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Get paid to lie to banks

Become a mystery shopper, and banks and retailers will pay you to fib. All in the name of better customer service, of course.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 24, 2012 12:39PM
Steamed at the less-than-ethical antics of certain U.S. financial institutions? Here's one possible antidote: Sign up as a mystery shopper, request a banking assignment and get paid to lie through your teeth.

This may not change the bank's badness, but you might feel better after flinging a few falsehoods of your own.

Or maybe it will make a difference. Mystery shoppers are a company's eyes on the ground. Banks, shops and restaurants send you in undercover to keep tabs on customer service -- i.e., how their employees behave when the supervisors aren't watching.

I fibbed cheerfully at a major bank recently, asking about a service I already understood (automatic bill pay) and a product I didn't want (certificates of deposit). (Post continues below.)
Three things to know before you start:
  • Never pay for leads. Sign-up info is free at Volition and the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.
  • Ignore scam emails. Senders claim to be recruiting new shoppers and tell you to "register" with bank account, credit card and Social Security numbers. Um, seriously?
  • Ignore the fake-check scam, too. You're asked to cash a check, then wire most of it to the mystery shopping company. Guess what? The check's no good!
Let someone else pay
Mystery shopping usually doesn't pay very much (more on that in a minute), but it's a great chance to make a little cash on the side while getting food, drink, oil changes, rental cars and other goods for free.

Sort of. There is work involved: paying strict attention, following a script and filling out forms afterward. (Do it wrong and they won't pay you.) Myself, I look at each "shop" as a way to have fun on someone else's dime.
It's a great frugal hack, too:
  • Carless? Use an auto-rental shop to carry home things you want to buy in bulk.
  • Already own a car? Watch for those lube-and-oil gigs.
  • Tight budget? Grab those restaurant shops and treat a similarly broke buddy. Or make it a cheap date night.
  • Got a dog or cat?  Pounce on pet store assignments.
  • No health insurance? Look for an eye-exam shop, which could include partial payment toward eyeglass frames.
Establish yourself as a conscientious shopper and better jobs will come your way. My daughter has been paid to stay in hotels, eat at high-end restaurants, spend the day at a water park (great fun that she could not afford at that time) and even gamble in casinos.

I'm too busy to do many shops these days, but that bank job was easy: about 45 minutes total to read the instructions, complete the visit and write and send my report. It wasn't huge remuneration -- just $9.50 -- but I needed to make a deposit anyway. Why not get paid to walk down and drop off my check?

More on MSN Money:
Feb 26, 2012 11:04AM
I am a mystery shopper and have made over 800.00 a month when it was the only job I had.  Now I'm retired and only take the high paying jobs.  Since I'm established in the field, I get offered these assignments.  It did take a couple of years for the companies to not  see me as a risk. It does take attention to detail and proper reading and writing skill.  Without these 2 skills, a person won't get paid.
Apr 3, 2012 4:14PM

Last year from June through December I made $4500 mystery shopping. I live in a rural area but within 10 miles of two small towns. This year I hope to make $7500 to subsidize my retirement income.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.