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Consumer Information: Mystery Shopper Scams

Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities are out there, but so are plenty of scams. If an opportunity is on the up and up, you won't have to pay an application fee or deposit a check and wire money on to someone else.
What is Mystery Shopping?
Some retailers hire companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores; they often use mystery shoppers to get the information. They instruct a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product or service. Sometimes the shopper receives a small payment, as well.
Many professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a part-time activity, at best. And, they add, opportunities generally are posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.
Don't Pay to Be a Mystery Shopper
Dishonest promoters use newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are a gateway to a high-paying job with reputable companies. They often create websites where you can “register” to become a mystery shopper, but first you have to pay a fee — for information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.
It's unnecessary to pay anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The certification offered is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free, and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are listed on the internet for free. If you try to get a refund from the promoters, you will be out of luck. Either the business won't return your phone calls, or if it does, it's to try another pitch.
Don't Wire Money
You may have heard about people who are “hired” to be mystery shoppers, and told that their first assignment is to evaluate a money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram. The shopper receives a check with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account, withdraw the amount in cash, and wire it to a third party. The check is a fake.
By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money has posted to the account, but when the check turns out to be a fake, the person who deposited the check and wired the money will be responsible for paying back the bank.
It's never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don't know and then wire money back.
Tips for Finding Legitimate Mystery Shopping Jobs
Becoming a mystery shopper for a legitimate company doesn't cost anything. Here's how you can do it:
- Research mystery shopping. Check libraries, bookstores, or online sites for tips on how to find legitimate companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well as how to do the job effectively.
- Search the internet for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications online. Dig deeper. Shills may be paid to post positive reviews.
- Remember that legitimate companies don't charge people to work for them – they pay people to work for them.
- Never wire money as part of a mystery shopping assignment.
- You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don't need "certification" to look – or apply – for assignments in its database.
In the meantime, don't do business with mystery shopping promoters who:
- Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper's 'help wanted' section or by email.
- Require that you pay for “certification.”
- Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
- Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
- Sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers.
- Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.
If you think you've seen a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with:
- The Federal Trade Commission
- Your state Attorney General

Sparks Fraud- Warning about Phone Scams


What you need to know


Scammers have been calling our customers and pretending to be from Spark, in an attempt to gain personal details and then scam money from our customers.

The most important thing to know is Spark will never call you out of the blue and ask for personal details like bank account, credit card, or internet banking details.


How to recognize a scam


The scams follow a few different patterns, but the most common story we hear is scammers call claiming to be from Spark’s technical team and say your computer has issues and unless you sort it out over the phone you will be disconnected for weeks or even months. They may ask you to:


- Turn on the computer and look through the computer’s logs
Go to a webpage (such as Team Viewer) and download remote access software
- Give credit card information or an international money transfer so they can charge you for the phoney services
- They might put a password your computer and refuse to remove it until you pay them.
-  If you think you’ve received a scam call and want to let us know about your experience, you can email us at scamhelp@spark.co.nz or fill out the form below. We monitor the details you provide us in your emails and use them to block scammers where we can, or if appropriate share them with the Police.


What if I already gave my information to a scammer?


- If you have shared bank details, call your bank immediately to let them know.
- If you have shared any other details, make sure you change passwords for your computer, email, or social media accounts.
- If you’ve done anything on your computer at their request, then you should immediately disconnect your computer from the internet.


How to avoid being scammed


Be very cautious about providing personal details, particularly banking or credit card details, to someone who has called you out of the blue. If you have concerns about the call’s legitimacy or if you feel uncomfortable, hang up. Some other helpful tips for keeping yourself safe are:


- Make sure to keep your software and anti-virus programmes up to date.
- Don’t use the same password for your online banking, email, and social media accounts.
- Change your passwords regularly and don’t go back to old passwords –always set up and use a new one.
- Look out for your friends and family and please spread the word and share ways to keep safe.


How can I report my experience to Spark?