Getting paid for shopping may sound like a dream job to many. However, job seekers have to be careful. Often, the ads for these jobs are actually come-ons for phony check scams that could wind up costing you big. Even when they are legitimate, these jobs often take so much leg work and pay so little that the employee loses money or makes so little that the effort seems wasted.
Proliferating in post recession
These kinds of legitimate jobs, as well as the scams that feign legitimacy, have been around for a while. In the last five years, however, as the job market has become flooded with recession-weary applicants, they have proliferated.
Vanessa Oddo, a security manager for SAFE Federal Credit Union, said 200 to 300 phony checks are spotted at her financial institution every year.
“We’ve been seeing it pretty frequently since 2005,” she said.
Phony check scam
Here’s how the scam works. Interested job-seekers answer a classified ad looking for mystery shoppers. They are “hired” by an unseen employer, either over the phone, online or by mail. Next, they receive a check that they are then supposed to deposit into their personal bank account. Then they are asked to wire most of that money back to the scammers, retaining a portion for their trouble. The conceit is that the mystery shopper is checking up on the wire service. But really, the check is a phony one. It bounces, leaving the so-called employee’s bank account liable for the money.
Another scam associated with mystery shopping is selling lists of companies that hire them. There may be some legitimate contacts on these lists, but those can be tracked down fairly easily on the internet without paying for them. Often, the contacts on these lists are stores who might be — but probably are not — interested in hiring a mystery shopper.
Companies that do hire mystery shoppers don’t hire them directly. They go through temp agencies geared to that type of work. However, even legitimate gigs generally offer very low pay and require takers to drive from store to store at their own expense. That gets expensive with today’s gas prices.
In addition, you use your own money to purchase items and are reimbursed by the company later. Since many of them only pay monthly, you may be tying up a significant portion of your money for nearly two months.
If a mystery shopper can get a number of gigs in the same area, it may be possible to make this work as a way to make a little extra money. It is unlikely, however, that anybody can make a living a it.