Sunday, October 14, 2012

Soapbox Sunday: How to Become a Mystery Shopper and Not Get Scammed

 I have been doing mystery shopping for years for extra cash in my pocket. With so many scams out there, it is hard to tell what it legit and what is not. I will tell you how I got started and what you need, what to expect, and how not to get scammed.

What is this mystery shopping stuff anyway?

Companies need a way to find out how their store and employees are doing in terms of customer service.  To do this, they will turn to a company that provides mystery shoppers to go out to their location and shop them.  The mystery shopping company then needs to hire people to go do the shopping and then report back to the mystery shopping company about their experience who then gives the data (and a bill) to the company that hired them.  The mystery shopping company hires people to be independent consultants for them.  You are not considered an employee, you cannot list them as an employer, and you will have to sign documents stating that you understand this. This is no different than if you sold Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, etc.

Without using major corporation names, I will give you an example.  Henry Fan’s House of Fans is a large corporation and they need to monitor how well their employees are treating their customers. So, Mr. Fan calls up I Shop For You, a company that will provide Mr. Fan with data on his employees.  I Shop For You posts an ad stating that they need a mystery shopper and Suzy Q applies and is given the assignment.  She goes and does the assignment and fills out of her paperwork and submits it to I Shop For You to get paid. I Shop For You pays Suzy Q for the job and then takes all of the data and submits it to Mr. Fan (along with a bill for their services).

How do I not get scammed?

The most important statement I can make, is NEVER pay a company for an assignment.  There are way too many opportunities out there to have to pay for them.  The point of this is to make money, not give it away.  I have been mystery shopping for almost ten years and I have never had to pay a company to start mystery shopping for them.

When first signing up a company, always do your homework.  Do an internet search for them.  If they have scammed someone in the past, you will be able to find a thread of negative comments. 
You will be getting paid, so a company asking you to fill out tax information is common.  They are required to report your earnings just as an employer would.  If they do not ask for tax information, be very leery. 

Never give your credit card or banking information to a company.  They should not be charging you for anything, therefore a credit card is not needed.  If they need to prove your identity (and they will), you can submit a picture ID (I usually submit a copy of my drivers license). Companies should be paying you with a paper check or PayPal and would not need your banking information.  I would never give out that information.  If the company can not pay me with a paper check or with PayPal, I tell them no thanks and keep going.

If something does not seem right, odds are, it isn’t right. 

What do I need?

To start mystery shopping, you will need a computer, internet, printer, scanner, and in most cases a Paypal account.  These are things you MUST have.  Sorry, there is no way around it. 

You HAVE to have a scanner to be able to scan the proof of your shop to the company paying you (explained here in just a bit).

I highly recommended getting an email address that you will only use for mystery shopping communication.  This allows you to save the room in your personal email address as well as ensure you do not overlook a potential assignment.

You will also need to have the ability to act out a scenario that the company you are shopping for gives you. For example, when I go to shop a cell phone store, I am told that I am a busy soccer mom who is looking for a better way to keep in touch with my child’s team. I have to stay in character and in no way tell the person helping me I am a shopper or give them an idea I am mystery shopping them.
How much do I get paid?

Odd are, you will NOT make enough money to do it full time.  Not only is it dependent on the availability of shops in your area, but the time to get paid for the shops can be lengthy. I have gotten paid in as quick as two weeks and as long as six weeks. 

Some companies put limits on the amount of times you can shop certain places.  For example, one company I shop for will only let you visit one certain company once every six months. They do this to prevent the chance the employees will figure out you are a mystery shopper. 

You will have to verify that you completed the shop.  This may include getting a receipt, business card, and/or a picture of the location you shopped (taken discreetly of course).

In some shops, you are required to make a purchase to prove you completed this shop.  This could something as small as a soda, candy, etc.  This purchase is usually refunded back to you when you get your payment or the pay for doing the shop includes expenses.

Sometimes you can get restaurant shops where you are only paid by reimbursing you what you paid for your meal.  I, personally, love these because it means I get to have a free meal. Yes, you do have to pay for the meal up front, but you are reimbursed for the purchase. 

I have another shop I do that I get back a set amount for doing the shop plus a reimbursement up to X amount.  I love these too.  Not only am I getting paid for my shop, but I am getting an item of my choice for free. 

