NO, mystery shopping is not a scam as long as you watch what you are doing and follow some simple advice!
1- Never Pay to Mystery Shop
You will see lots of ads out there that say send me $ and I will send jobs—all these are usually are lists which you can get for free—do not fall for them!
2- Ask Someone Who Is a Mystery Shopper
On occasion you will see others posting that they have Mystery Shopped-Mystery Shoppers love to share-there are plenty of jobs to go around and most if not all will tell you where to go and what to do.
3- Sign Up to as Many Legitimate Companies as you Can
There are hundreds of companies who schedule Mystery Shops-there are also individuals who schedule for these companies. However, not every company is going to have shops in your area, state or country (yes there are international jobs as well as specialized Army base and airport jobs). It may take a while to find the companies who schedule in your area—but they are there!!
4- Get Certified as a Mystery Shopper
You do have to pay for this but it is well worth it and many of the companies actually require it. It is not difficult to pass. There are 2 levels of certification-Silver and Gold. If you at least certify as Silver you will be fine.
5- Mystery Shopping IS Work
Make no mistake-Mystery Shopping is a job and some can be more difficult then others! Always READ the instructions BEFORE you accept a job to make sure you will be able to finish it. For example-some shops require a camera-do you have one? Almost all jobs require that you can scan the receipt you received-do you have access to a scanner? Can you bring your children or friend with you or not? Will you actually be able to complete the shop and turn in the report on time (via computer)?
Just a couple more words of advice-once you have signed up with a legitimate company and done a job or two they will be sending you almost daily lists of jobs they need filled-you do not have to take any you do not want. There will also be times where a shop is bonused which means that they will pay extra for someone to do it! These are nice shops to grab up as long as they are near enough to you that you are not spending too much on gas! And last but not least—Mystery Shoppers are considered independent contractors-you will need to supply the company with your social security number and file a schedule C at the end of the year. Just remember to keep a log of the mileage you drove, the tolls, fares you paid and the amounts you paid out (you are reimbursed for purchases most times but you will receive a 1099 with the gross that was paid-so you will need these amounts as expenses!!)