Home New York Press Releases 2010 The FBI New York Reminds the Public to Beware of Mystery/Secret Shopper Schemes

The FBI New York Reminds the Public to Beware of Mystery/Secret Shopper Schemes

FBI New York January 20, 2010

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York Office is warning the public to remain on the lookout for employment schemes related to mystery/secret shopper positions. Where many corporations legitimately hire mystery shoppers to secretly evaluate the retail locations of their respective company and/or their competitors, fraudsters have found a way to capitalize on this industry by purporting to hire individuals for these positions only to funnel money for personal gain and, in certain circumstances, to commit identity theft. 

Applicants are often subject to an extensive background check in which personal information is obtained. They are then sent a check with specific instructions on where to shop and how much to spend. Once the specified amount has been spent, the remaining funds are considered payment to the employee for their contribution. Once the merchandise has been purchased, the employee is notified by the banking institution that the check received was counterfeit and they are now responsible for the merchandise payment in addition to any fees incurred by the bank. In other cases, money is directly deposited into the employee’s personal bank account. The fraudster now has access to this account and will withdraw money, thus resulting in identity theft.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has recently seen an increase in employment-related schemes of this nature. In order to avoid becoming a victim of mystery/secret shopper employment schemes, the following tips are suggested:

  • Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses.  Only open attachments from known senders. Virus scan all attachments, if possible.
  • Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
  • Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine if they match and will lead you to a legitimate site.
  • There are legitimate mystery/secret shopper programs available. Research the legitimacy on companies hiring mystery shoppers. Legitimate companies will not charge an application fee and will accept applications online.   
  • No legitimate mystery/secret shopper program will send payment in advance and ask the employee to send a portion of it back.


It is important to remember that schemes of this nature can only take place with the public’s participation.  The FBI New York is reminding everyone to remain vigilant when solicited by potential scam artists and to use the above suggestions as a guideline in protecting your identity.

Special Agent Richard Kolko, spokesman for the FBI in New York said, “We remind the public to be on constant alert for crooks that are looking to exploit services and financial information for their own personal agenda. It is ultimately everyone’s responsibility to remain the front line of defense in protecting their identity. The FBI encourages everyone to report information regarding scams of this type to the proper authorities. Be smart—protect yourself. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.”

If you have information regarding mystery/secret shopper schemes, or believe you have been a victim, we encourage you to file a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

For more information on new e-scams, warnings on common fraud scams and additional tips and suggestions, please visit www.fbi.gov.

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