P66 non-payment, MSC won't admit fault. Who can I report to... BBB? FTC?

Well this is the first time this has ever happened although I've been doing P66 gas mystery shops and/or revealed assessments for awhile. Here's what happened: I got phoned by a desperate scheduler on 8/29/19 to do four of these by end of month. They were way outside my usual area, but along the same general route so I negotiated high. The MSC agreed to pay $40 each plus $5 reimbursement.

The scheduler affirmed they were the same project type; mys shop followed by revealed assessment. I told her I could probably complete all of these immediately if I left soon (had to complete before dusk). She was very appreciative. She sent four separate confirmation email that were identical except for the location id and address. All four email said PROJECT: P66. I printed out ONE set of guidelines (35 pages) plus 4 Validation pages for the manager or employee to approve and sign. All looked good.

In the guidelines it said:
If the fueling area is closed for construction OR has the new WAVE or CREST image ... DO NOT CONDUCT THE REVEALED ASSESSMENT. If any of the pumps, Main ID sign, and/or canopy have the new image, take photos of the overall station and main ID sign, and report your mystery shop results only.

Well I was pleased to find that two of the four locations DID have the new wave and crest image so only the mystery shop portion needed to be done, which was a huge relief as only 4 station photos plus the receipts were needed. Or so I thought. The surprise came 240 miles and 6 hours later, when I got home and started the reports...

Long story shorter, two of the shops were in fact slightly different, although even the scheduler didn't catch it. The two that had the new signage apparently had a different set of guidelines that indicated a full assessment was still to be performed along with all the extra photos. Had I known this when they were offered to me I would have printed the 2nd set of guidelines that would have pertained to the two new WAVE shops. I did not know this until I actually spoke with another scheduler who investigated it and found out that although the guidelines looked identical, right down to the 8/21/19 revision date, they had a different code following the rev date. Both documents were titled the same: Retail Excellence Mystery Shop + Revealed Assessment. No mention of New WAVE, or New signage, no clues whatsoever.

So the end of the story is, two of the four shops were refused by QC. No accountability from the Scheduler, no apologies for not having mentioned these were two different projects. As usual they feel justified putting 100% of the blame on me, for what..? Not having printed four sets of guidelines for what I was told were same shops.

Had I known they were two different projects of course I would have completed all revealed assessments. But the thing that bothers me most is that even though each one of us... Scheduler, Shopper, QC, Shopper Advocate, or Client, is part of a team, it's ultimately the shopper that suffers when something isn't right. In this case the Project name definitely should have been DIFFERENT and the Guidelines should have been TITLED differently to distinguish between the two.

I suppose there's nothing that can be done. I can't force the MSC to better train their schedulers and writers to be more clear on these subjects. So should I raise a complaint or just suck it up and take the $90 loss?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/31/2019 09:11PM by Diana98632.

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Groaning, with you... ugh... big ol' bummer...

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. - Peg Bracken
I would contact the shopper advocate and dispassionately lay out what occurred and how. You are 'at fault' for not checking the instructions for yourself. Own it. The scheduler is 'at fault' for not realizing that there were two different types of shops in the mix. You suffer from having your shops rejected, they suffer from not having acceptable shops done by their hard deadline. Of course you want to get paid for your work, but that is not going to happen. Your notion that the shops have different names or some identifier to know that they are different scenarios is a good one and the best you can hope for here, plus hopefully your record will not be marked as a shopper who can't reliably follow directions.
@Diana98632 wrote:

But the thing that bothers me most is that even though each one of us... Scheduler, Shopper, QC, Shopper Advocate, or Client, is part of a team

No. You're not. They are all employees of the MSC and you are a contractor. This is not a team. It's two separate businesses with separate goals. You should never forget that.

Ultimately you are responsible for reading and adhering to the guidelines for every single shop. I agree the situation is regrettable, and it's mistake I absolutely would have made myself. I would have also said oh crap that sucks and then moved on to something different.

Also if they called you on the 29th with 4 leftover shops you did not negotiate high at $40 per. Probably should have gotten in the $75 range.

There are reasons that a body stays in motion
At the moment only demons come to mind
I'm sorry your shops were unsuccessful, especially with bonuses.

Forget BBB and FTC. FTC deals with fraud or being cheated - you weren't cheated by the company, you just didn't do everything you should have and you did the shops wrong. BBB deals with consumers ( clients) making reports about companies. In this case, YOU are the company and the MSC is your client.

