When I first quit my job to stay home with my little miss, I was determined to do everything I could to maintain our quality of life for my family. And since dining out is basically our favorite pastime, I was desperate to find a way to make it happen on a drastically reduced budget.
Enter the Mystery Shopping experience, in which you visit restaurants (among other places), get reimbursed for your meal, and sometimes get paid a little something on top of it.
Now, mystery/secret shopping has gotten kind of a bad rap in the last few years because of a nasty scam where the jerks of the world posed as a mystery shopping company, wrote people huge checks, apologized for the error, and asked people to wire the extra money back to them. And, since most people are honest and kind, they did, and then they were royally screwed. So, good people of the world, do not do that. No one should be getting any of your account information, pretty much ever. But I think you probably all know that already, so let’s agree to use common sense and move on.
Your next step is finding a company to pair with. There are a few tricks to make sure the company is legit. First, NEVER PAY THEM. If anyone asks you for money, A.) Don’t give them any and B.) Don’t sign up for with them. Legit companies will be paying you, not the other way around. Secondly, the company should be registered with the MSPA, the legit-mystery-shopping association.
Thirdly, and this is just my own personal advice, don’t sign up with a company that requires your social security number upfront. If you start making decent money off it (anything over $400/year; I gave it up before I ever came even close to that amount), it may be required for tax purposes, but by then you should have enough experience with the company to know that they are legitimate. A company may ask for this information upfront and still be legit, so the fact that they’re asking isn’t necessarily a red flag. But personally, I would rather not have that kind of information in too many places. It’s a decision you’re gonna have to make for yourself.
Once you choose a company (I used isecretshop.com which compiles shops from several different MSPA companies, or you can choose one from the list of companies the Penny Hoarder has deemed most trustworthy), you’ll be able to see mystery shopping opportunities and claim a shop or two for yourself (procedures vary between companies). Once you’re assigned, it’s time to carry out your task. You might visit a restaurant and record the timing of everything, from when you’re seated to the appearance of the food via cell photos. Or you may make a phone call to a company on a recorded line for quality control purposes. Maybe you’ll visit a store and take photos of their bathrooms so the company can ensure they are being kept clean at all times. The nature of the tasks can vary widely, from easy to intensive, so make sure you know what you’re in for before taking it on.
Just like the type of shops, payment can be all over the place. Sometimes you’ll find a job with no required purchase and a decent payout (my last mystery shop paid me $25 for an hour of my time, from home). Other times, you will only be reimbursed for a portion of your meal, and you’ll typically need to front the cash (For example, you accept a shop with a $10 reimbursement. You spend $14, which you pay out of pocket, and in a few weeks you receive a payment for $10. You’re out $4 overall, but hey, that’s a pretty good discount on your meal, so it’s a win). It makes sense to run the numbers ahead of time to make sure you’ll come out ahead, or at least understand what you’ll be receiving in return.
You’d need to hustle HARD on this one to make any kind of financial gains, but sometimes that’s not what we’re after. Sometimes it’s nice to have a little hobby that pays for itself, or to go out to dinner on someone else’s dime. I dabble in mystery shopping now and again, especially if it’s a place I already enjoy going to or an easy over-the-phone shop, but it’s a fair amount of work for the payout, so I try to choose my shops wisely, and I suggest you do the same.
So, what do you think? Do you feel ready to get your ninja-fix, one secret shop at a time?