Are These for Real or Scams?
If you check into a money-making opportunity
and are told you'll be sent a check, and you have to deposit
it and then send some of the money to someone else, it's a scam.
In fact, many of the offers you get in your email or see online
are scams, or at least as close to illegal as they can get without
putting someone in jail.
Of course, some opportunities are for real,
and some are only a fraud most of the time. Most of the
time? Yes, that's not very encouraging, but that's what this
article is here for -- to help you sort through some of the possibilities
out there, the ones that make a person with healthy skepticism
ask, "Is this for real or a scam?" I'll look at being
a mystery shopper, serving as a mock juror, joining a focus group,
doing surveys for pay and more.
Posing as a customer and visiting a store
or restaurant to see how you are treated sounds like a fun way
to make a little extra money. You report on your experience and
what you saw to the company which hired you, filling out whatever
questionnaire or form they need. They, in turn, give all the
information to the businesses which their mystery shoppers visit.
These businesses essentially pay mystery shopper outfits to see
how good of a job they and their employees are doing.
Unfortunately most of the offers you see for
these positions are basically scams. They are not even from the
companies who can actually hire you. They "help" you
find these companies and get hired - for a fee. And from what
I have read and the experiences reported to me it seems that
they largely misrepresent the opportunity, even if there is some
truth to what they say.
The good news is that there are some legitimate
jobs in this field. You generally don't make much cash for your
effort, although you may occasionally get reimbursed for auto
expenses, so if you have a car that is cheap to operate you might
make a little extra profit here. But you will often just get
paid in merchandise and meals.
Since the field seems to be full of fraud,
stay away from companies that require you to pay a fee up front
to sign up for shopping assignments, or that "help"
you find work for a fee. There is enough free information online
if you want to check this out, and if you want to know more I
would recommend buying a book on the subject (but check the book
reviews). Here's a website that offers a free Mystery Shopper
Course by email:
I haven't investigated this one thoroughly,
by the way, but the site seems to offer solid information. Click
the tab on "Mystery Shopping Companies" to get to a
list. You might want to look through for a company near you so
you can call and stop by to be sure they are a real outfit. As
long as you don't pay to get one of these jobs the worst you'll
do is waste some time.
Another job that sounds suspiciously too easy
is being a focus group participant. You essentially get paid
to give your opinion on things, sometimes after watching a video
or having a discussion with other participants. These jobs do
exist, and they can pay as much as $100 per hour ($40 for an
hour-long assignment is probably more common). A friend of mine
was paid $200 for a day-long session.
Most sessions are an hour or two long, and
requirements for participation vary depending on what the client
(who usually pays a company to organize this) needs. Unfortunately
many companies will only allow you to participate in a group
a certain number of times each year, although some groups may
meet for several days in a row.
Here's an example of a website for a company
which might still be looking for participants if you happen to
live in the New York City area:
You might also find jobs or assignments of
this type by typing "focus group" or "focus group
jobs" into a search engine. Again, just stay away from any
company that charges you a fee for helping you get the work,
and you should be fine.
Yes, you really can get paid to complete surveys.
I hesitate to mention many opportunities like this, because once
again, you can count on a lot of misrepresentation in this field.
Don't pay a monthly fee for help finding paid survey opportunities.
Don't pay for anything related to survey ever, and you won't
lose any money... but you still might lose a lot of time.
The survey you will be doing may be on your
shopping habits, health habits, food preferences and more. The
pay is generally poor, but $1 to $3 for a 20-minute online survey
may be worthwhile for someone who is homebound and unable to
do other jobs. Be aware though, that you may be several pages
into a survey before you discover that you are not qualified,
and so you wasted your time.
This is one that I have tried, and yes, I
did get paid. I was paid in gift cards for restaurants, but since
my wife and I like to eat out this was essentially the same as
cash. But... I would never do surveys for money again. I spent
weeks trying everything I could to do it efficiently enough to
make even $5 per hour, and I never succeeded. I reported on my
experience on my personal blog here:
You may have heard about the possibility of
serving as a surrogate or "mock" juror. The basic idea
is that before a big trial one side or the other (usually the
defense) wants to practice their arguments and see what kind
of response they get. If a defense team finds that they lose
presenting their case to a mock jury, they might negotiate a
lighter sentence or (in a civil case) a settlement instead of
proceeding to court.