bgriffin put it great and I don't have anything to add, except that I sympathize with you. It's tough to do a shop wrong and not get paid and it makes it feel better to blame someone else. In this case, I don't think you can.
After a couple of days stewing about this, I admit it was a hard lesson learned but a mistake I will not make again. As for the negotiated fee, I know how high this company will go for certain jobs. Too many times in the past they have used my offer as a bargaining chip so they can turn me down and offer a few bucks less to another shopper who snaps it up. So I have to be careful to not go too high. I do appreciate these comments though. I wish I would have found this forum long ago... it's a great support.
I have been a mystery shopper for the past seven years and had to use this technique to get paid maybe five times if that. I researched on the Internet how to report a company who does not want to pay you and made a list. I first try real hard to work it out with the editor and scheduler and if that does not work, I talk to their supervisor. When you get to this point they will never use you again. I only go this far when I think I am 100 %right. When they tell me their not going to pay me I tell them I will tell my story on all the social networks and tell them the companies I am going to report them to where some will tell my story on the Internet (about 7-8) ike the BBB, Attorney General, etc. When you tell them what you plan to do they will pay you with a special check within a few weeks. If it was my mistake then I take the lost. I hate taking this route, but sometimes it's necessary. The question you have to ask yourself; is it worth it? I had a gas station likes yours where they refused to pay six I went to. I truly believe they sent those reports in anyways and get paid. I also believe half of these companies do not read or act on our reports because i have submitted reports where fraud was done and the employee is still working at the establishment. I was also told the editors change your reports to their liking and after spending six hours on a report they cut it up!!!
Chilo, I hope you are not spending six hours on any reports unless they were two-day Coyle hotel shops or very expensive fine dining shops. Wow.
Chilo states--I was also told the editors change your reports to their liking

Bob's experience--I KNOW this occurred with at least one report of mine, as it was inadvertently returned to me; it did not remotely resemble what I had submitted. Although I well understand it was Ardent Service's prerogative to alter my work, it was so butchered I decided we were not a good fit and requested my deactivation.
If anything, I would still take the tax deduction for the time and mileage traveled, plus other assorted expenses related to performing the shop, even if the shop is refused.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/03/2019 03:05PM by wintersilke.
IMHO, the OP is entitled to deduct the extra mileage driven on their Schedule C. But time can not be deducted. Time is included in the shop fee. A shop fee that is not collected is not deductible on Schedule C. No money was spent - so it is not an expense.
@wintersilke wrote:

If anything, I would still take the tax deduction for the time and mileage traveled, plus other assorted expenses related to performing the shop, even if the shop is refused.

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
You can write off the mileage and any money spent. With this MSC don't expect them to change their mind. Most of the time, if you make ANY mistake with them, they deny the shop. I will no longer do any of their open audits for gas stations.
Diana, I feel for you.

I'm afraid the other posters are correct. You have no recourse.

Next time, ask for $75. The scheduler will tell you if it's possible; she'll tell you if they won't pay that high, too.

Best of luck.

Not that it helps, but I made EXACTLY the same mistake.

In all fairness to you (and me!), the guidelines are a hot mess.

And unusual for this MSC -- one of the reasons I like them is because they are normally very straightforward with guidelines and instructions.
Actually, I do. I am a perfectionist except writing these forums. It bothers me if I do not go through the process. I am very detailed with my reports. I use two grammar programs and record my shops. I have to listen to each recording; then write down the narrative; then do two grammar checks. Believe it or not I still receive a warning from the editor about spelling errors. I told her to speak to the paid programs I use. It takes me a minimum 2 hours for a simple report up to 10 hours for an apartment report. I know I am not making money but its what it is. I am older and disabled and can't work anywhere's else. I became addicted to MS. The good side of it; I am learning to write better!I do receive mostly 10s on all my reports; so that's rewarding!
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I do not believe that you can do that. This has been discussed before on this Forum. IMHO, one of the most knowledgeable people on this forum when it comes to taxes is Walesmaven. Maybe she will see this and respond.

I just looked at IRS Publication 535, specifically the section of "Bad Business Debts" which seems the most likely place to report non-payment of this type. I can not find an example or a discussion there which would lead me to think that I can deduct a shop fee that is not paid to me. I am not a CPA or an Enrolled Agent, so this is just my opinion. I am going to ask a tax attorney who is a friend and see what he thinks. YMMV
quote=kuulei]
If you bill a client, which is what we do for each client, and that client does not pay, of course you write that off on your taxes a a loss under unrecoverable accounts receivable. That is, if this is a business.[/quote]

Shopping Southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware above the canal, and southwestern NJ since 2008
ROTHFLAO!!!!

IF and ONLY IF you include what you billed in your gross income.

Don't overlook that.

LOL!!!

@kuulei wrote:

If you bill a client, which is what we do for each client, and that client does not pay, of course you write that off on your taxes a a loss under unrecoverable accounts receivable. That is, if this is a business.
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I do believe if you do the work and they don't pay you, it becomes a write off. Unless you work for free.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/04/2019 02:17AM by johnb974.
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Cease is correct. Let's say you did one of these lovely shops at the base fee of $8 and $5 reimbursement. Then the shop gets declined. Accounting wise you can do this one of 2 ways:

Account for an $8 fee, an expense of $5, and an unrecoverable receivable of $8, for a total of a $5 loss.

or

Account for no fee, no unrecoverable receivable, and a business expense of $5, for a total of a $5 loss.

There are reasons that a body stays in motion
At the moment only demons come to mind
Can you write off unpaid wages?
Generally, to deduct a bad debt, you must have previously included the amount in your income or loaned out your cash. If you're a cash method taxpayer (most individuals are), you generally can't take a bad debt deduction for unpaid salaries, wages, rents, fees, interests, dividends, and similar items.
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