Selected Article
Title Mystery Shopping Providers Association Warns Consumers: Beware of Holiday Check-Cashing Scams
Date Published 12/07/2006
Author Hart Associates
Publication Media Alert

Consumers Around Country Caught By Fake Money Order Scams

DALLAS, Dec. 7, 2006 – The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), the largest professional trade association dedicated to improving service quality using anonymous resources, wants to make sure consumers are aware of check-cashing scams popping up across the country this holiday season.

A check-cashing scam offers consumers the opportunity to make “easy money” by cashing a large sum cashier’s check and evaluating the service they receive when they wire the money to another location, typically outside the country. The “reward” offered to consumers is a percentage of the original cashier’s check as payment. In these scams, the check bounces several days later and the consumer is held liable for the entire amount of money wired to the international address – typically between $1,000 and $5,000.

"The biggest challenge for consumers with the check-cashing scam is the fact that scammers frequently use the names of legitimate mystery shopping companies in the letter they send to potential victims, and the cashier’s check contains the name of a real bank and looks real," said MSPA Executive Director John Swinburn. "The bottom line for consumers is this – if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Consumers who receive a similar offer are urged to contact authorities, including the local police, the FBI, and the Federal Trade Commission. If the offer is received via mail, consumers should also contact the U.S. Postal Service.

Consumers should also be cautious of e-mails offering free food, shopping trips, dinners and other elaborate gifts for a small, one-time fee. These offers typically provide information on how to become a mystery shopper, rather than actual mystery shopping jobs. The good news for potential shoppers: information on how to become a mystery shopper is available for free on the MSPA Web site,

Mystery shopping is a valuable tool used by some of the largest retailers, restaurants and banks to understand and enhance the experience they provide their customers. However, it is not a quick and easy way to make a large sum of money and receive numerous freebies. The MSPA has developed the following tips for those interested in becoming a mystery shopper:

  • Prospective shoppers do not have to pay a fee to become a mystery shopper. Shoppers should be extremely wary of any mystery shopping offer that requests a fee.

  • Visit the MSPA Web site ( for a list of reputable mystery shopping companies and opportunities. Contact the companies directly, not the MSPA, for more information on how to become a shopper.

  • Be patient. It takes time, sometimes months or even longer, to be contacted with an offer to conduct a shopping assignment.

  • Be cautious of opportunities that offer large sums of money for simple tasks like cashing a check or wiring money. A typical mystery shopping evaluation will earn about $10 to $20. If an assignment sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To learn more about the Federal Trade Commission's information on cashiers check scams, visit the FTC Alert on the topic).

If you think you’ve been targeted by a counterfeit check scam, report it to the following agencies:

  • The Federal Trade Commission: Visit or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

  • The U.S. Postal Inspection Service: Visit or call your local post office. The number is in the Blue Pages of your local telephone directory.

  • Your state or local consumer protection agencies: Visit for a list of state Attorneys General, or check the Blue Pages of your local telephone directory for appropriate phone numbers.

    About the MSPA

    With more than 200 member companies worldwide, the MSPA has a diverse membership, including marketing research and merchandising companies, private investigation firms, training organizations and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services. Its goals are to establish professional standards and ethics for the industry, educate providers, clients and shoppers to improve quality of service, improve the image of the industry and promote the membership to other industry associations and prospective clients.

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