Don't Fall for This LinkedIn Mystery Shopper Job Scam

Avoid getting conned on the networking site. Plus: Learn how to earn extra cash as a legitimate mystery shopper.

Mystery shopping is a great way to earn extra cash. And a message with an offer to work as a mystery shopper sent via the professional networking site LinkedIn might seem like a legitimate opportunity. But, unfortunately, it’s the latest approach scammers are using to target victims.

Scammers have long used e-mail and traditional mail to promote bogus mystery shopping jobs, says Rich Bradley, president of MSPA North America, the trade association that represents mystery shopping business owners. But now in a new twist scam artists posing as IntelliShop, a legitimate MSPA North America member, are sending bogus mystery shopping offers to LinkedIn members.

“This is a relatively new approach,” Bradley says, but the con is the same. The LinkedIn scam, as well as virtually all mystery shopping scams, takes one of two basic forms. In the first and simplest, potential victims are asked to pay upfront to become mystery shoppers. The scammer keeps the cash but no job materializes. In the second and more complicated, victims are asked to cash a large check, then use part of the money to shop at certain stores, keep a portion of the cash and wire the remainder back to the bogus mystery shopping agency. But in the end, the check bounces and the victim is responsible for covering the amount of the fraudulent check. The scammer, of course, pockets the portion that was wired back and disappears.

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Bradley says that MSPA North America’s bylaws prohibit its members from asking mystery shoppers to pay upfront for an assignment. And no legitimate firm would send a check prior to the completion of a mystery shopping evaluation—or even an unsolicited message to recruit mystery shoppers, he says.

MSPA North America urges consumers who have received unsolicited LinkedIn messages about mystery shopping to report them to LinkedIn. Never respond to unsolicited messages asking you to be a mystery shopper or click on any links within the e-mail, which could lead you to a fraudulent Web site or download malware onto your computer.

To find legitimate mystery shopping opportunities, you can search for an assignment with an MSPA North America member. Most industries including retailers, restaurants, physician practices, financial institutions and even government agencies use mystery shoppers to evaluate their customer service. Assignments can range from visiting an establishment and filling out a short questionnaire to in-depth evaluations that can pay several hundred dollars, Bradley says. It’s advantageous to sign up with several firms to increase your chances of getting assignments, he says.

For more legitimate money-making opportunities, see our stories about 25 Ways to Earn Extra Cash and 10 Great Work-at-Home Jobs.

Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor,

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.