Don’t pay cash for a high-end return shop

  I had an interesting experience the other day when doing a purchase and return mystery shop at a high-end shoe store. My job was to go in and purchase shoes around $200, and then return them the next day.  Because I try to stay away from credit cards as much as possible, I paid cash. This particular store prides itself on customer service, and had me fill out customer paperwork when I made the purchase.  I gave my real first name, but a fake last name, as I’m always paranoid that people will Google me and discover I’m a Read More…

Should I let a bad company go?

Dear WAHFAQ, I have a dilemma.  I really don’t like one mystery shopping company I have been working for.  They’re realllllllly picky about the assignments, they send them back to me all the time for re-writes, they don’t pay that great, and my scheduler constantly calls and emails me to remind me of shops.  I work for a bunch of other companies, and I don’t have that problem with them so I don’t think it’s my work.  I don’t want to burn bridges, but I don’t think I can work for this company anymore.  What do you suggest? The wonderful Read More…

Mystery shopping dilemma: What if an employee hits on you?

I love mystery shopping, but I swear, sometimes the weirdest things happen on assignments which leave me scratching my head and thinking, “Ok, how am I going to write this one up?” In one apartment shop, my cover story was that I was single, and looking for a one-bedroom apartment. The leasing agent was a young man who had just moved to the area and had been working at the building for only a few weeks. I doubt that he had much experience within rentals, as we spent a lot of time talking about me. He did a fair job Read More…

Why can’t I get a gift certificate for mystery shopping?

Dear WAHFAQ, I’m supposed to do a really high-end restaurant shop this week, but the mystery shopping company won’t get me a gift certificate.  I’m supposed to take 10 people!  This is going to cost me around $300, and even though I’m going to get reimbursed, it’s going to take awhile. Why can’t they just give me a gift certificate and make my life easier? First of all, congrats on the restaurant shop!  That’s going to be a lot of fun, and a really hefty reimbursement!  I totally understand where you’re coming from, and that’s why some of these high-end Read More…

Is this a real job offer or scam? (Mystery Shopping WalMart)

Dear WAHFAQ, I got this email the other day, and I was wondering…is it a real job or a scam?  I know you like Mystery Shopping, and I just wanted to get your professional opinion~ Thanks! One of  America’s largest, discount departmental outlet is re-branding. The Retail Industry is a competitive world, with each retailer vying for the attention of consumers in an increasingly clustered market. We do not want to rely on proprietary data collection processes and technology alone, we need appraisers to collect specific data about their experience and opinions when they visit this any of our outlets, Read More…

Is this Mystery Shopping assignment worth my time?

Dear WAHFAQ, I recently received an email from a company for this assignment: Mystery Shoppers are needed in the NEW YORK cities listed below for BANK SHOPS. Payment is  $20 and requires an inquiry for a new checking or savings account. Shops may NOT be done on Saturday, or after 5pm.  Assignments are due before June 26. An online 2-page report will need to be completed with detailed comments regarding your experience. Manhattan              Binghamton             Westfield            Rochester         Albany Do you think it’s worth the fee they’re giving? Thanks!   There are many factors to consider whether the assignment is Read More…

Seven ways to make $50 quickly

Dear WAHFAQ, I need to make money NOW. Not necessarily a lot, just enough to tide me over until the end of the month. What can I do? If you need to make money quickly, there are many things you can do to bring in extra income. While there is no need to limit yourself to $50, it’s enough to make a difference when you’re strapped for cash. Fifty-dollars can: …get enough food for a single person for a week, or a family for a few days. …be enough of a down-payment on a past-due bill to keep utilities from Read More…

Can I tell my friends that I’m a Mystery Shopper?

Dear WAHFAQ, I loved your mystery shopper book and class and have been shopping for a little over a month now.  The checks are just now starting to come in and I’m so happy!  I’ve been wanting to tell my sister and my friends about mystery shopping, but I know that companies are really strict about their confidentially rules.  Can I actually tell people that I’m a shopper? Or do I have to keep this a secret forever? Thanks!   You absolutely can tell people you’re a mystery shopper. Heck, if we couldn’t do that, I’d be in BIIIIIGGGGG trouble!  Read More…

I know it’s a scam, now what?

Dear WAHFAQ, I just found your website, and I’m writing because I’m a little bit scared. Through Craigslist, I tried to become a mystery shopper, and after a volley of poorly written emails from a guy named “Paul”, I just received a check on my doorstep for $3501.00 and instructions to email this HOTMAIL account for more information on the next step. Obviously, I don’t want to touch this check with a ten foot pole. But, what do I do now? Can I safely shred it and forget the whole thing? Am I liable for anything? I really want to Read More…

Do I have to buy something?

