Choosing your Mystery Shopper Provider: Check for this Credential

Choosing your Mystery Shopper Provider: Check for this Credential

When you’re choosing a company to spearhead your mystery shopping and data gathering, there’s a lot of choices out there. But there’s one credential that you should make sure that your mystery shopping provider has: membership in MSPA Americas (Mystery Shopping Professionals Association), the professional trade association for the industry. MSPA Americas is a professional organization and resource that connects and supports the businesses that influence customer experiences through managing, quantifying, interpreting, enhancing and re-defining the customer experience.

The association recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at its annual meeting in Vancouver, a format where member companies—including The Consumer Insight—shared ideas, interacted with industry experts and learned about the latest industry trends. It’s a diverse membership that includes marketing research and merchandising companies, loss prevention firms, consumer survey providers, and companies that specialize in providing mystery shopping services.

MSPA Americas is at the forefront of raising awareness of the mystery shopping industry, our services and educating freelancers about the unfortunate proliferation of mystery shopper scams, which we’ve written about previously.  I’m proud to be elected as a member at large for the board of directors of MSPA Americas and to help our customers understand the leading-edge practices in this dynamic industry. The Consumer Insight offers a broad range of services for leading brands, including audits, mystery shops, brand ambassador programs, telephone surveys, customer satisfaction polling, merchandising support assignments, and competitive analysis.

Internet Scam Response Guide

How to Identify the Signs of a Scam

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recommends that a business train its staff members to be on the
lookout for internet scams. Signs that your business could be the target of a scam include:

You receive a disproportionately large number of returned emails. This is a sign your email address and/or website might have been illegitimately copied and is being used to scam others.
Retain a copy of these emails and forward them to the FTC at spam@uce.gov

You receive an email that was sent to a large number of recipients, but appears to be sent to you personally.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and FTC recommend that companies become better
educated about scams and protective measures by:

Visiting their Scam Alert websites: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts
Note that mystery shopping is explicitly listed on this website. http://www.ic3.gov/about/default.aspx
Joining the FTC’s Scam Alert email list: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFTC/subscriber/new?topic_id=USFTC_31.

Respond Promptly in the Event You have Been Targeted by a Scam

State and Federal law enforcement officials are prepared to respond to internet scams. The FBI and FTC recommend the following actions in response to internet scams:

Create a file of evidence of the scam. The more information you can collect regarding a scam and provide to law enforcement officials, the more likely they will be able to shut down the perpetrator. The following are examples of relevant information:1

Any contact information of the individual or business that perpetrated the scam:
E.g., any name, address, telephone number, email address, and/or website.
The name and position of any representatives.

Specific details of the scam:
Dates of any events or transactions;
The dollar amount of any loss;
Method of payment; and/or
Method of contact
Pertinent documents regarding the scam:
Printed or electronic copies of emails;
Printed or electronic copies of webpages;
Documentation of payment;
Envelopes from mail correspondence;
Chat room or text message transcripts; and/or
Facsimiles
Contact information for potential witnesses.
Contact information for other victims.

Report fraudulent or suspicious emails and websites to your internet service provider. It can investigate and potentially shut down the perpetrator.2

If you believe your website has been spoofed, notify your webhosting service. It can assist you with any additional remedial steps and help investigate the incident.3

Report incidents to law enforcement officials:4
File a report with the FTC. The information in your report will assist FTC and other law enforcement agencies in investigating the incident. https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/Information#crnt&panel1-1

Report incidents to your State’s Attorney General.

A listing of State Attorney Generals can be found here: http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php

File a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center if you were the victim, were
targeted, or are aware of a scam. http://www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx

Report scams perpetrated though the mail to your local postmaster.

If all member companies are vigilant in becoming educated about internet scams and in promptly reporting suspicious internet activity, the mystery shopping industry will become an increasing unattractive target for scammers.

1 Federal Bureau of Investigation – Internet Crime Complaint Center, Frequently Asked Questions, available at http://www.ic3.gov/faq/default.aspx.
2 Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Says Web “Spoofing” Scams are a Growing Problem, available at http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-says-web-spoofing-scams-are-a-growing-problem/.
3 Id.
4 Federal Trade Commission, 10 Ways to Avoid Fraud, available at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-ways-avoid-fraud; Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Says Web “Spoofing” Scams are a Growing Problem, available at
http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-says-web-spoofing-scams-are-a-growing-problem.

Avoid Mystery Shopper Scams

Recently TCI has seen an increase in mystery shopping scams. We want you to be aware of the scams and learn how to protect yourself. Scammers will fraudulently say they work for a mystery shopping company in order to trick you into sharing personal information. As we get closer to the holiday season, and people are interested in earning extra income, these scams become even more widespread.

HOW TO IDENTIFY THE SCAM:

The scam can begin by you receiving an unsolicited email (often referred to as phishing) that “looks” legitimate, and may even include the TCI logo, but will often contain glaring grammatical errors or missing words. The email address is from an AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, or other non-corporate email address. All of our official mystery shopping opportunities are emailed from Communications@trocglobal.com.

Be very suspicious if you are sent a large “check” in advance of performing a “mystery shop” with the instructions to deposit the “check” in your personal bank account. The scammer will then tell you to keep a fee but wire the remaining balance to the sender. The check will bounce, and you will be out whatever money you wired to the fake company. TCI does not issue paper checks; we disburse payments through PayPal or WorkMarket. We will never ask you to cash a check in order to purchase products, goods, services or gift cards.

Never agree to pay a fee to register for mystery shopping opportunities and never provide personal information. These fake companies promise to find you the best, highest-paying, fun jobs in your area — for a fee. Big red flag! TCI and all legitimate mystery shopping firms will never ask for personal information via email, and will never ask for money from a shopper to become “certified” or get a list of mystery shopping opportunities. For additional information, see Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA).

WHAT TO DO

If you suspect you’ve received an email from a fraudulent company, or been a victim of a mystery shopping scam, here’s what you can do:

Forward any suspicious mystery shopping email to us at Communications@trocglobal.com and provide us with as much information about the person or persons involved, so we can help stop the scammers. We have been actively filing police reports on any incidents that come to our attention.

Contact your local police department, and file a police report with the Cyber Crimes unit

Tell your state Attorney General

Alert the Federal Trade Commission

Call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 877-908-3360

Use the BBB Scam Tracking Tool

Remember, always be skeptical when you are asked to wire money in any business transaction. Unlike credit card payments where you can get fraudulent payments erased or sending a check that you can stop payment on, wired funds are irretrievable from the moment they are sent.