How to Become a Mystery Shopper While Avoiding the Scams

Many people who have searched for jobs online have come across (probably more than once) ads for mystery or secret shoppers. These ads can be very enticing, promising free food, clothes, and other items in addition to being paid to shop, eat out, see movies, etc. It sounds too good to be true. Is it?

The good news is that there are companies who do hire mystery shoppers, and that those shoppers are compensated for items they buy. The bad news is that most of the websites that advertise for mystery shoppers are scams. Never pay money to get information, even if its a one-time refundable fee. Some websites will claim that other mystery shopper sites are scams, but theirs is legitimate. This is another ploy.

There is only one true website that you’ll want to visit if you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper: This website is run by the MSPA, the Mystery Shoppers Provider Association. Using this website, you can find companies that hire and provide mystery shoppers and contact them directly. There is no money involved; however, you may have to fill out an application or essay. Make sure you begin by reading the “shopper information” provided on the website. In it, they warn potential shoppers of scams and emphasize that the potential shopper should contact the companies they find on directly. What the website does, essentially, is provide listings of companies looking for mystery shoppers and where the shoppers are needed.

Once you have clicked on the area where you live, there are two ways you can search. You can search for assignments, which will have very specific assignments in or around your area. If there are none available, don’t despair. Instead, click on “Search Recruitment Postings.” This is a more general way to search. Rather than having actual assignments ready, recruitment postings can help you get in contact with companies who operate in your area. Once you’ve found some postings in and/or around your area, you can click on links to apply online with the various companies. The more companies you sign up with, the better chances you’ll have for getting an assignment.

As with any job, when filling out an application, keep in mind there are certain traits and abilities they look for. Mystery shoppers should be organized, self-motivated, and, perhaps most importantly, observant. Experience working in retail or food service is also desirable. The application may ask you to write an essay about your best and worst shopping experience. The key here is to be as detailed as possible.

Keep in mind that the claims on the scam shopping sites are often overinflated and exaggerated. Mystery shoppers are usually reimbursed for their purchases, and may be paid a certain amount on top of that, but it’s not a full time job and you’re not going to become rich doing it. It’s more of a nice thing to pick up on the side for a little extra money and something to do, especially if you like shopping.

They do offer certification programs that cost money (around $15 for the “silver” level and $99 for the “gold” level) but these are not necessary to become a mystery shopper. The website states that they are used primarily for education (helping newcomers understand the industry) and that they can give a shopper an extra “edge,” but do not guarantee extra work. Also, companies will not refuse to hire someone on the basis that they are not certified, so unless you’re really interested in mystery shopping and learning more about it, I would steer clear of certification.

Remember: Do not use any other website besides and never pay money to sign up. Good luck and happy shopping!

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