The times in my life where, for one reason or another, I was looking for a job, I always found the lure of work at home jobs tempting. The work at home jobs that were most readily available were either scams or they cost more to do than you could make. The best work at home jobs were hard to find or they required skills that I just did not have.My true passion and calling is church ministry, which in my case has moved me across the country a couple of times. It also, until recently, did not pay at all. That meant I had to find some regular paying job that was flexible enough to let me do my church ministry.My last move was from California back to my home state of Missouri. That left me in a position where I was not yet being paid by the church, and I still didn’t have a secular job. After a short time of filling out applications, I got tired of it and just looked up the city’s business directory and started calling. I didn’t get very far down the list before I was asked to come in for an interview. After the interview process I was hired. The job I landed was a hourly position at a mystery shopping company.I have learned a lot about the mystery shopping industry and the problems they face with fake mystery shopping companies. These fake mystery shopping companies will often use the real mystery shopping companies name. They ofter refer to the real companies website to enhance their legitimacy. They sometimes even use the names of the employees at the real mystery shopping company.This article’s purpose is to teach you how to avoid the fakes and take advantage of the finds by; showing you what to look for in the fakes, where to look for the finds, and the best way to make the real deal profitable. This article should give the person looking for a work at home job with flexible hours the information they need to make mystery shopping a profitable venture.Beware of checks in the mail! If you receive checks in the mail from a mystery shopping company before you have done anything, chances are they are a fake. They may email you or even call, but if they send you money that has not yet been earned, be afraid. Be very afraid! Some unsuspecting people have called our office asking where their money is. They followed the instructions carefully. They deposited the checks and wired the money, but now their bank account is overdrawn and they are demanding answers. My only answer is they have been duped and we had nothing to do with it. It breaks my heart to tell them that they will probably never see any of that money again. If you have lost money due to one of these scams, you should contact any companies involved and the FBI as well as alert local authorities. Don’t expect any of them to be too reasuring though. Your money is probably in another country right now.If the checks or money orders are fake, why doesn’t the bank catch them right away? The evil doers that make these fakes are really good at what they do. The only way the banks can know for sure that the checks or money order are real, is to run the transaction. That takes a couple days. Meanwhile your bank account if full of imaginary money. When you pay for something or use money out of your bank account, that money is real. If you wired money to these people or where ever they told you to wire it, that money was real as well. When the imaginary money disappears, the bank holds you responsible for the difference.There are a plethora of other schemes out there designed to make money off anyone who might be a little to trusting. The general rule is, you don’t give or use money that you couldn’t afford to lose. If you are given money in the form of a check, money order, or even cash, give the bank time to verify it is real. Do not spend the money or send the money until it is verified. Open a separate account so as not to mix the potentially fake money with your real money. Be very careful about giving out personal information.You might be thinking that you should just avoid everything that comes along with the words “mystery shopping” attached. Please don’t come to the conclusion that mystery shopping is always illegitimate. There are opportunities out there for those that want to shop businesses for money. Businesses rely on mystery shopping to make sure their front line employees are meeting their standard of customer service. Sometimes they do the shops internally, sending in upper management undercover. Sometimes they ask their regular customers to evaluate their service. The most common and most effective mystery shopping programs are done by third party businesses.Mystery shopping by its very nature is secretive. Companies do not want people or other companies to know about their mystery shopping program and shoppers do not want people to know that they are mystery shoppers. Mystery shopping companies have to be very careful about how they promote their business. They can’t go around saying, “we have shops at McDonalds” to the whole world. They have to be somewhat generic. “We have fast food shops in this city” they might say. These generic advertisements rouse suspicion among those who mystery shopping companies would most like to reach. It is a catch 22.People who are looking to become shoppers can find a few places where they can be sure the opportunities they are getting are real. One of those places in the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). The MSPA is like the Better Business Bureau, except they deal exclusively with mystery shoppers and mystery shopping companies. Their website is mysteryshop.org. They help connect shoppers with legitimate companies.You can also find mystery shopping forums where shoppers talk to each other about what companies are the best and worse. Most mystery shopping companies will have somebody out there calling them a scam on these forums, but take those comments with a grain of salt. These shoppers probably did not complete the shop according to the client details specified before they accepted the opportunity. There are always bitter people out there who’s goal in life is to destroy the reputation of businesses they feel cheated them out of a couple dollars. Check and see if everybody is complaining or if it is just one voice in a thousand.You can also check out the webpage of the company and any of their social media pages. Look specifically for others who have posted on the companies blog or Facebook page. You can tell a lot by how many friends a company has on their social media platforms and how active