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Mystery Shopping: How to Make Money & Avoid Scams

By August 24, 2020May 16th, 2022No Comments

By: Dannie Phan | August 24th, 2020

These days it seems like everyone’s trying to find a way to earn a few extra bucks. Upheaval in the economy and ever-rising costs are causing worry and uncertainty. Luckily, there are also plenty of ways for enterprising workers to earn extra money each month.

Jobs with time and geographic flexibility like tutoring, writing, and answering surveys are ideal for anybody looking for a side-hustle, but for the fellow shopaholic, no work could be more enjoyable than earning money for shopping.

You heard it right: you could cash in for visiting stores, checking out new merchandise, and buying stuff in your spare time. Mystery shoppers are hired by companies or market research firms to go into stores or dealerships and give an honest assessment of customer service, cleanliness, and appearance of their stores. They’re asked to interact with staff and even make a purchase (the cost of which is paid back later) so the company can judge its strong points and areas for improvement.

How do mystery shoppers make money?

Getting paid as a secret shopper is simple: join up as an independent contractor with a reputable mystery shopping company (more on that later) and find which businesses you can visit and what questions you’ll have to answer about your shopping experience with each. You may have to have services performed or ask for specific information from staff in order to complete your visit.

When you’re all done with your shop, complete your report about your customer experience and get paid, either via direct deposit to PayPal or by check.

Can you make a living as a mystery shopper?

There are reports of some people making some serious loot as mystery shoppers, but whether or not you can make a living depends on what the phrase means to you. Generally, you may only make around $20 per visit, plus having your expenses reimbursed. Depending on how much time you have to spend mystery shopping, you may see the experience as more of a side-hustle than as your main income. That said, if you did only two shops per weekend each month, you could add a couple of hundred dollars to your checking account monthly. Not a bad amount of money!

What makes a good mystery shopper?

Good mystery shoppers need to make sure they check all the boxes for each of their mystery shops, without being obvious about how they gain their information. That means mystery shoppers need to have good attention to detail, can be flexible in their approach (and improvise to get the answers they need), and can give an objective appraisal of each business’s performance. Also, loving to shop is a crucial component!

Is the mystery shopper job legit?

Obviously, the appeal of shopping for a living makes the gig pretty popular. The more popular it becomes, the more mystery shopper scams come out of the woodwork to take advantage of aspiring mystery shoppers.

Scammers may issue a fake assignment, then send a fake check for too much money. They then ask you to use Western Union or MoneyGram to wire back the extra cash or buy gift cards with the funds and send them the numbers. In the end, the check bounces, leaving you short. Or, they’ll ask you to pay to find the best jobs for you. There’s even a prevalent scam asking for Amazon mystery shoppers. Check out some of the most recent mystery shopping scams through the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPAscam alert page.

There are legitimate mystery shopping companies, and here’s how you’ll know if you’re becoming involved in a good one:

  1. They don’t ask you for money to sign up
    Charging a sign-up fee is a sure sign the company is a scam. Legit companies will never ask you to pay to join or to see available jobs.
  2. They didn’t solicit your services
    Solid mystery shopping companies will never approach you to become a mystery shopper.
  3. They are a member of MSPA (the overseeing body for the mystery shopping industry)
    This association holds mystery shopping companies to high standards and is a good seal of approval to ensure you don’t get ripped off.

Also research companies through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to find common complaints and a business rating for each.

What is the best mystery shopper company?

There are multitudes of mystery shopping companies, and the best one for you will depend on what you’re looking for. While some companies look into an assortment of businesses and thus offer you opportunities to mystery shop at different types of stores, others are more specific.

Knowledgeable about offerings at financial institutions? Check out Ath Power Consulting. Check up on senior living establishments, among many other industries, with a mystery shopping assignment from A Closer Look. Through BARE, you can check complete mystery shopper visits via phone and internet as well as in retail stores, while SASSIE checks in on social media customer interactions. BestMark is one of the oldest and most established secret shopping companies in the US. Check MSPA’s searchable database to find the best mystery shopping companies for you.

Could you be a mystery shopper?

If you enjoy shopping, becoming a contractor for mystery shopping jobs could be the perfect side-hustle for you. Earn some cash, get perks like free meals, and experience new companies with this unique job opportunity!

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