Mystery shopping: How to find the real side gigs and avoid the scams

Published: Friday, September 08, 2017 @ 1:39 PM
Updated: Friday, September 08, 2017 @ 1:39 PM

Here's what you need to know about mystery shopping so you can make some money while avoiding the scams If you receive a check or money order to deposit advance of your shop, it's probably a scam You shouldn't have to pay any money to get access to shops If you decide to give mystery shopping a try, you'll need to take into account the cost of gas and value of your time Legitimate mystery shopping companies don't contact you unexpectedly Combine shops with your regular trips Try to plan several shops toge

There are ways to legitamately make money from being a mystery shopping, but the prevelance of mystery shopping scams give the convenient side gig a bad name.

Undercover mystery shoppers make specific observations and any required purchases, and then fill out an online questionnaire and upload a photo of any receipt. After your work is accepted, you'll be paid, usually via PayPal.

RELATED: Night shift: 6 best jobs for the true night owl

Mystery shopping can be a way to pick up a little extra cash or get a free (or nearly free) meal, but it's usually thought of as a side gig rather than a way to make a living.

Here's what you need to know about mystery shopping so you can make some money while avoiding the scams:

What are some common scenarios?

Almost every category of business is mystery shopped, and the following are examples of some typical scenarios:

A Bank of America manager demonstrates the ATM with Teller Assist in 2015. Banks are still investing in upgrades to their ATMs, even as customers continue to do more on their mobile phones. (John D. Simmons/Charlotte Observer/TNS)(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Banks – posing as a small business owner who talks to an employee about setting up a business account

Restaurants – ordering an entrée and appetizer, evaluating and timing service, observing the premises for cleanliness

Apartments – posing as a potential renter, asking questions about the community

Stores – timing how long it takes employees to offer help, asking questions in specific departments

Where can you find legitimate shops?

Volition.com has an extensive list of mystery shopping companies, and you can find out more by checking out the site's mystery shopping forum. Shoppers will post a "feedback requested" question on a particular company, and others will respond with information on how quickly it pays, how easy its schedulers and editors are to work with, etc. Some schedulers also post jobs on this site.

You can also find job listings at the mystery shopping forum wahm.com, a work from home site, and then check to see if the companies are listed on Volition and if shoppers have reported any feedback.

You'll have to create a log in and password for both sites, but there's no cost involved.

Although Volition has a good reputation for listing reputable companies, you should still be skeptical if you find a shop or company that just doesn't seem right.

How can you spot a scam?

The following are some signs that you're dealing with a scammer rather than a legitimate mystery shopping company:

You're supposedly paid in advance – If you receive a check or money order to deposit advance of your shop, it's probably a scam. Actual mystery shopping companies require the work to be done and then pay and/or reimburse afterward.

You have to pay to get shops – You shouldn't have to pay any money to get access to shops. Just sign up with a company, and if you're accepted and they have shops in your area, you'll get emails and/or access to an open jobs board.

You haven't applied – Legitimate mystery shopping companies don't contact you unexpectedly. You should only be offered a job if you've applied for work with that company.

You're asked to wire money – If you're required to wire money as part of the supposed shop, you probably won't see it again.

You're promised big pay for little work – The old adage is accurate in this case: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Tips for maximizing profits

If you decide to give mystery shopping a try, you'll need to take into account the cost of gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, as well as the value of your time.

The following are some tips that can help you maximize your profits:

Combine shops with your regular trips – If you can find shops that are on your regular route to school, work or errands, you won't be spending extra money on gas.

Plan a route – Try to plan several shops together in a short route so you can knock out several in one trip.

Repeat shops when you can – Part of the time you'll spend won't be in the store or other location but in preparing for your shop and filling out the evaluation form afterward. In some cases, a job may need to rotate shoppers, but in others, you may be able to repeatedly do the same shop. You'll quickly learn the requirements so you won't have to go over them each time – although you will need to quickly check for any changes or updates.

6 things to know about working for Uber

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 2:27 PM

Here are six things you need to know about Uber before working for them as a driver Uber has its own system for estimating earnings You need to be a fit driver to work for Uber You might also face disqualification if you've got a record Your vehicle's gotta be fairly roomy Local vehicle regulation can trip you up Uber will lease you a vehicle You can work for Uber on scooter too

Uber has been making headlines in recent months for everything from a new CEO to industry regulation. But if you want to work as a driver for the service that revolutionized the taxi-transport industry, there is more important information about Uber you'll want to check out.

RELATED: 5 things to know before becoming a Lyft driver

Here are six things you need to know about Uber before working for them as a driver:

Uber has its own system for estimating earnings. When you see those tantalizing statistics about how much Uber drivers in your area are making, keep in mind that they're not referring to a profitable side hustle or long-term estimations. Uber estimates local net median hourly earnings of drivers using stats from the previous month and assumes you'd be working 40 hours per week and four weeks per month.

You need to be a fit driver to work for Uber. If you've sat in the back of an Uber vehicle on your way home from a bar and thought, "I could do this," well, maybe. But before you even start worrying about your vehicle qualifying, recognize that you yourself could be denied work for any number of reasons, according to an article written by Ridester staff and last updated in September 2017. 

To start, you must be 21 to drive for Uber and have three years of driving experience. From there, it gets trickier. You'll need an in-state drivers license, in-state insurance with your name on the policy and pass a background check successfully. 

You must not appear on any national or state sex offender registries or suspected terrorist databases.

