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Scammers Shopping Around for Next Victim, Literally

Photo: The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs warns consumers to beware of secret-shopper offers they receive through email or phone calls. Photo credit: aimeelow/morguefile.com
Photo: The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs warns consumers to beware of secret-shopper offers they receive through email or phone calls. Photo credit: aimeelow/morguefile.com
July 29, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Getting paid to shop sounds like the perfect job, and while plenty of reputable companies conduct consumer research with the help of secret shoppers, plenty of scam artists use the practice as a window into your bank account.

The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs has received complaints related to mystery shopping scams. Megan Buell, its director of marketing and outreach, said there are things you should look out for.

"People need to be very vigilant and very aware of any type of email solicitations that they're getting when it comes to secret shoppers, when it comes to even coupons," she said.

Never deposit a check you receive in the mail from a mystery shopping company, Buell said, because no legitimate business will pay you in advance and ask you to send back a portion of the money. She also advised against opening or responding to email asking you to become a secret shopper, and said never to click on or respond to ads offering free gift cards.

Scammers are becoming more sophisticated, Buell said, and even the act of opening an email can leave your personal information vulnerable.

"Once you start communicating and replying back to these criminals, she said, they are savvy and they have ways of hacking and getting into your information and causing complete havoc in your life."

In legitimate mystery-shopping arrangements, consumers will shop at a store, report on their experience and are reimbursed for their purchase or are allowed to keep their purchases. Depositing checks can be dangerous because a bank will cash a deposited check within days, but it may take several weeks to discover the check was fake. It's the consumer, not the scammer, who ultimately is responsible for the check.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN