The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
Police agencies across Michigan are reporting a recent rash of unsolicited mailings offering consumers the opportunity to earn $300 to $800 per week while acting as a "mystery" or "secret" shopper. The mailing generally includes an authentic-looking cashier's check for around $5,000. The cashier's check is supposed to cover the cost of completing the required mystery shopper tasks and provide consumers with training pay. Unfortunately for unsuspecting consumers, the check is a fake and the opportunity is a scam.
According to the letter contained in the mailing, to become a mystery shopper all consumers have to do is complete a paid training assignment within a short time period. As part of the training, consumers are supposed to pose as shoppers and spend approximately $100 of the cashier's check at various major retail and restaurant chains and evaluate the service received. Consumers are even allowed to keep the products they buy.
The retail shops are intended to make the scam seem legitimate. Consumer are asked to conduct their training at a major retailer or fast food restaurant like Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Lowe's, Best Buy, J.C. Penny, Burger King, and other major chains. The scam artists want consumers to believe that they are affiliated with these companies. The company logos may even be on the letter included in the mailing.
In addition to shopping at a major retailer, consumers are asked to use most of the money they receive to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of Western Union or MoneyGram. To do this, consumers are required to transfer thousands of dollars to "training agents" in Canada or other foreign locations. After completing the electronic transfer, consumers have to immediately send a copy of the MoneyGram or Western Union receipt to a fax number provided in the initial mailing. Due to the short time period consumers have to complete these tasks, their banks generally do not learn that the cashier's check is counterfeit in time to prevent them from transferring money to a stranger.
The scam works by taking advantage of the delay between the time that the cashier's check is deposited and when the bank discovers that the check is counterfeit. In some cases, due to the quality of the counterfeit check, it may take several days, or weeks, for the bank to discover that the check is a fake. By that time, the money has been transferred and the consumer is responsible for repaying the bank thousands of dollars.
Although there are many scams involving alleged mystery shopping opportunities, there are some legitimate opportunities. If you are interested in becoming a mystery shopper remember the following points:
Legitimate mystery shopping companies will never promise large sums of fast cash or require consumers to pay a fee to become a mystery shopper.
Be weary of unsolicited requests to become a mystery shopper sent through the mail or via e-mail. Search the Internet for mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications.
Be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters who charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website 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.
Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form