Mystery Shopper Jobs: Deciphering the Mystery

With thousands of Americans still claiming unemployment every week there are many people coming to the end of their ropes.

Unemployment is running out, the rent is due, and they’ll do just about anything to make ends meet.

That’s when the offer comes in. A new gig that can help you make extra money that you can do on your own time whenever you want. It’s time to go looking for mystery shopper jobs.

Getting paid to go shopping may sound too good to be true. But it isn't! Read about how you can make money and get perks for shopping at retailers, being a customer at a bank, and more.

What Does a Mystery Shopper Do?

Mystery shopping is one of those things most of us have heard about, but probably don’t fully understand. It’s pretty simple. To test our their customers’ experience in their stores companies will hire individuals to come in and test out the retail environment.

These people, mystery shoppers, get paid to go to the store and act like a customer.

The employees at the store don’t know mystery shoppers are coming, and have no way to identify them once they are in the store. It’s kind of like being paid to be a shopping spy.

The mystery shoppers may have been given money ahead of time to purchase certain items, or they might have a budget where they can spend a certain amount of money and get reimbursed the cost of those purchases.

While browsing through the aisles the mystery shopper is taking mental notes on the friendliness or customer service of the staff, the cleanliness of the store, and how easy the checkout process is. They may have an item shipped to them to return to judge the return process for the firm.

It sounds like a dream job. You’re getting paid to shop. It must be great! …but all is not well in this industry.

Mystery Shopper Jobs Scams

There is a large appeal to mystery shopper jobs. Again, getting paid to shop? Who wouldn’t want to do that? But as with any business there are bound to be scams. The three most common scams are:

  • Mystery shopping companies that require you to pay to complete an application.
  • Companies that promise to make you thousands of dollars as a mystery shopper.
  • Companies that send you a cashier’s check, an application, and other paperwork. You’re told to deposit the cashier’s check (for several thousand dollars) and wire most of the money to an account. You wire the money, the check bounces, and you’re left liable for the amount you wired.

You should never pay to complete an application in any industry. That’s just asking to never see that money again.

While it is true that you could eventually earn thousands of dollars in mystery shopping, this most likely isn’t going to be a full-time job. There simply isn’t enough work. Even if there was enough work you usually won’t make enough money to be able to support yourself by just working full-time as a mystery shopper.

Find Legitimate Mystery Shopper Jobs

So you’re not scared? Still interested in pursuing this part-time opportunity? Fair enough. The first two places you should look are an excellent FTC website on mystery shopping. The FTC does a really nice job of explaining the scams and facts behind mystery shopper jobs.

The second resource is actually one the FTC links to. It’s the website of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. The MSPA is the place to go to find legit companies offering legit mystery shopper jobs.

How Much Money Will I Make as a Mystery Shopper?

You can definitely make money as a mystery shopper. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely you’ll make a ton of money. It’s even less likely you’ll be able to consistently earn enough money to work full-time as a mystery shopper.

In fact you may not find many mystery shopping assignments that pay more than $10 or $20 to do a full report on your experience. (Maybe it is more clear why it is nearly impossible to work full time!)

The real benefit most mystery shoppers find is all the free services they receive at no charge. Why? Because it isn’t just retail stores that need mystery shopping. Your bank gets mystery shopped. Your oil change shop gets mystery shopped. The local copy and print store gets mystery shopped.

So if you use those services you may end up getting free service from one of those companies. That’s the real benefit at the end of the day.


  1. Kat @ Jobs as a Secret Shopper says:

    Your article on mystery shopping is really helpful!

  2. The Saved Quarter says:

    You can check out my “Goals and Progress” page ( and see entry after entry of mystery shop payments this year as it’s been a great way for me to make a little extra money toward my goal of saving a quarter of our income this year. It won’t make you rich, for sure, but it’s definitely not a scam and I’ve been paid repeatedly for my work.

    I’ve also gotten for free many meals, movies, bowling, oil changes, brake checks, all of my beauty supplies, children’s clothes, an eye exam, paint, sunglasses, kitchenware, and many gifts for Christmas.

    I like as a job aggregator. They collect and list jobs from MSPA and Volition, along with those companies using the Sassie system (Sassie not a shop company but the software used by lots of smaller companies). Because I’m signed up with many companies, I get e-mails to let me know about jobs and occasionally get phone calls from companies I’ve worked with before.

  3. Matt, it doesn’t sound like you’ve even tried mystery shopping through a legitimate source. 🙂 It’s often part-time work, but it is great.

  4. Matt,

    You’re wrong, I’m afraid. You won’t get rich by any stretch, but I’ve saved us tons of money from mystery shopping. I’ve been able to take myself and a friend (later, my husband) out to dinner on someone else’s dime. We’ve gotten hotel stays, even some merchandise once in awhile. My favorite are amusement parks.

    MSPA is one good resource. An even better (and also free) one is Volition. There is an alphabetical list of companies with an overview of which states they work in, basic types of assignments, etc.

    Also a forum where you can read other shoppers’ assessments of companies. And a forum that’s updated constantly by companies with open assignments.

  5. Oh! I think I just found my new weekend hobby!

  6. Mystery shopping is up there with the “stuffing envelopes at home”, “medical billing” or other work from home scams. If it sounds to good to be true – it is. If you are truly at the end of your rope – go to a temp firm, pizza shop, fast-food restaurant, or become a trucker (this last one applies if you’re single, however). Or start a small business.