Experts warn of secret shopping scams

Getting paid to shop seems like easy money. But, if you're not careful, you could find yourself out of thousands of dollars.

Whether it's online or inside a store, Michael Buchko from Monroe loves shopping, and getting paid to do it appeared to be a dream come true. Michael signed up with a company where he thought he would be secret shopping Western Union. But his dream job almost became a nightmare, "I thought it would I wire $20 and see how this is. Something fine and keep what's left over as payment for doing it. but it said to transfer $500 and then I was sent two post office money orders for $1700, and that didn't seem right," explains Buchko.

Michael didn't take the bait for a scam that's gaining momentum. Fake secret shopping companies advertise online promising big bucks to test a retailers customer service. It's a problem Dick Eppstein of the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan has seen too many times,"probably the top employment scam in the country right now is secret shoppers."

The offices of the Better Business Bureau have been flooded with complaints from people who claim they were taken advantage of including one woman who lost thousands, "she cashed the check, I think it was about $3,900. She sent it Western Union to the crooks thinking she was going to get a job. The bank called her and said that the check had bounced. This is about a week later, 10 days later, they say you got to pay us back the $3,900 dollars that you took to send plus the bank check fee, the bad check fee, which is $30 - $35 dollars, plus she had over balanced her checking account and 14 other checks bounced," explains Eppstein.

The Better Business Bureau supplied a letter from a fake secret shopping company. They say you need to look out for ..

1. Words printed in different colors. It could be an example of elements copied and pasted.

2. Any language promising fast cash and large payouts.

3. And the absence of phone numbers or email addresses to contact the company.

All of these elements point to a scam.

There are legitimate secret shopping companies, but you won't strike it rich as professional secret shopper Julie Horn explains,"it is time consuming and some companies it's very detailed so they don't pay enough to make a career out of it."

Whether the business is legit or not, the advice remains the same, "just be careful, research everything you want to do," urges Buchko.

Because if you don't, experts say there's no guarantee you'll get your money back.