Secret Shopper's Secrets to Making Money While She Shops

You’ve heard the stories - people losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars in secret shopper schemes. But some South Floridians are making cash as true secret shoppers — getting paid to visit popular stores, restaurants, even hotels.

NBC 6 got rare access to the secret shopper industry following one of these shoppers on assignment at a Miami-Dade clothing store. She asked not to reveal her identity since anonymity is part of her job.

Her mission this day is finding whether store employees are getting the job done. The secret shopper reviews a questionnaire in advance so she knows what specific things she’s looking for. She says questions include: “Were they helpful? Did they come address you? Did they ask you if you need anything?”

The secret shopper will fill out the report which also requires her to judge the store on cleanliness and its sales display. She earned $25 for this specific assignment which she says took her less than 30 minutes. She’s been scheduling these secret shopping missions around her day job for two years now and says it can be a big boost to anyone’s monthly income.

“I probably could make $1,000-$2,000 easily,” she said.

The secret shopper says she loves the free meals, trips to the movies and getting to keep some of the merchandise she’s asked to buy during her assignments.

The key to landing the best assignments is logging on to secret shopper sites at the beginning of the month when assignments come out. Whatever and wherever the assignment she’s says she’s focusing on customer service.

“Sometimes they’ve asked me to please ask the waiter that you don’t want the food for whatever reason--make up an excuse and send it back,” she said.

This secret shopper had to take several tests herself to land this job.

“I had to write something like a narrative--something I could describe because basically you’re the eyes and ears of that business owner who’s not there,” she said.

If this sounds like a job for you, she warns you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears alert because it’s an industry targeted by thieves wanting to take your money.

North Miami resident Florangel Santiago knows that all too well.

“I was so happy! Yes, I was going to get into this business and be a mystery shopper,” Santiago said.

Santiago thought she had hit the jackpot when she was finally offered a secret shopper job via email. She received instructions to assess the performance of cashiers at Wal-Mart. For 30 minutes of work it seemed so easy.

“They said I’m just going to get $1,900 then I get $250 for me,” Santiago said.

But things changed when the check arrived in the mail.

“I got a bad feeling about it,” Santiago said.

She was told part of her job meant wiring money to a third party. That's when she double-checked with her bank and got the bad news it was a scam.

“I wanted it to be real,” Santiago said.

So how do you know if a secret shopper job is real? According to the Federal Trade Commission, legitimate jobs are posted online by reputable marketing research or merchandising companies. Some authentic companies will ask secret shoppers to pay for their gas on assignments. You might also have to pay for meals and purchases made during assignments and get reimbursed later.

But real companies will not ask you to pay an application fee or ask you to deposit a check and wire money to someone else.

That means Santiago will have to keep shopping for real secret shopper jobs--if she wants to make some extra cash.

Here are several sites our secret shopper says she uses for jobs:
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