Weird Ways to Make Money: Mystery Shopping

Do people really get paid to shop? They do — here's how to make it work.

Where to find mystery shopping jobs

So let’s assume you’re still interested in pursuing mystery shopping. You’re next question is probably: Where do I find all these amazing shopping opportunities?

Here are the two starting places I recommend:

Volition: Yes, this site looks totally Web 1.0, but Volition is a great source of information. To get started, I clicked on the mystery shopping company list and applied to them one by one. The forum is also an invaluable place to learn more from the pros. That said, I recommend newbies read rather than post on the forum. There are strict posting rules and very little compassion for those who break them.

MSPA –North America: Formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, this is the industry group for secret shopper companies. If you’re really serious about mystery shopping, you can be certified by the MSPA, a process that has the potential to open the door to more lucrative jobs. Even if you’re not certified, you can visit the site to find a list of member companies.

Avoid mystery shopping scams

Finally, we can’t have a discussion about mystery shopping without talking about scams.

If a shopping company says they are sending a check and ask you to cash it so you can send a portion of the money to someone else, it’s a scam.

Anytime someone says you need to cash a check and wire money, giant red flags should be waving in your head. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mystery shopping company or your distant aunt in Nairobi: If someone sends you a check to cash, it’s a scam!

With that out of the way, there are some occasions when it might cost you money to mystery shop:

  • There is a fee for MSPA certification.
  • Some companies may require you purchase certain equipment, such as thermometers, scales or video recording devices.
  • You may need to make a purchase as part of the shop and wait for reimbursement.
  • Some shops require purchases that are not reimbursed.

No legitimate company will ask you to pay a fee as part of their application process, however. What’s more, no legitimate company will send you a random email out of the blue offering a princely sum to mystery shop for them.

Once you start applying for companies and see what their job offer emails look like, you’ll quickly be able to spot the fakes. The real players will have a website where you can sign up for the job and view the details.

If you ever have a doubt about whether a company is on the up and up, check to see if it’s a MSPA member or search for the company on the Volition forums. And never, ever, respond to an email with your personal information unless it’s a scheduler or company you’re familiar with.

So who’s going to give it a go? Let us know if mystery shopping is in your future by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Maryalene LaPonsie
Maryalene LaPonsie
After 13 years as a staffer for a Michigan legislator, I decided it was time to quit the commute and work from home instead. For the past three years, I’ve been penning ... More


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