’s really a scam

Milwaukee, Wis. – You’ve been invited to check out one of your favorite retailers to secretly shop their store and evaluate the quality of service and product availability. The best part? You get to keep the items plus earn a paycheck as a mystery shopper.

If this sounds too good to be true, it very well could be. Many mystery shopper opportunities are scams. Here’s how to tell a real gig from this common con.

How mystery shopper scams work

You receive an offer via email, text, or a social media network to become a secret shopper. In other cases, you may apply to a secret shopper job advertised online. Either way, the company offers you the job right away. You are so perfect for the position, they claim, you don’t even need to interview.

In the most common version of this scam, the company mails you a check to cover your secret shopper purchases. You are asked to buy a few things and send back the remaining money. Unfortunately, the check is a fake. It will bounce, and you’ll be left footing the full bill and the bank fees associated with it

However, scammers are getting creative with secret shopper cons. Be on the lookout for twists. For example, one victim told BBB Scam Tracker about the following: “I saw a job posting on LinkedIn for a secret shopper position. I applied and shortly afterward received a check in the mail. The check was for $2,470 and the business wanted me to go to local stores, purchase gift cards with $2,000, and keep the rest as pay. I was supposed to scratch off the security covers and send pictures.” In another version of this scam, con artists offer high-paying assignments with one small catch: you need to pay a registration fee to participate.

How to avoid secret shopper scams

  • Research the secret shopper companies before applying. Before applying to a secret shopper job, make sure the company exists, has working contact information, and has good reviews and feedback from previous employees. Search online with the company name and the word “scam” to find other reports.
  • Check the Mystery Shopper Professionals Association database. Visit MSPA Americas to search a database of MSPA members for legitimate mystery shopping providers. However, scammers do impersonate real companies and their job postings, so watch out for these other warning signs too.
  • Be wary of companies that hire on the spot. Real businesses will want to get to know you before they hire you. If a company reaches out to you out of the blue with a guaranteed position in their company, it’s probably a scam.
  • Beware of jobs that involve receiving and returning money. Legitimate companies don’t generally send money to new employees before work is done. They certainly don’t ask you to return funds that you’ve already been paid.
  • Never wire money or buy prepaid debit cards for strangers. Scammers love to ask people to wire money or send prepaid gift cards. Once you’ve wired money or sent the gift card information, there is no way to get your money back. Be very careful with these forms of payment.

For more information

To learn more ways to protect yourself from job scams, read the BBB tip on employment scams. Most secret shopper cons use checks. Learn more about your rights and responsibilities with checks.

If you spot a scam, report it to Your report can help make others aware of scammers’ tactics.For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.  ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Wisconsin which was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.