Is Mystery Shopping a Scam? The truth you need to know!

Is Mystery Shopping a SCAM?  That’s a loaded question.  I am going to give you an answer as I consider myself a well informed individual having done Mystery Shopping myself for over 4 years.

What Mystery Shopping IS NOT

There are no programs, I repeat NO programs that should cost a single penny to sign up for in regards to Mystery Shopping.  I never PAID to become a Mystery Shopper.  So #1 if ANY program is telling you to pay a Monthly or 1 time fee to join….THAT IS A SCAM!  Believe me when I say scammers are smart.

They know how to have all the appearances of a legit company.  I myself was in the process of signing up for one when I found out that no legit company would be asking for your money.  Woah!  Alarm bells!  Thank goodness I came across that info before sending my money off.

Don’t pay to become a Mystery Shopper, they need you and want to pay You for your time.


Mystery Shopping 101

Is Mystery Shopping a Scam?  No… is not!  Now that I’ve told you what it isn’t, its my pleasure to tell you what it IS! 

A while back when I was a teenager I worked at a restaurant chain here in Canada.  We had Mystery Shoppers that would come through and grade our service and food and if we got a top score our store and staff was rewarded.  This is how I knew that there was such a thing as a Secret Shopper (Mystery Shopper).

When my oldest was a toddler I was looking to make some money on the side.  Money I could make from home, online.  I remembered about the whole restaurant/mystery shopper and wondered if it existed as a “thing” and if I could do it.

I began my online research.  I found companies that seemed legit.  I signed up and filled out my profile and began searching for jobs.  I actually just remembered what my first shop was…..right when I was about to type that I don’t remember the first shop.  It was a bedding company and I was to enquire about a Duvet.

I want to tell you right off the bat that you have to be a bit of an actor as you are posing for a scenario that the company gives you.  It can feel like lying because sometimes you have to make up a scenario that isn’t true for you.  The trick with Mystery Shopping is that you are in disguise as a REAL shopper so you do need to be convincing as such.  Most of the shops are covert, so you are to blend in and not be identified as a Mystery Shopper.  Some of the companies will not approve your shop if you get discovered as a shopper! 

I did do some shops though where it was an audit and I would identify myself to the Salesperson with a letter from the company letting them know I was there officially.  These were gas station audits to check that they had the right paperwork available and prices listed.  

Oh my goodness was I nervous!  My husband and son were with me….outside the shop of course….for moral support but I had butterflies in my stomach.  That feeling is completely normal.  Before you go on the shop you read the scenario, you need to know it well, and then you have to have answers ready in your head for the interaction with the salesperson/waiter/banker/car dealer, whoever you may be seeing for this particular shop.


101 Con’t

Mystery Shopping can bring in a nice extra income.  That being said, if you are on a tight income Mystery Shopping may not be for you.  Also it depends where you live and how many shops are available in that area.

A lot of the shops DO require you to spend money.  I want to be clear about this.  MOST of the time that cost is reimbursed to you.  When you first join the company it can take as much as almost 2 months to get paid.  Once you have passed that first pay then the pays are usually once a month.  Most common form of payment is Paypal or Hyperwallet.  Sometimes the companies mail you a cheque

***Another quick SCAM ALERT-if any company you come across is advertising a “Cheque (Check) cashing” idea……RED FLAG!!!! 

1. The scammer runs an ad posing as a mystery shopping recruiter. They get to know you (normally via
email) and ask for your contact information.
2. Once they have your contact information, they send you a cheque and ask you to deposit it into your
bank. These funds are supposed to be used to complete a mystery shop.
3. You are asked to complete a mystery shop at a money transfer location where you are to wire the
most of the funds back to the mystery shopping company whilst evaluating customer service at the
4. You keep some of the funds for completing the assignment.
The cheque is fake; it bounces after the shopper has wired the funds back to the scammer. This leaves
the victim out of pocket for the amount of the transfer. *** (Information Source:

There are some shops where you don’t have to spend.  Cell phone inquiry shops or electronics inquiries usually didn’t involve me spending anything.  The reports weren’t too long either.  Sometimes when there is a purchase item it can be anything in the store, so you could just buy a package of gum in order to get a receipt as proof that you were at the shop.  Also some shops can require a purchase and then next day return as they want to know about Sales and Customer service when returning an item.  

Mystery Shopping, in my experience, included, but is not limited to:

  • Restaurants
  • Car dealerships
  • Electronics Stores
  • Post Office
  • Retail Stores
  • Bedding Stores
  • Fast Food
  • Cosmetics Shops
  • Banks
  • Automotive Shops

Again, there are more but these were the kinds of places I shopped.

