Mystery Shopping: How to Make Money While Avoiding Scams

Mystery shopping has been in the news a lot lately, from segments on the Today Show to magazine articles, the world is abuzz with the possibilities. Call it what you want: mystery shopping, secret shopping, mystery customers, spotting; one thing that everyone can agree on is that it’s a big industry.

According to a 2005 market size report put together by Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA), the industry was worth around $600 million in 2004. With all of this money just floating around, it’s only natural that mystery shopping would generate some interest.

There are a lot of legitimate mystery shopping companies across the world, far too many to list here. Unfortunately, for every one legitimate company, there are at least two scam artists attempting to take advantage of the hype and on the altogether too trusting public. Fortunately, there is something you can do about it.

1. Thoroughly investigate mystery shopping companies before you sign up. Have they been reported as a scam? Is there a law suit pending against them? Does the Better Business Bureau list any complaints with them?

2. If the company requires you to pay anything, it is not a job. It really is as simple as that. Real mystery shopping companies will never ask you to pay for training. Always remember: you are working for them, it’s not the other way around.

3. While mystery shopping companies do need to collect some personal information such as: full name, address, telephone number and e-mail address, you should never provide your social security number.

4. Lastly, use common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a company is offering to pay you more than $50 for one shopping assignment, I would be highly suspicious.

Like most industries, mystery shopping does have a professional organization: The Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) which provides a wealth of information and resources as well as training information. The MSPA offers mystery shopping certification for a fee, and this certification is reccomended by some companies but it is by no means required. All you need to be a mystery shopper are basic skills such as: reading and writing, the ability to follow written and verbal instructions, organization and of course, good observation skills.

It is possible to become a professional mystery shopper and work full time, however it requires organization and dedication. The professional mystery shoppers that I have met are hard working individuals who often times work over forty hours in a single week and work for multiple companies doing a wide variety of shopping assignments. They have years of experience and are a shining example of what a little hard work can accomplish. However, if you are not in the market for a career, mystery shopping provides a way to have some fun and get paid in the process. Now go forth and shop!

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