CTV Calgary Consumer Specialist Lea Williams-Doherty looks into a recent scam involving secret shoppers and talks to a legitimate company to help you spot the phoneys.

Getting paid to shop sounds like a dream job and that is what keeps the mystery shopper job scam going.

Jaymee Bates responded to a want ad on kijiji to work as a mystery shopper.

Her first assignment was to "secret shop" Wal-Mart and Western Union.

Bates' employer sent her a $1900 cheque and she was directed to cash it, buy a $30 item at Wal-Mart, wire $1500 to the UK at Western Union and keep the rest as payment for completing surveys about her experience.

Bates recognized the request as a scam and assumed, correctly, that the cheque was counterfeit.

She knew that if she wired off the money that she would have to pay it back to her bank after the bank discovered the cheque was phoney or stolen.

Jason Carter runs PerformaLogics, a legitimate market research company that uses mystery shoppers to inform businesses about customers' shopping experiences.

Carter says this scam is blowing up even though there is only a handful of large companies like his that employ Canadians.

He says PerformaLogics has a data base of 30,000 shoppers to choose from and rarely advertises in Calgary.

Carter says the average pay for an assignment is $15 and usually you're visiting convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants.

PerformaLogics posts assignments once a month for pre-approved shoppers to choose from and Carter says the good Calgary assignments are gone instantly.

Hard core secret shoppers for PerformaLogics earn between $600 and $800 per month working about twenty hours a week

Lea has identified some red flags to look for:

  • Legitimate companies never send money before you do the job
  • Phoneys will never list the names of clients in advertising materials
  • Phonies will almost always communicating through email and not by phone 

As for paying money upfront, Lea says that is usually the earmark of an employment scam, but Carter says there are some legitimate secret shopper online databases that charge a fee for you to register so companies can find you if they need you.