To make it more specific most people will recognize the names of places I performed Mystery Shops:

  • McDonalds
  • Dairy Queen
  • Vision Electronics
  • Sports Check
  • Save-On-Foods (Canada)
  • TD Bank
  • CIBC
  • HSBC
  • Canada Post
  • Earls
  • White Spot (I think they no longer do their program though)
  • 5 guys Burgers and Fries
  • Sirens
  • Footlocker
  • OK Tire
  • Rogers-cell phone
  • Bell-cell phone
  • Telus-cell phone
  • Koodoo-cell phone
  • London Drugs
  • Moxie’s
  • Cactus Club

There are more but I can’t remember all.  Depending of the shop, length of time involved, cost of purchase, these shops vary in what you get paid.  The lowest pay was probably 8$ for a completed shop + reimbursement up to a set amount.  Some of the shops for which you must make a purchase allow you to return the item if you want but just several days later so as not to identify yourself as a Mystery Shopper.

Show Me the MONEY!!!

Like I said, you CAN make money.  I did.  I probably could have made more but I didn’t always have the extra cash to be out of pocket for a month.  The cell phone shops were great because sometimes I could complete more than 1 in a day.  I could do 4 or 5 and each only had about a 5 minute interaction.  They usually paid about 10-14$ each.  McDonald’s required a purchase of a specified meal and then I was reimbursed plus a 10$ or more fee.

Banks pay more and usually pay you 20$ or 30$ but do require sitting down with a Financial Advisor to discuss Mutual Funds or opening a certain type of account.


The most lucrative shops I found, but never performed, where the luxury vehicle department.  Those pay about $60-$100 each.  You pose as a wealthy person looking for a new LandRover or Mercedes and then you’ll report on the sales aspect of the interaction.  You don’t have to be wealthy but there are stipulations for what kind of car you could arrive in.  10 years or newer I believe.  I’ve dressed up before for a bank shop where I posed as a wealthy person opening a business account.  I didn’t have to open the account, just get information.

I found a YouTube video from Lovely Lesean where she talks about her experience Mystery Shopping and which companies she uses.  Have a look for more information on Mystery Shopping!

I think my best month I made $1500.00.  I lived in a more remote location at the time so there weren’t as many shops available.  If you live in a more populated area you could probably make more than that.

A few things to consider to are cost of fuel, if you are driving or transport of any kind really.  Also, how long can you afford to wait for reimbursement.  1 month is a long time to wait to be out of pocket a couple hundred dollars.  The main part of the shopping isn’t the interaction, but the report you file once the experience is complete.

Each company has their own deadline for how long you have to complete the report.  Also something to consider.  Some reports have to be completed within 12 hours12, 24 or 48 hours were the typical timeframes I encountered.  Again, some reports only took 10-15 minutes to do, some took an hour or more.  Usually the length and involvement with the shop is also reflected in the complexity and length of the report.  Shops that pay more usually require a more comprehensive report.  

All the reports are filled in through online services.  There is a form and you would login to fill out the report, upload any pictures, receipts or proof required that you visited the location.  There are some companies that use apps which can make it easier as well as having location services you use when you arrive at the shop to confirm your visit.


What do you think?

Honestly when it comes to Mystery Shopping I feel 50/50 about it.  You do get free food, get paid to eat it and usually need to take someone with you.  I got to take my husband along and go eat good food at Earl’s, Moxies and Cactus Club.  You can have a nice meal for the budget they give and you can spend more than that if you wish.  Getting paid to shop is not all bad.

The part I don’t like is if you are someone on a limited budget trying to earn extra cash then the shops would be a bit more limited to you as quite a few require you to spend.  Not everyone can wait a month to be reimbursed.  If you can then this can be a good choice for you.

I enjoyed the food shops probably the most cause hey….we like to eat out anyway, so why not get the meal reimbursed AND make more for it.

There is another way to make money for free.  Check out Wealthy Affiliate here to see what that’s all about!

Please let me know what your thoughts are.  Have you Mystery Shopped before and have helpful advice?  Leave a comment and let us know about it!






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2 thoughts on “Is Mystery Shopping a Scam? The truth you need to know!

  • September 4, 2018 at 2:57 am

    I was always curious about mystery shopping. Thank you for this great article about it. It was especially helpful to know that you shouldn’t have to pay to become one. Great information!

    • September 4, 2018 at 3:03 am

      Thank You. Yes Mystery Shopping can be a great side income. I found out early on you shouldn’t pay to become one and I think that information can save people a lot of money. It’s all free…they want to pay you. Especially if you live in a populated place there can be lucrative shops including hotel stays and test driving luxury cars. Not at all bad!


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