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How to Spot Mystery Shopping Scams

Sunday, January 24th

How to Spot Mystery Shopping Scams

Have you ever heard of a professional shopper? Perhaps you would like to be one. Simply put, a secret shopper gets paid to work when they want, however often they want and where they want. For many, getting paid to shop for a living is nothing short of a dream come true. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), however, not all mystery shopping opportunities provide the dream job that they promise. The truth is that there are legitimate companies that hire secret shoppers to evaluate their business while posing as a customer, but it's important to realize how to spot the real deal versus a real ripoff.

In most instances, a mystery shopper will be assigned a specific task within a business and will then provide the company with a written evaluation of their experience. Generally, the secret shopper will be reimbursed for their purchase, which means the product is theirs to keep at no charge. In addition, secret shoppers are paid for their time. The actual rate of pay will depend on the job, the time spent and the company's policy.

Due to the popularity of the mystery shopping industry, scams are a growing problem. Because mystery shopping does not require any type of special certification, it is recommended that consumers remain cautious of any company that charges a fee in exchange for information relating to a certification program. A few of the most common places for these scams to appear include newspaper advertisements and in unsolicited e-mail. The FTC warns that, "The shopping certification offered in advertising or unsolicited e-mail is almost always worthless."

As is the case with any industry, it's nearly impossible to guarantee someone a job. The same is true with mystery shopping and consumers should be mindful of any business that promotes a guarantee of a job or a specific income amount. Every mystery shopping job is unique, along with its rate of pay, which is why it is especially beneficial for anyone interested in becoming a secret shopper to be familiar with realistic and legitimate advertising practices.

There is an old saying that says, "If something sounds to good to be true, it probably is." Today, that saying rings true in almost every aspect of life, including business. If a mystery shopping opportunity sounds to good and promises to much, it would be wise to research the company before becoming a member. You can conduct your own, independent investigation by checking with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for any potential complaints lodged against the company and/or to determine whether or not their record is satisfactory.

With the internet being a wealth of information relating to almost any topic, mystery shopping opportunities are easy to find. Legitimate companies looking to hire a secret shopper can easily be found with a few clicks of the mouse and, best of all, most accept applications via the internet. One of the best ways to learn about valuable mystery shopping opportunities is, much like the industry itself, through a third-party independent evaluation. If you have the opportunity to read one or more reviews about a particular mystery shopping company, this may provide you with the information needed to begin your career in professional and profitable shopping.

The Best Mystery Shopping Companies Compare Mystery Shopping Companies Compare Mystery Shopping Company Reviews What are the best Mystery Shopping Companies Best Mystery Shopping Company Reviews

Mystery Shopping Company FAQ

Mystery shopping, sometimes referred to as "secret shopping" , is the way that many businesses get information about how their stores, offices or locations are doing with respect to customer service. Are the employees friendly? Are the proper signs displayed for a holiday promotion? Companies contract with mystery shopping providers that send in "secret shoppers" , who pretend to be there as a regular customer but are actually taking notes on their experience. Does that sound like fun? It is!
There's really no limit to the types of "mystery shops" you might have the chance to complete. You could visit a restaurant and place a specific order, go to a movie theater and see how clean the restrooms are, or even ship a package at the post office. Some mystery shops require you to buy a product and return it later, to evaluate how well the employee handles the transaction on both ends.
You'll get a lengthy series of instructions for each mystery shop assigned to you. In order to get paid, you'll need to follow those details to the letter. Common requirements are noting the time it takes to be approached by a salesperson, how long you wait in line to ring up your purchase, or the number of customers present at a particular time of day. You might also be asked to take photos or video (as surreptitiously as possible!).
It shouldn't! Reputable mystery shopping services allow you to register as an independent contractor at no cost to you. If you see a website that asks you to pay to become a secret shopper, you'll know it's not on the up-and-up. In fact, they're probably just going to give you a list of the real mystery shopping companies that you could have signed up for without their help!
That varies widely. Some shops only pay you a small amount of money, because you get to keep the product (or eat the meal, or see the movie, etc.). If a shop is high-priority - because it's time-sensitive, or maybe another shopper cancelled at the last minute - you could get a bonus payment. It's unlikely you'll make a living as a mystery shopper, but it could put some spending money in your pockets, give you a free date night, or provide you with some fun merchandise at no cost.
Yes, most of the time. Mystery shopping is always done on a 1099 (independent contractor) basis, and most providers understand that their secret shoppers will be working with more than one service at a time. But, during the sign-up process, be sure to read all of the requirements of the company where you're applying, just to make sure there aren't any non-compete clauses that would prohibit you from working for a rival service.
You want to avoid that happening at all costs! Think of mystery shopping as an acting role: you're not really "you" , but rather someone that could be an everyday customer at the store. If you're outed as a mystery shopper before you've finished gathering the required information, it could invalidate the entire job - and you won't get paid.
While there are absolutely some scammy services and sites out there, who just want to get your money in exchange for a list of mystery shopping opportunities, the industry itself is absolutely legitimate - and used by most of the big-name corporations you know to gather insights on their many locations nationwide. There's even a certification process you can participate in, which may boost your chances of being accepted by a mystery shopping provider and then landing more shops. Check to see if a mystery shopping company is a member of the MSPA (Mystery Shopping Professionals Association) before you register: it's a good sign that you've chosen a trustworthy, established service to start your adventure as a secret shopper!
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