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Avoiding mystery shopping scams

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(CNN/KYTX) - Getting paid to shop may sound too good to be true but mystery shopping is a real job. Unfortunately, scammers are using it as an opportunity to make money.

They don't hide when they shop. They don't wear a disguise when they go out to eat.
But the good ones --- are hard to spot. Chip Younkin is one of them -- he's a real mystery shopper. The retired Dallas teacher is paid to go out to eat up to six times a week.

"It's observation and reporting of whoever took care of you," says Younkin

This is exactly what Sandra Smalls thought she was signing up for.

"If you would like to become a secret shopper."

But she ended up losing 19-hundred dollars.

"I cried ...

Smalls was scammed.

"...and he said what are you crying for, it is not your fault. I said but how am I going to make it up."

So how do you tell the difference? The easiest way is to know how the real companies work. So we contacted Consumers Impressions -- a legitimate mystery shopping company that's been in business in North Texas for more than twenty years.

"Most people really don't think it's a real thing," say Jody Paul of Consumer Impressions Inc.


Last year -- owner Jody Paul employed more than three-thousand shoppers. Businesses pay her to collect feedback from their customers. One of her biggest clients is Whataburger.

"This was the first one in Dallas County," says Whataburger franchise owner John Heiman.

John Heiman owns 16 Whataburgers in East Dallas. He has a mystery shopper visits each of his restaurants every month.

"It keeps you on your toes a little more because everyone that comes in you wonder if he's the one and so that really raises the level of service."

While scams will make the job sound quick and lucrative, real mystery shopping rarely is. Chip Younkin records his entire meal and then spends up to an hour filling out the report. Often just for a free hamburger and less than $15 dollars.

"A lot of people want the meal, but they don't want to write the report. We get that fairly often," says Jody Paul of Consumer Impressions Inc.


So while mystery shopping is a real job, don't fall for believing that it's a job for everyone.

Another important difference to remember -- a legitimate mystery shopping company will never ask you to send money to them. And if you are still unsure -- contact the Better Business Bureau.


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