How much you get paid for each shop varies by company and by assignment.  The good thing about doing this is you get chose if you want to accept the assignment or not. 

Keep in mind, some companies will dock your pay or revoke your privileges to shop for them if you repeatedly are late turning in shops, cancelling shops, or not following the directions.  If you agree for an assignment, make sure you are able to do the shop.

Most companies prefer to pay their shoppers by PayPal and will not mail out a check.  I have worked with some that give you an option, but charge you a fee for a paper check.  It does take longer to receive your pay if you opt for a paper check.  PayPal is the way to go.

You also need to keep in mind that there are other people also fighting for the same assignments you want, so you need to check the job board daily.  I have the links to all my companies saved on my internet browsers bookmark toolbar and I check them when I first get up and throughout the day when I have a chance. 

Ok, I got it. So, tell me, where do I go to get assignments?

The very step is go to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) and check out their job board (I will provide the link at the end).  The MSPA is the go to place for anything mystery shopping. They provide classes (for a fee) so you can become a certified mystery shopper.  (I have never done this, because in the small area I mystery shop it has never been necessary.  If you live in a larger town where more people are competing for the same jobs, you might get a little more boost if you were certified. Some companies might require MSPA certification.  This is something you can decide to do or not to do, depending on your situation.)

I only use this job board to find my shops because I know MSPA would only list assignments that are legit so I know I can trust them. 

When you are on the MSPA job board, do a search for your zip code and you will see a list of companies needing shoppers.  You click on the assignment, apply, and wait to be accepted.  You are not always guaranteed to be accepted by the company.

A good rule of thumb is to extend your search area out to a larger range to show you a list of other companies in your area hiring shoppers. Then click on the assignment and go to the company’s webpage and apply to be a shopper, not for that particular assignment.  They might not have anything in your area right at that moment, but if you apply and get accepted, they will email when they do have opportunities in your area or you will get access to their job board so you can search directly with them. 

Once you have completed your first few assignments successfully and you earn the trust of your hiring company, they will call you and offer you positions first before anyone else.  You will also have the opportunity to complete assignments that they might not offer to the general public that has more pay. In these cases, you might be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.  If you do not feel comfortable in doing so, be honest with them and tell them the real reason you are declining the offer.  Do not offend them by simply saying no and not offering an explanation.
My Final Words

To sum it all up, mystery shopping can be fun and a great way to earn some extra cash, but you do need to take it seriously.  It is a job. You are getting paid. The company you are shopping is paying good money for your data and it needs to be honest and non-biased.  

You need to follow the directions given to you. You need to complete your assignments on time and professionally.  You need to treat each assignment as you would your regular job.  If you go into this thinking it will be easy, I would recommend looking elsewhere. Trust your gut. If something does not feel right, then odds are it is not right. It is better to say no then get scammed.


The MSPA homepage can be found at
The MSPA job board can be found at


  1. I found this post interesting I never knew there was so much involved, my mum used to win silly little rewards from having a particularly good customer service manner. Great way to earn extra cash too. New to your blog from super Sunday party i'm trying to make friends for my daddy blog hope you check it out thanks.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I am following you!

      Getting started can be a little bit of a pain. The hardest thing is just finding companies that need shoppers in your area. Once you get your list of companies established, it just becomes a matter of staying on top of it and checking the assignment boards.

  2. Have you found mystery shopping to be lucrative? Or is it a hobby for you?

    Thanks for linking up with Super Sunday Sync!
    ~dawn - Super Sunday Sync

    1. Its just a hobby, something for extra spending money, and free stuff. I don't live in an area big enough to have a lot of shops. I can see where if you lived in a large area with lots of assignment available, you could make good money, it would just be the uncertainly and the length of time it can take to get paid. I'm sure there are people who make a living doing it, but I would be way too afraid to base my whole income on the chance of not having assignments to do. I've made as much as a couple hundred bucks to twenty bucks a month.

      It all depends too on if you are willing to travel. I am not. Unless it pays super good, its not worth it to me to drive very far with gas prices the way they are right now, not to mention the wear and tear on my car.

      That probably way over answered your question, but I will be more than happy to answer anything. I can't promise it won't be a book like this one, though. :)