Dear WAHFAQ, I’m really interested in this mystery shopping thing, but I was wondering if I had to buy stuff when I shopped.  Isn’t that I just would get money back for the money I spent? And what if I spend more than what the assignment paid me?  It doesn’t seem like a good way to actually make money. Each assignment really depends on the mystery shopping company’s guidelines as well as the requirements from the client.  For restaurant shops, yes, you do actually have to purchase a meal.  Sometimes the MS company will reimburse you for the meal as Read More…

The three most evil work at home scams ever

Image courtesy of and Stuart Miles


There are so many scams out there. Are there any ones that are more evil than others?

Granted, I consider most scams to be some kind of “evil” but there are a few in particular that have their own special brand of sinister wretchedness. That is because in these scams, you will actually be paid, but unbeknownst to you, you’re scamming someone else! Keep in mind that these are pretty sophisticated scams, so you may only be one part of the larger puzzle:

Version One: The Payment Processing Clerk

As a “payment processing clerk”, you may be asked to set up a bank account at a specific bank to receive direct deposits or to handle expenses. The company who “hired” you will put money in the bank account, and then you’re supposed to wire that money through Western Union to other employees, vendors, or companies.

In reality, you’re just wiring it to the scammers. When a company requires you to have a specific bank for your direct deposit, keep in mind that the scammers may have hacked into that bank and electronically transferred stolen money into your account. In this scam, you will be paid to perform your duties for as long as the scammers can get away with it. After all, they need you to keep the scam going. However, once the bank realizes what has happened, you will be liable to repay those funds.

If you’re required to use a specific bank for any potential job you have been offered, contact that bank before you do anything, and let the bank know that you suspect the account may have been hacked.

Version Two: The Payroll Clerk

As a “payroll clerk” you may be asked to process checks at home. You’ll be required to purchase checks and a software system, (easily obtained through any office supply store) and the company will mail you the names, addresses, and the amount of money to send to these “employees.”

The amount of money on these checks is fairly significant, usually around $1,000 and up. That is because, unbeknownst to you, the scammers are running a whole different con to the person on the receiving end of the check.

That person, (who receives the check that you send,) may have been hired as a mystery shopper to evaluate a Western Union. They receive your check, cash it, keep $500 for themselves, and wire back $500 to a company overseas, thinking it’s all part of the assignment. What neither of you realize is that the checks are fake, drawn off of a non-existent account (or a hacked account as mentioned in the first scam) and that the money is just going back to the scammers overseas.

The “Mystery Shopper” isn’t aware of this until the check bounces, and you aren’t aware of this until the police come knocking at your door…because, since you’re getting paid, so you think it’s legitimate!

Version Three: The Money Transfer Agent

Scammers post job ads for “Money Transfer Agents,” stating that they need someone in the US to help them receive payments for their company. This scam is actually pretty straightforward: You pick up money at one Western Union (perhaps wired there from a Mystery Shopper) and wire it someone else (either to a hacked bank account, or to the scammers overseas.) In this case, you’re just a mule–and again, you still get paid, because they need you to do their dirty work!

Hopefully, you can see a theme here: companies who are overseas and require the use of Western Union or other wire transfer services. The scammers would never send you a bank-drawn check or use credit card information, because it’s too easy to track. If ever you come across a situation where an overseas company is trying to get a state-side agent: RUN. When the scam is exposed, (and it will be) you could be liable and responsible for the money you have transferred and mailed. After all, technically, you’re the one committing the fraud…the folks overseas just asked you to do it but you’re the one who completed the task.


Should you give out your social security number?


It seems like every Mystery Shopping company that I sign up for wants my social security number. I don’t feel comfortable giving it out. What should I do?

I know that Mystery Shopping does sound a little too good to be true, and it can feel like a scam when you’re first getting started, but, believe it or not, this is a job!

Your employer, the mystery shopping company, needs to know that you’re legally authorized to work in the US, (or Canada, or wherever you’re shopping) and because of that, they need your social security number.

Even though you’re an independent contractor, if you make over $599 with any one company, they are legally required to send a 1099 form to the IRS and one to you as well. If they don’t have your social security number, they will not be in compliance with this law and get in BIG TROUBLE.

If you don’t make more than $599 with a Mystery Shopping company, they don’t have to do the extra 1099 paperwork. However, they still claim you as an expense for doing business. The IRS may turn around and come to you to make sure that you claimed the income and paid taxes on it. So, yes, kids, you always need to declare your Mystery Shopping income.

Now, I wouldn’t just go around willy-nilly giving out your SSN to every company out there first, of course make sure that they’re legitimate, and if you’re submitting this information online, make sure it’s a secure site. You can see the little https:// in the address bar before the site’s name. Any company that uses Sassie or Prophet for their scheduling has a secure database, so I’d trust those as well.

I do recommend that if you’re contracting with several companies to get an EIN (Employer’s Identification Number) for your business. I personally have worked for over 150 Mystery Shopping companies and I much prefer to use an EIN instead of my SSN for tax reporting. Getting an EIN is free from, just be sure to use it within 2 years otherwise they’ll take it back! Talk to a local tax advisor if you have questions…you can find assistance through your local office.

Good luck, and happy shopping!