The FCA uses mystery shopping to help it protect consumers. This may be by seeking information about a particular practice across a range of firms (SUP 2.4.3 G (1)) or the practices of a particular firm (SUP 2.4.3 G (2)). One of the risks consumers face is that they may be sold products or services3 which are inappropriate to them. A problem in protecting consumers from this risk is that it is very difficult to establish after the event what a firm has said to a 'genuine' consumer in discussions. By recording what a firm says in discussions with a 'mystery shopper', the FCA can establish a firm's normal practices in a way which would not be possible by other means.
The FCA may carry out mystery shopping:
together with a programme of visits to obtain information about a particular practice, looking at a particular issue across a range of firms, when the FCA may advise the firms of the issues beforehand; the practice being scrutinised may be that of firms or a class of firms in carrying on regulated activities or ancillary activities or in communicating or approving financial promotions;
together with focused visits (concentrating on particular aspects of a firm's business) to obtain information about the practices of a firm; these practices may be in carrying on regulated activities or ancillary activities or in communicating or approving financial promotions when the FCA has particular concerns about those practices;
using recording devices, telephonic or other communications; the FCA may monitor and store the contents of the materials obtained by these devices or communications.