Are these positions common? No, but they are
out there. I was recently paid $150 for a day as a surrogate
juror, which you can read about here:
Home Assembly Jobs
These money-making opportunities were advertised
for decades in newspaper classified ads before they moved to
the internet. The idea is that you assemble small products at
home for a manufacturer and get paid when you send them back
to the company. One of the few I have heard about that may have
been legitimate was a company that needed home workers to glue
together small wooden crucifixes. But I am skeptical even of
The scam usually goes something like this:
You are asked to send money as a "deposit" for the
materials you will receive. You get the materials for whatever
crafts you are to assemble, along with instructions. After you
send an assembled sample back, they tell you by return mail that
your item did not pass quality control, and they will not be
needing your services. That's when you realize that you just
bought as bunch of over-priced craft materials for no good reason.
I can't tell you which companies are legitimate,
and I doubt that more than a small percentage are honest, so
you should probably avoid these offers altogether. Please let
me know if you have ever found a real opportunity like this that
can net you more than a few dollars per hour for your time. I
will pass on the information. But contact me only if you have
actual experience doing the assembly and already received your
Paid to Write
I once sent a $40 deposit to a company which
promised to pay me $400 each for writing "simple reports."
Don't worry, they assured me; anyone can compile these reports
for them with no special skills required. I received my first
assignment, which was to write a 400-page manual on how to make
money distributing advertising flyers. There were very specific
requirements, and they generously suggested some source of information
for the research required.
I figured it would take me 400 hours to research
and write such a manual (this was before the internet), meaning
I would make about a dollar per hour. Of course, the small print
mentioned that they had the right to reject my submission, which
I suspect they did with every one of them -- if anyone happens
to actually complete an assignment. This was the only time I
wasn't able to get a refund on a mail order offer, by the way.
I don't get ripped off easily.
The good news is that if you practice your
writing skills you can offer your services on freelancer websites
like Elance.com. I also have a whole section on how to write
for money on my other website here:
A few years back I discovered a blog that
paid for opinions. It was called Rant Blogger, and is no longer
in business. When I visited, there were rants about college,
rants about politics, and about everyday things. They said to
send in a "rant" and they would make an offer if they
As an experiment I spent twenty minutes rewriting
a five-paragraph (350 word) piece on the exclusionary rule that
I had put on my "ideas site" (999ideas.com) a couple
years earlier. I sent it to them, and got an offer back an hour
later. They would pay $8. I said yes, sent them my Paypal email
address, and they paid me almost immediately. My "rant"
was on the blog an hour later. I even got to have a link to my
own blog at the end, so I really got "paid" twice.
The idea (I assume) was to get others to create
all of their content, possibly for search engine "bait,"
but they don't seem to care if there was any keyword optimization
in the rants. Possibly they hoped to develop a following based
on contributors returning and sending their friends there as
well to see their paid and published work.
When I first reported on this years ago I
wrote; "I'm not convinced that this business model will
work for the blog." Apparently my skepticism was well-founded,
since they were out of business within months. If you want to
blog for money practice your blogging skills and look for clients
at places like this:
But I have to tell you that it is a tough
market to get into, and tougher still to make any real money.
Many people are writing for free online. In fact. I have a blog
on one of the biggest websites in the world here:
How much do they pay me? Zero. I get to link
to my websites and promote my books a bit, and that's it.
Paid for Ads on Your Car
Can you really get paid to place advertisements
on your car? Yes, in theory, but it isn't too likely unless you
drive a taxi. Most of the time these offers are scams. I recently
received an email offering to pay me to wrap my car in ads. I
investigated a bit, and you can read about that here:
Please use common sense to avoid being scammed.
Don't pay to get jobs, and don't trust anyone who sends you a
large check before you have done any work (it will be bad, which
you will discover after you send money to their associate as
they will ask). Watch the newsletter for more interesting ways
to make money and more scam alerts too.