Mystery Shopping 101

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Getting a second job, or a side hustle is a great way to put a little extra cash in your wallet. One of the easiest side hustles out there is mystery shopping. Yes, mystery shopping is a real thing and yes you can earn upwards of $100/month. Sounds like a great deal, right? Before you get started there are a few things you should know to make sure you don't get ripped off because there are people who will try to scam you.

Anyone can become a mystery shopper

Yes, that's right, to sign up with most companies you just need to be at least 18 and provide a Social Security number (for tax purposes). That's it. For each company you sign up with, you will answer a few questions about your demographic and lifestyle. Key questions include: where you live, how far you are willing to travel, how old you are, if you have kids, and if you have a club membership (like Costco or Sams Club). The way you answer these questions will help determine the types of shops you are offered. For example, if you are in your 20s you will likely be offered a lot of shops in which companies want to make sure their employees are checking your ID before they serve you alcohol. If you are a parent, your shops will likely revolve around shopping for kids items. You get the idea.

Choose a reputable company

There are a lot of mystery shopping companies out there. Some are better than others when it comes to customer service, payments, and the variety of shops. Keep in mind that while many of these companies are nation-wide some of them have a stronger influence in the northeast while others have a strong presence on the west coast. Do your research. Sign up with and try a few companies out to see which one you prefer. A few that we have tried are Confero and Intelli-shop.

Learn to spot a scam

You will need to pay for items upfront and be reimbursed when you are paid for the shop (typically within 1-2 months). So keep that upfront cost in mind when you're signing up for mystery shops. With that in mind, here are a few things red flags that scream SCAM:

  • Don't pay to become a mystery shopper. Any reputable mystery shopping company will allow you to join for free. Any company that is asking you to pay before they allow you to complete a shop is a red flag.
  • Don't wire money. Ever. You've probably heard about people who sign up to become mystery shoppers and their first assignment is to evaluate Western Union. They receive a check with instructions to deposit the money in their account and then withdraw that amount in cash and transfer it to a third party. The check ends up being fake and the mystery shopper loses a lot of money.
  • Don't get certified. This isn't a scam, per say, but it isn't necessary and is often a waste of money. Anyone can become a mystery shopper and you don't need a certification. Save your $100 and do a few easy mystery shops. This will boost your shopper rating which will open up more lucrative shops (the same thing a certification will do).

Brace your inbox

You are going to get a lot of emails. When we say a lot, we mean between 50-100 per day depending on how many companies you register with. You'll want to create a separate email account just for your mystery shopping emails. You could also turn off your notification settings in your mystery shopping accounts to reduce the number of emails you receive.

Be honest and don't exaggerate

Companies are paying you for your honest review. They're not paying for you to lie or stretch the truth. Make sure you read the instructions about the shop before you complete it. This will help you to know what to look for. It helps to type out notes on your smartphone before the shop and review them before you go into the store. As you notice the cleanliness of the store and the name of the person you interacted with, take notes on your phone, it will look like you're texting but will help you when you're filling out your report.

Final thoughts

Mystery shopping is a great way to bring in extra cash. It doesn't require a lot of money upfront and anyone can get started. Be safe and only shop with companies that have a good reputation. Let us know what your mystery shopping experience has been like in the comments below.

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