Last week our Communications Coordinator at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) informed us of her recent dealings with a supposed market research company who requested her services.  She received a phone call and email requesting her participation in mystery shopping.  Working as part of a market research firm, she immediately had her guard up and knew this market research study sounded suspicious.

Here is a quick recap of what took place:

“I received a call a while ago about participating in a mystery shopping project.  Already being skeptical, I decided to pass them my email to see what information they would send me regarding the survey project.  I received the email through my professional account, and, out of curiosity, I decided to respond to learn more about the opportunity. Almost immediately, I received a reply email that stated a check for $3,500 was being sent to me and, after I received the check, more information about the assignment would be provided. At this point, I simply deleted the correspondence.

A few days later I received a letter in the mail from South Africa, which contained only a check – no explanation and no assignment. I had no intention of depositing the check, as I imagine this is where the scam lies. I did, however, send an email to the account that had initially contacted me and got an automatic response stating it had been deleted.”

Market Research Scams

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Lots of suspicion surrounding this “mystery shopping project.”  I would assume this scam has something to do with the cashier’s check being sent.  So when the person does cash the check, it would probably bounce, and the person would be stuck paying the penalties.  It’s important to know that not all mystery shopping projects are scams.  There are lots of legitimate market research firms across the country that specialize in true market research and will pay your for your time and efforts.  RMS is one of these “good guys.”

Tips to help you determine if a mystery shopping project is reputable:

  • Ask for a company website, and visit the company website.
  • If they are contacting you from outside the country, it should raise suspicion.
  • Make sure they provide you specifics – details on the process and directions on what needs to be done.
  • Most if not all mystery shopping projects come with criteria for evaluation (through forms or online.)
  • Be suspicious if the firm asks for any upfront payment.  Mystery shopping firms will not force you to sign-up for any certification beforehand or make you pay out-of-pocket before beginning the research.
Here is a good link from the Federal Trade Commission, which provides guidelines for mystery shopping:

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) in Syracuse, NY is an independent market research firm who often offers paid studies for legitimate clients.  If you are interested in participating in paid market research studies (surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, mystery shopping), click here to register for our research panel.  Honoraria for surveys and focus groups can range anywhere from $25 to $250 depending on the complexity of the market research study. Some studies also offer entries into sweepstakes to win gift cards upwards of $500 or more.  If you have any questions about the legitimacy of the RMS market research panel, contact for more information.