Tips from a long-time mystery shopper

Mystery shopping may seem like it's too good to be true, but it is a valid way many people earn an income on the side.

Mystery shopping may seem like it's too good to be true, but it is a valid way many people earn an income on the side.

People who sign up with mystery shopping companies can access job boards where assignments are listed. After completing the on-site, online or over-the-phone tasks, secret shoppers write a report based on their findings, send it in and wait for payment. Sometimes this means they will get paid for shopping at a retail store, but the scope isn't that limited. Shoppers may also be asked to dine out, order drinks at a new bar or receive an oil change at an autobody shop.

If individuals are interested, but wary about the line of work because they have heard mystery shopping jobs can sometimes be scams, they can learn some tips from Bethany Mooradian, a woman who has been working odd jobs to make money her entire life, according to US News. When she wasn't taking jobs as a web designer, a bodyguard for mascots or a census taker, Mooradian took mystery shopping jobs. In fact, she boasts a 13-year tenure in the line of work.

Don't get scammed

One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to mystery shopping is thinking the jobs are all scams, Mooradian told the source. She warns that prospective shoppers shouldn't pay to be listed with a company, since those jobs are often scams. However, there are many legitimate providers listed through the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, an organization that offers links to certified member companies.

Remember to withhold taxes

Another common mistake is being unclear about employee status and how that relates to tax payment, she adds. Since mystery shoppers are not considered employees for the mystery shopping companies, they are classified as independent contractors and must withhold their own taxes, explains the Mystery Shop Maven.

At most hourly or salaried positions, employees are asked to fill out a W2 form, which is used to calculate deductions for the year. Shoppers can perform a tax estimate on their own, if they feel confident with their accounting and financial management skills, they can also hire help come tax time or stockpile a portion of their earnings throughout the year.

When secret shoppers are savvy - checking to make sure providers are valid, and keeping their tax obligations in mind - they can participate in this fun line of work that enables them to make money doing activities they already enjoy.