id you ever dream about being a newspaper critic? You know, reporters assigned to go undercover and report back about restaurants, new movies, and even far away vacation spots.

  Shadow Shopper Update  

Many of you have asked if the website ShadowShopper.com is legitimate. While it is legitimate, we were recently informed by a newsletter subscriber at WorkAtHomeTruth that their free service now only sends "teaser emails" and to get details of the jobs you have to upgrade to one of their paid services.

If you are new to mystery shopping, you might consider adding ShadowShopper to your list to get a sense of the types of jobs available. However, whether you upgrade will depend on your time and resources. You can click here to join their free service.

The critics have a great job... they're essentially paid to give their opinion in addition to getting reimbursed to shop.

But as you might imagine, getting a great job as a critic is virtually impossible. Obviously, you have to have great writing skills. And make sure to carry an aspirin because you're constantly up against tight deadlines.

The good news is there's secret, under-the-radar industry of work at home "reporters" who shop their favorite restaurants and stores who get paid to shop and evaluate their experience.

Secret shoppers (also known as mystery shoppers or shadow shoppers) go on shopping trips disguised as a typical customer. Mystery shoppers get paid to evaluate a companies performance based on a checklist provided by each mystery shopping company.

How it works

Companies employ secret shoppers to keep their managers and employees "on notice."

I spoke to a former General Manager of a restaraunt chain who was paid an extra $30,000.00 bonus if his restaurants scored tops during mystery shopping evaluations.

For example, one restaurant chain I regularly visit have the friendliest waitresses (and waiters). So what's their secret? According to the Assistant Manager, "When a secret shopper gives us thumbs up, everyone here gets an instant $50.00 cash bonus."

Is mystery shopping a scam?

When I first heard about how to get paid to shop as a secret shopper, it was easy to pass it off as another work at home scam.

It's easy to understand why... while investigating a mystery shopper job opportunity, it struck me as merely a repackaged work at home opportunity in disguise.

But one day I discovered a secret shopper message board community offering an insider's view of the mystery shopping industry...

... And today, I rank mystery shopping as the most legitimate work at home job currently available.

Benefits of becoming a shadow shopper

Companies we recognize like McDonalds, Green Smoke, Texas Roadhouse, and the Olive Garden are just a handful of businesses who regularly employ secret shoppers.

Restaurant secret shopper jobs include reviewing popular restaurants like:

• McDonalds mystery shoppers
• Texas Roadhouse secret shopper
• Olive Garden secret shopper
• Taco Bell mystery shop

"One easy way to find companies hiring secret shoppers is to visit the restrooms. Take a look near the door... if there's an hourly status report posted, odds are good the company hires for mystery shopping jobs."

While most well-known restaurants employ shadow shoppers, mystery shoppers also evaluate:

• Department stores
• Parking companies
• Gas stations
• Golf courses
• Grocery stores
• Clothing stores
• Casinos
• Hotels
• Insurance companies
• Test-driving new cars
• Telephone call centers
• Transit centers
• Human resources
• Apartments

Why I like the mystery shopping business (and you might too)

The vast majority of work at home jobs are pure scams in disguise...

... Everything from at home job stuffing envelope opportunities to work at home typing documents and even those companies looking for home assembly workers -- these are the worst of the work from home scams.

But mystery shopping is (for the most part) one of the most fascinating work at home jobs I've reviewed. It's the fastest and easiest way to get paid to do what we do almost everyday... buy stuff.

If you like to shop and like to review everything from how friendly a waitress is to if you were asked if you'd like to add an order of fries to your order -- even evaluating bathroom cleanliness... mystery shopping just might be for you.

Warning: Despite the hype used by some mystery shopping sites, it's VERY difficult to quit a real job and make a full-time living as a mystery shopper...

... But if you're interested in getting paid $12 to $15 an hour (and getting reimbursed for shopping in your local area), mystery shopping is a fascinating anonymous job.

You might be surprised that mystery shopping companies are constantly looking for new anonymous shoppers... especially if you live away from a huge city.

Even better... you choose to accept or deny each mystery shopping assignments -- if you don't like the pay, or if the assignment is too far away from your area, do nothing and move on to the next assignment that appeals to you.

And here's the best part... a growing number of mystery shopping companies send your payment (and reimbursement) via PayPal... some within 48 hours after submitting your evaluation of the Internet.

I don't know of any other work at home job that's as flexible as mystery shopping.

Is mystery shopping the best work at home job for you?

If you've got the time, you can certainly scan the Internet and research the mystery shopping business. There are dozens of mystery shopping online forums available to answer your questions.

But the problem is very few offer an easy to follow and organized blueprint of the mystery shopping business.

Sure, there are lots of books about mystery shopping, but they're often outdated (and unwilling to reveal the best mystery shopping secrets).

Two steps to becoming a Mystery Shopping "Insider"

We have put together two steps to help you become a Mystery Shopping "Insider" - both are completely free.

Step 1 - Use Paul's Mystery Shopper Insider's Report

Back in 2006, Paul released a comprehensive report about the mystery shopper business... whether you're looking to make extra money getting paid to shop and/or eat or you're a mystery shopping junkie, we think this report will help you get started fast..

We used to offer it on a donation basis...and people have donated anywhere from $1.00, $9.00, $19.00, or even $50.00 to have a years worth of access to it. But as of 8/1/2007 we have decided to let you have it for free! Click here to grab online access to it immediately.. Please note that there is a section called "articles" which is a bit out of date that we will be fixing over time. Thanks.

Step 2 - Spend time going through Mystery Shopping Provider Association's website

This is the organization for professional mystery shopping companies.

You will also find incredibly helpful information for mystery shoppers there. However, you'll want to go through Paul's report to know how to best use the site.

Click here to visit MysteryShop.org..

Did you like this investigation?

If so, you might be interested in my 100% FREE work at home alert revealing legit programs... if you're looking for ways to make some extra cash and work from home, my free alert might be for you.

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Updated September 1, 2007 06:16:03 PM (New York time).