Mystery Shopping: How I Earn Extra Cash Online

by Guest Blogger on 2009-09-2717

What are some great ways to earn extra cash online? Some of you make money blogging, while others visit online shopping sites and deal sites for rewards. In my case, I’ve been investigating another money earning strategy: have you heard of mystery shopping before?

Today as I ran errands during lunch, I got a call from a mystery shopping company. Would I take a pizza shop tonight, the scheduler asked? I would get reimbursed for the pizza plus receive $10 pay. Actually, would I do one pizza shop tonight and one tomorrow, he asked, almost pleading. I laughed and said yes. Even though the pay is lower than I like, I love pizza, especially this brand.

This month marks my one year anniversary as a mystery shopper. Mystery shopping is an activity set up by market research companies where they’ll pay you to shop; companies want your feedback on your shopping experience and they are willing to pay you for it.

mystery shopping
Image from

So far, my experience with this endeavor has been fun, without a doubt. And the cash has come in handy, a few times amounting to $300-$400 per month in my more lucrative periods. The down side is that you really have to take the time to do the shopping, including the often tedious paperwork afterward, which is tricky when you have a full-time job. But from my experience, this does get easier the more you do it.

I had wanted to do mystery shopping for years, but only took the plunge last year after I finished the bar exam. I had extra time on my hands while awaiting my results, and I needed the cash. So I first signed up with, which is a clearinghouse for mystery shopping opportunities. I paid about $7 for a one month trial. Many mystery shoppers discourage this, saying you don’t need to pay to find shopping opportunities. This may be true, but I found the trial period to be beneficial as I started out. From that small investment, I snagged about $300 in opportunities almost immediately, a good return as I see it.

You can also apply for opportunities at sites like and These sites also contain educational information and shopping forums, where you can learn to be a better mystery shopper and where you can bounce ideas off other shoppers.

Mystery Shopping: How I Earn Extra Cash Online

So, how do you get started? Here are the steps I’ve taken to become a mystery shopper:

1. Apply at mystery shopping sites.
Go to the sites I’ve mentioned and apply for individual shopping opportunities. This requires you to create a profile as an independent contractor with the mystery shopping company.

2. Wait to be selected as a shopper.
Your application will go into pending status until a scheduler decides which shopper gets the opportunity. If chosen, you’ll receive guidelines for how to proceed, as well as a due date on your shopping expedition.

3. Evaluate the rules and regulations set by the shopping site.
Sometimes, a shop (e.g. the shopping event) requires a cash outlay which is reimbursed, while at other times, no purchase is necessary because you are just evaluating the service or a certain sales process within a particular store. It is a good idea to review the shop’s evaluation form before you do the shop, so you know what details are needed.

4. Understand the process and how you’ll get paid.
You must meet the shop deadline and complete all tasks to get paid. Some mystery shopping companies pay as quickly as two weeks after the completion of a shop; some don’t pay for 60 days, so make sure you know the company’s pay policy before accepting a shop.

Beware of Mystery Shopping Scams

What about mystery shopping scams? From my experience, they are easy to spot. The typical ones are “opportunities” where you are sent a very large check that you are to deposit into your savings account. Such “opportunities” promise you a sizable portion of the check, then request you to wire the rest to a given address. The check is never good, and you are out the money. Just be aware that a reputable mystery shopping company will never pay you before you actually complete a shop. And if the fee seems too good to be true, it probably is. I received such a check and turned it over to my bank’s fraud department.

Now that my regular work has picked up, I have cut back on mystery shopping, only taking better priced shops or ones that particularly appeal to me, such as the pizza. But I will keep on, because it is an excellent part-time job, allowing me the flexibility to put in the hours whenever I want.

Guest contributor: BEM

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

John DeFlumeri Jr September 27, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Aren’t some of the mystery shopping deals a scam?

Silicon Valley Blogger September 27, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Yes, and the writer of this article talks about it as well. I’m not a mystery shopper but I’ve met some people who’ve been doing this for a while, with some success. I would assume that just like with many “schemes”, there are legitimate operations and there are those that are scams.

The worst type of scam involves any outfit that asks you for money up front. Never do it. Another type of scam involves you putting in the effort and time to do an activity that you never get paid for. The key is to check out the sites that offer these “opportunities” and make sure they have a positive track record in the business.

Manshu September 28, 2009 at 2:24 am

This sounds very interesting, doesn’t a store recognize you if you are visiting it for more than a year? Or you get to visit a lot of different stores and not have to repeat one too often?

Frugal Expat September 28, 2009 at 6:36 am

I have the same experience. It is a mystery shopper based locally. So far, the pay is ok but as you said, the paperworks are quite tedious.

Also, annother downside is that they will issue only the payment a month after you completed the mystery shopping.