they are. Keep in mind that shoppers are pretty private people, so you won’t a whole lot of comments on public forums. You will see enough to verify there is some life though.Legitimate mystery shopping companies will have some sort of sign up process. Some are long and somewhat laborsome. Other companies sign up process is as simple as using a Facebook automatic sign up button. A sample of your writing might be required and other information you. It is not unusual for a mystery shopping company to ask for your Social Security number or EIN. They need this for tax purposes. If you make over $599.00, the company will have to send you a 1099 form. They may also require a W9. If the company does direct deposits they will need some bank information. Asking for any of these thing should not make you think that the company is illigitament. All these things are a necessary part of doing business with you as a independent contractor.In most cases, unless you are applying for editing, scheduling, sales or some other type of office job, you will not be hired by a mystery shopping company. What I mean is you will not become an employee of the mystery shopping company. If you do mystery shopping you will be doing it as a independent contractor. Congratulations! You are running your own at home business. Mystery shopping companies are how you connect to the clients who need shoppers. They also do all the scheduling and editing for the client. Basically, the mystery shopping company is a liaison between the mystery shopper and the business. Without all the tools that mystery shopping companies have, shoppers would not be able to deliver the kind of reporting that companies require. Without the mystery shopping companies, businesses would spend a lot more time and money on mystery shopping programs. Mystery shopping companies are a valuable asset, both to the businesses who need shoppers and to the shoppers who want to shop for businesses. The important thing to keep in mind for those looking to be shoppers is, you are not an employee. There are benefits to that and drawbacks. but you are your boss and your client is the business. You will probably never have any contact with the person who is really paying you. Strange but true. Mystery shopping is kind of a weird world.Different mystery shopping companies have their own way of telling you what shops are available. Most mystery shopping companies will give you a login to their website where you can see all the available shops in your area. You accept the shops you want to do and after the shops are awarded, you are responsible to follow the client details for the shops you have accepted.After completing the shop, you will normally fill out an online survey. When you have completed the survey, some mystery shopping companies will have editors review the survey, and if there are any problems, the editors will return the shop to you to correct those problems. If you fail to follow the client details or fail to complete the survey thoroughly, the editors may reject your shop all together and look for another shopper to complete it. You will not be compensated for time or money spent doing the shop. This is the risk of being an independent contractor. If your work does not meet the agreement when you accepted the project, the client does not have to reward you.On the other hand, if the survey is filled out thoroughly and all client details were followed, you will receive the agree upon amount of money. You may also receive an agreed upon amount of reimbursement as well for purchases made. The business will pay the mystery shopping company for their services which includes the shopper pay. The mystery’s shopping company will disburse the money owed to the shoppers. The disbursements are made using pay services, paper checks, direct deposit, etc… The day of the disbursement also varies a great deal. It could take up to 90 days to receive the disbursement for your shop. It could be as quick as 15 days from the day of the shop.There are shops that could earn you large amounts of money or reimbursement in one shot. Normally those shops require a lot of time, a large amount of money up front, and/or some risk. There are shops where you are earning a meal, product, vacation or service completely reimbursed. You will have pay for these things first, but if you do the shop correctly, they will be 100% reimbursed or up to the agreed amount in the client details.On the other hand, a majority of shops available earn much less money. Shops can earn as little as $2, but most are in the range of $5 to $20. Some shoppers aren’t really doing it for the money and just shop for fun.Other shoppers develop large routes so they can do as many shops as they can in one day. They can turn $10 each into $100 easily. Many shops are in close proximity and if planned well, can make the shopper a lot of money in one day. To do this they have to sign up for as many mystery shopping companies as possible.Route shopping takes a lot of organization. You have to be able to work with the schedulers from the different mystery shopping companies and make sure the shops can all be done on the same day. You have to allow enough time to travel between locations and enough time to fill out all the surveys. Some companies require the surveys to be turned in the same day that the shop was completed. You also have to be thorough in your reports or they could be rejected. If you miss due dates or forget about shops, you could get black listed and not be able to do anymore shops for some companies. For those that can plan and organize routes, they have the most potential for making a significant amount of money.Most locations can be done more than once by the same shopper, there are usually rotation times. Rotation times could be as little as 30 days all the way up to a year. Some shops will only be able to be done one time and will never be able to shop that location again. It just depends on what the client needs.Mystery shopping companies may also have affiliate programs, where the affiliate is rewarded for referring shoppers to the company. These programs could pay for every person referred that signs up or even for every shop completed by the person who was referred. Some also pay for sub-affiliate activity as well.Mystery shopping can be a viable, flexible and fun source of income. Even if you have heard horror storys of people being taken advantage of, you can confidently choose legitimate mystery shopping companies to shop for.