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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.

Mystery Shopper

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.

Focus Groups

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.

Paid Surveys

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:


Surrogate Juror

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 that one.

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 pay.

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:


Paid Blogging

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 were interested.

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.

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