OK, the very first thing is that you shouldn't pay to to do mystery shopping. If a company wants you to pay a fee to join them, don't do it! I've never had to pay any company to mystery shop for them. There is also a scam going around where someone wants to send you some money. You cash the check, and then take most of it and go to a money transfer place and transfer the money to them. You get to 'keep' the balance of the money as your fee. They say you will be rating the employees on how well they do the transfer. This is a SCAM. The check bounces and by the time you know this, you've already sent them most of that money and can't track them down, and you are OUT all of that money.
I have had companies send me gift cards and asked me to use them at a store, but the nice benefit of that is that I got to keep the items I purchased!
Basically, a company wants to make sure that their employees are giving good customer service. So they hire a mystery shopping company to send a mystery shopper to the store or restaurant, or whatever, and rate the service.
The first thing you are going to want to do is sign up with some mystery shopping companies. Some of them it's automatic and some of them they have to review it and approve you, so it can take a few days sometimes. Most companies, you can't search through their listings to see what they have to offer until you sign up with them, so you may have to sign up with a bunch before you can find listings in your area.
Social Security Number - they are going to require this. Some of the companies will allow you to enter 111-11-1111 in the application field. But before you can actually do a job for them, they are going to need your social security. Some of the companies will send you a 1099 if you earn over $600 in a year with them, some of them do it after $300. You are an independent contractor with them, so they don't take taxes out, and you are required to keep track and report this income on your taxes. If you really aren't sure of a company and really don't want to give them your social security number, I suggest contacting them and letting them know you don't want to give this out until you actually start working for them, and see if there can help you out.
For most mystery shops, you go to the company website and you search for jobs that look interesting to you and are in your area. Usually they have a description of the job, the pay that they are paying and any purchase requirements. For most of the shops, they will require that you buy something. Sometimes it's a specific meal at a fast food restaurant, or maybe a $20 purchase of anything, and sometimes it's just a purchase of anything at all - can be a soda or candy bar - this is just proof that you were at this location. If they require a purchase, usually they have a reimbursement for this, and this should be on the listing as well. "Fee $15, up to $10 purchase reimbursement". If you find a job you like and you can do, the date and time and location and any purchase requirements are good for you - some sites you can instantly assign them to yourself and some you have to apply. Either way you apply for the job and either are instantly approved, or you will get an email later.
When you are approved - as soon as you can - print out all the documents that go along with this shop. Read them carefully so you have a good idea what you will be doing, and if you have any questions. Then you are set to do your first mystery shop!
For most mystery shopping companies you need the following items: Internet access, this is to communicate about shops, to hear about new opportunities, etc. and also most companies you file your reports online, so you need to get to their site to do it. Also you will need a printer, and I highly recommend a scanner. Each receipt you take has to be scanned and submitted to the company. A digital camera is needed for certain shops as well. My next blog entry will be a list of mystery shopping companies that you can get started on applying for!