Bargain Babe September 28, 2009 at 7:32 am

Thanks for the details on which sites people can sign up to mystery shop. I interviewed an experienced mystery shopper and she said many of the same things your guest blogger did in this post. I agree that paying to mystery shop is a terrible idea – there are companies you can sign up with for free! I recommend checking out the Mystery Shopping Providers Association if you are just getting started ( and looking for companies that don’t charge.

Judith Gill September 28, 2009 at 9:10 am

I schedule mystery shops from home for a living and found this article to be right on target. Nice job!

Craig September 28, 2009 at 10:36 am

I have heard about sites like this before, but curious to hear from someone who has experience with it.

Sherry September 28, 2009 at 5:13 pm

One day, I received a notice in the mail offering my money to be a mystery shopper. There was a check attached for $2,800.00. I read through the whole offer, which looked very legitimate. I called the phone number and talked to someone on the phone. It all seemed so good. They wanted me to deposit this check and then send someone $2,000. So I checked out the internet for mystery shopping scams and this type of deal was listed. The scary thing is that it all looked so legitimate. I was glad I didn’t try it out though because I’m sure that the check would never have cleared and then I would be out the money for the check I was supposed to have sent. I’m glad your offers are legitimate, but consumers do need to be careful.

Silicon Valley Blogger September 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm


There are a lot of online scams that abound. Unfortunately, for legitimate opportunities, they end up coexisting with these scams that give their “space” a bad name. It’s a good idea to ask around and find other consumers and participants who have succeeded in trying out these strategies to see if they do work.

My suggestion is that if you want to try something out, *never* put too much on the line — start small or start with baby steps. That way, if you find that something is not working out for you, you won’t be out too large an amount.

I remember when I tried to get into MLM a long time ago. It has worked for many people while it is a waste of time for most others. I am sure that many “schemes” and “opportunities” are this way — it’s worked for only a handful of people. Well, even if the activity here is on the “up and up”, I was still out my initial investment when I tried MLM. I figured it wasn’t for me.

So again, if you want to be adventurous — even if something isn’t a scam — be careful about what you’re getting into. Start off with only what you can afford to lose.

@Bargain Babe,

Thanks for the great input! Your info should prove helpful to many would be mystery shoppers!

Goran Web Design October 1, 2009 at 4:23 am

I’ll do anything for free pizza! Especially if it from a restaurant or franchise that I like! The old saying states that there is no such thing as a free meal, but getting paid to have a free meal really takes things to the next level! LOL!

Millionaire Acts October 1, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Is this the same concept of Freebies trading? I visited one site that makes money online through this method. I asked him about it and he said that it’s only available to US, Canada, and some countries but not here in Philippines.

anonymous October 12, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Do not ever ever ever ever…(*did i mention ever?*) pay to become a mystery shopper. You should never have to pay to work unless it’s a business that you’re starting up. However, mystery shopping is considered a job. If you’re asked to pay a fee, it’s normally a pretty good sign of a scam. Someone already posted this website above, but i also would recommend it: is a fine way to make a start in this field. Once you’ve tried some jobs through this site, you will be able to see if this is the job for you and you can make the decision of whether or not you want to learn more about this field. There certainly are legit opportunities out there but please make sure you weed out the good from the bad. Too many people fall into the lies of the scammers 🙁

InstantCashBlog November 8, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I have been in the Making Money Online arena for sometime now and I agree with your post as I know several people who make a nice chunk of change doing Mystery Shopping.

John Smith June 18, 2010 at 7:01 am

Great to hear your success story. I have been working as a UK Mystery Shopper for over five years and make a great full-time income. Although I know there are some scams out there I just want to let people know that there is a very good income to be made from being a professional mystery shopper. I am glad to hear of other’s successes.

Jay Teaching How To Make Money Online July 8, 2010 at 12:40 am

I am sure some mystery shopping sites are legit but some are scams you just have to be cautious of.

Larry Carnier November 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Hi everyone,

I decided to comment on this topic because I want to bring up what I have experienced with scams.
I always have wanted to be a franchise owner, so after I left my previous job as a IT developer I decided to move on my dream.

I started by doing some research around the commercial cleaning industry, I knew that the number one company in this industry was Jani-King, but I wanted to know more about them. Looking online I came across some readings and articles about Jani-King scam, so I decided to dig into that. I personally called a bunch of Jani-King franchise owners and ask them millions of questions about their experience with Jani-King.

They were very nice and polite and after a bunch of calls my mind was clear, these scam rumors were absolutely unfounded.

So, my advice is RESEARCH! Double check, email people, make calls, meet people, if you are not sure about something, do not stop at the first opinions or rumors that you hear, especially if these come from the Web.

Editors’ Note: We do not endorse Jani-King. These are thoughts of a commenter.

Kat @ Jobs as a Mystery Shopper December 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Great info about mystery shopping!

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