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Is Secret Shopping a Scam?

Updated on October 16, 2015
Will work for ice cream.
Will work for ice cream.

Why Become a Secret Shopper

The secret is out. Secret shopping can be a fun way to obtain free services, try free products (often food), or simply get paid to share your opinion. Mystery shopping jobs are available nationally and internationally, open to almost anyone, and pretty easy to apply for and obtain.

How To Become a Secret Shopper

A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of advertisements for different mystery shopping companies. How can you tell which are real, and which is right for you?

There are a couple things to consider before you even apply to become a secret shopper. It is widely known (now) that the world of Internet scamming is limited to almost nothing anymore, and secret shopping certainly has become a victim. It is important to know the difference between legitimate companies, and fraudulent Internet thieves. Once you've found a legitimate company, you want to make sure they offer shops in your area. The payout will never be worth your time if the nearest opportunity to shop is fifty miles away.

Consider the following tips and ideas for finding a secret shopping company that is right for you:

  1. Never pay an upfront fee to become a mystery shopper. This is the first red flag for a scam. All reputable companies with which I have an account have never required any money from me whatsoever.
  2. Find other people in your area who are mystery shoppers and ask who they work for. Word of mouth and personal experience is the best reference you can find. Also, you'd be surprised how many of your friends, neighbors, and gym buddies have their own experience or know someone who has secret shopping experience.
  3. Check the website or personally contact your favorite stores. Sometimes, individual stores or service providers work directly with the public to find mystery shoppers. More often however, they use a common secret shopping provider who will have several other businesses on its secret shopping list. I have been directed to secret shopping opportunities through email newsletters and links on business websites. Both of these avenues opened doors for other shops as well. And if you cannot find anything online, a quick email or phone call could also yield similar information.

Mystery shopping is exactly this fun.
Mystery shopping is exactly this fun.

Legit Secret Shopping Companies

  1. Ace Mystery Shopping - my current go-to as they have shops regularly in my area.
  2. Bestmark - shops available on the East Coast.
  3. Mobee - a mystery shopping app that pays in points which can be redeemed for gift cards. Use code 69Z9 for a signup bonus.

How to Choose a Company

I currently have a shopper profile with three secret shopping companies. One of these companies I have been with for over a decade, through lots of traveling and several moves. Though I've used them the most often in my life, due to the lack of jobs where I live now, I have not worked for them in over three years. I will, however, maintain my shopper status with them because they are adding shops all the time, and have shops in several areas that I regularly visit.

  1. Determine the company is not a scam. (See my list above for a couple of reputable leads.)
  2. Make a applications with more than one company; wait to be accepted. This process is typically quick, as in, same day, however, do not be surprised if if it takes a little longer. If you've waited more than a week without hearing anything, odds are your application has not been accepted.
  3. Log in to your dashboard and see where the jobs are located. In my experience, large cities tend to offer the highest number of opportunities to shop. If the distance is one you are unwilling to drive, all is not lost. Do not delete your shopper status, but put this company on the back burner. Check in often enough to see if new businesses have been added in your area, or log in before taking a trip to see if there are any jobs located in areas to which you will be traveling. I have done several jobs on a leisurely commute between my house and my parent's house. In college I was able to accomplish jobs in nearby big cities on the weekends, and others in my hometown over the summer.
  4. If there are no jobs in your area, see if there are any phone-call or online only jobs. These can be accomplished from anywhere. Try plugging in zip codes of various large cities to see if anything is available that you could accomplish remotely.
  5. Read through several jobs and their requirements. Ask yourself if this is something you can see yourself doing. Ask yourself if the payout is worth your time. Personally, at the right restaurant, I'm willing to simply work for a free lunch. That said, I've done more than my share of assignments that were so detailed and complicated that upon completion, seven dollars was more of an insult than a payout.

Trying hard to remain incognito.
Trying hard to remain incognito.

Secret Shopping Insider Information

When making an application, do not be surprised when you are asked to provide your height, weight, and hair color. This is actually pretty standard for most secret shopping applications. I can only guess at the reasons behind it, but don't let it freak you out.

When it comes to payment, there is a wide range of different modes companies use. I've been paid via check (in the mail), PayPal, and direct deposit. If a company is unwilling to mail a check, I typically provide my PayPal account information first and wait for a few transactions to go through before providing any personal bank account information. Only you know when you feel comfortable enough with a company to get that personal. Be cautious and stay protected.

The two names provided above are definitely not a scam, but I highly encourage you to do your own research. Hubpages is actually a great place to start as several other Hubbers have written about this very topic. Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Click here for some secret shopper insider tips.

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