Lies, Spam Lies, and Statistics
(Don't be scared: I'll just mention that I loved my intro. Stat.s class back in college, so the math-averse can heave a sigh of relief and read on to the rest of the post.)
I guess this post goes under
Public Service Announcement.
I don't do very much any more, but I used to do a little mystery-shopping. There is a lot of misunderstanding about mystery shopping, and lately there seem to be more scams surrounding it.
The old scam I used to see a lot was a spam email showing a model using an expensive laptop, drinking coffee, with ad copy that claimed you could Make! $75! To 100! An Hour! doing mystery shops or online surveys. All you had to do was send them $29.95 and they would set you up! Yay!
The scam part was that they'd send you a list of companies for your thirty bucks, each of which you would have to apply to separately. And all of these were companies where you could apply for free without spending the $29.95. (A real site, where I have learned about real companies, is Volition. No, they haven't paid me to link to them.)
The other part of the scam is that there aren't a lot of mystery shops that pay anything like $75 an hour. Usually it's $5 here, maybe $20 there. If you have to make a purchase, sometimes it's reimbursed up to a set amount. So you might get your fast food paid for, but you'd have to pay for it yourself up front and submit your receipt.
If you lived in an urban area, which I don't, it might be possible to drive around and do shops all day, submit reports all night, and make over minimum wage. In a rural area, it was a lot of driving for not a lot of compensation.
Another thing about mystery shopping is that you are not usually considered an employee of the company. You are an independent contractor. This means filing as self-employed in order to report this income, and paying the taxes yourself that an employer would withhold from your paycheck.
A new scam to me* was a variation on advance-fee fraud:
Out of the blue, a company sends you a check for a large amount of money (thousands!), and a list of local businesses where you are supposed to spend money ($75-100 at each place). The idea is that you deposit this "check" (which will eventually bounce) and then do "shops" at these businesses. Usually one of these fake shops involves wiring money or sending a moneygram somewhere - that's where the scammers make their money.
So you end up sending some of your real money to them, bouncing a check with all the associated fees and penalties your bank charges you, and spending hundreds of dollars against the fake check.
As somebody who has done real mystery shopping, this really peeves me. I hate to see people ripped off, and I hate to see a real industry getting a black eye from lowlife ripoff artists.
It goes back to things we (should have) learned as kids:
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If they send you money up front, it's probably counterfeit.
If they are paying more than they should, something is fishy.
*You can read the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) article about these scams here. The article includes places to report this scam.