January 4, 2010

Mystery Shopping Scams & Sites

Wow, talk about a fresh start — a new week, a new year, even a new decade. Over the weekend, I read a poll taken by the stationery company, Franklin Covey, which said that the top three new year’s resolutions this year are: 1) Get out of debt/save money, 2) lose weight, and 3) exercise more. I’m guessing these three top the list every year, although many bloggers and op-ed writers have been pointing out that finances displaced weight loss this year as the biggest resolution.

Are you resolving to save money and/or get out of debt? Even if you have a full-time job, a great way to increase your savings is by increasing your income (especially if you have already cut back your daily expenses, like so many Americans did in 2009). If you are looking for a part-time job to earn a bit of extra cash, let me suggest mystery shopping.

I’ve written about the topic a number of times here on the blog, and a recent JobMonkey newsletter also focused on becoming a mystery shopper. (Have you signed up for our free newsletter? You can do so here.) Well, today I want to get super practical with you and give you some tried-and-true tips to avoid getting mystery shopping scammed.

Have realistic expectations for salary

Most mystery shopping jobs pay between $5-$15. I know, that’s not a lot of money, but keep in mind there is usually an in-kind reimbursement as well. If you are mystery shopping at a restaurant, your meal (and that of a friend) is covered. At a supermarket, you get a budget for purchasing groceries. When planned strategically, you can probably use your in-kind reimbursement to reduce your fixed monthly expenses — from gift-giving to grocery shopping to eating out and other entertainment categories.

Also, know that the time involved in each shopping assignment is not excessive. In most instances, you won’t spend more than 30 minutes shopping (or dining, or filling up gas, etc.) and another 20-30 minutes completing your report online or in writing.

Once you know what to expect in terms of salary, you can hopefully avoid one of the most obvious scam traps: The lure of an excessively high salary. Internet ads promising “hundreds of dollars” in payment have scam written all over them. Don’t bother clicking on them (unless you want a bunch of spyware downloaded onto your computer!).

Have realistic expectations for assignments

In theory, marketing companies use mystery shoppers for all types of assignments — from your basic fast food gig to flying the friendly skies. Realistically, however, 99 out of 100 gigs the average self-employed mystery shopping is going to land are every-day, local assignments. In other words, don’t fall for promises of first-class air travel and five-star luxury resort vacations. Yes, those assignments do exist in the mystery shopping world, but no, you won’t be landing them from your Internet search for gigs. Rather, expect assignments at the following type of establishments:

  • fast food restaurants
  • local and national banks and savings & loans
  • casual dining (think: Bennigans, TGIFridays)
  • some higher-end restaurants (especially if they are national chains, such as the Cheesecake Factory)
  • beauty supply stores
  • clothing retailers
  • pet stores
  • movie theatres
  • bowling alleys
  • gas stations
  • motels and hotels
  • conference centers

Never, ever pay to mystery shop

The #1 scam for mystery shopping (and all work-from-home jobs) is pay-to-work. Don’t fall for it. Legitimate mystery shopping job sites do not require payment to join their service. Anyone who tells you otherwise is more than likely a scammer. Even if they aren’t scamming you, remember that there are dozens of legitimate operations that don’t charge. So why would you pay for the one that does?

Don’t know where to find legitimate mystery shopping opportunities? Here are ten trustworthy websites to check out:

  1. A Closer Look
  2. A Top Shop
  3. Best Mark
  4. Beyond Hello
  5. Confero Inc.
  6. Count on Us
  7. Customer 1st
  8. Graymark Security Group
  9. IntelliShop

There are hundreds of legit companies out there — these are only ten of them. For an extensive list, check out Volition.com. You can also come visit JobMonkey’s new Mystery Shopping job board, with tons of national (and a few international) assignments.

Get a designated email

This may not help you avoid getting scammed, but it will stop your email inbox from being spammed. Just go to google or yahoo and sign up for a new email address, which you use exclusively when signing up for any of the above mystery shopping services.

Have you ever mystery shopped? Tell us about your experiences!

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