 And just in case you think you're home free, you might also face disqualification if you've got one of these on your record:

  • DUI or drug related driving conviction
  • Fraud
  • Reckless driving
  • Hit and run
  • Violent crime (assault, battery, homicide)
  • Act of terror
  • Sexual offense
  • Crime involving property damage
  • Felony or misdemeanor for theft (burglary, stealing, robbery or anything similar)
  • Fatal accidents
  • Resisting/evading arrest
  • Any other felony
  • You'll also be disqualified if within the past three years you have driven on a suspended, revoked or invalid license.

Uber debuted in Austin in 2014. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN(Ralph Barrera/The Conversation)

Your vehicle's gotta be fairly roomy. Even to drive for UberX, the basic service, you'll need a four-door car, minivan or truck that sits four passengers plus a driver. And it can't be too beat up − no major cosmetic damage and it must be able to pass vehicle inspection. You can't get the gig with a taxi, police or other marked vehicle or full-size van.

Local vehicle regulation can trip you up. In addition to Uber's minimum requirements, your city will have its own regulations for vehicles. Sign up on Uber to get more information.

Uber will lease you a vehicle. If you qualify as a driver but your vehicle isn't up to snuff, renting or leasing a vehicle through Uber might be the solution to send you on your way.

You can work for Uber on scooter too. Uber has a delivery service, and some of the possible vehicles are bikes and scooters (they'll also take cars, usually).

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This is the salary you need to move to these 5 hot job cities

Published: Monday, November 13, 2017 @ 9:59 AM
Updated: Monday, November 13, 2017 @ 9:59 AM

Here are the top cities for job seekers Miami, FL Orlando, FL Raleigh, NC Austin, TX Sacramento, CA

If you're looking for work or a step up on the career ladder, there is no shortage of top-ranking picks for job seekers, according to recent Indeed.com ranking of the top cities for job seekers

Before you dash off to Orlando (Indeed's No. 2 pick) or pack for Atlanta (No. 14), check out another set of numbers. 
Eye each new city's cost of living with the help of a nifty calculator provided by NerdWallet. Powered by data from the nonprofit Council for Community and Economic Research, the calculator tells you just how much money you'd need to make it in another city, enjoying at least the same standard of living as you have in your current city.

RELATED: 5 things costing you the promotion you want

Here are examples of NerdWallet calculations for job seekers coming to or leaving Atlanta:


Note: Atlanta’s average salary is used as a starting point for this comparison to the Top 5 Indeed "Best cities for job seekers." According to Pay Scale, the average Atlanta salary is about $59,000.

1. Miami
Job market favorability: 82 percent
Salary percentile: 8 percent
With a $59,000 Atlanta salary, you would need to earn $65,863 to maintain your standard of living in Miami-Dade County. 
One major employer in Miami is cruise line giant Carnival, and the biggest major industries are trade, transport and utilities.
The cost of living is 12 percent higher in Miami than Atlanta. 

2. Orlando
Job market favorability: 98 percent
Salary percentile: 18 percent
Someone who earns $59,000 in Atlanta would need to earn $56,291 to maintain the same standard of living in Orlando.
Many of the job prospects that make Orlando so favorable do involve working for the Mouse. The top employer in the area is the Walt Disney Company with 53,500 employees, though trade and transport do diversify the job opportunities.
The cost of living is 5 percent lower in Orlando than in Atlanta.

3. Raleigh, North Carolina
Job market favorability: 100 percent
Salary percentile: 65 percent
With a $59,000 salary in Atlanta, you would need to make $55,749 in Raleigh to maintain your standard of living.
Major employers in Raleigh, part of the area known as the "Research Triangle," include Duke University and Health System and IBM. 
The cost of living is 6 percent lower in Raleigh than Atlanta.

You could make a few thousand less and still have the same standard of living if you moved from Atlanta to Austin.(For the AJC)

4. Austin
Job market favorability: 90 percent
Salary percentile: 65 percent
If you make a $59,000 salary in Atlanta, you would need to earn $56,772 to maintain the same standard of living in Austin.

Not just a hipster hub and home to Austin City Limits, Austin is a major tech hub, and firms including Apple, Dell and Indeed all have headquarters or major regional offices at the Texas state capitol. NerdWallet estimates the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Austin at $1,184 and the median home price at $276,634.
The cost of living is 4 percent lower in Austin than in Atlanta.

5. Sacramento, California
Job market favorability: 69 percent
Salary percentile: 86 percent
As the Golden State capitol, government accounts for 25 percent of all employment in Sacramento.
If you earn the average Atlanta salary of $59,00, to maintain your standard of living in Sacramento, you'd need to earn $70,198.
The cost of living is 19 percent higher in Sacramento than in Atlanta. 

 How much would you need to make if you moved to ATL from the Big Apple?


New York and Chicago are among the many populous cities that didn't rank as a top pick for job seekers. If someone from there wanted to move to Atlanta and enjoy a comparable standard of living, here's what the calculator says they'd need to make:

New York
According to Pay Scale, the average Manhattan salary is around $69,000. To move from there to Atlanta you'd need to make just $29,920 to maintain your same standard of living. According to NerdWallet, the cost of living is 57 percent lower in Atlanta than New York City. Start spreading the news!

Chicago

The average salary in Chicago is around $63,000, according to Pay Scale. To earn a comparable amount in Atlanta you'd need to make almost $11,000 less, or $51,882. The cost of living is 18 percent lower in Atlanta than Chicago.

And one more for the trivia buffs. According to Kiplinger's "Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In," McAllen, Texas on the Rio Grande has the lowest cost of living among cities in the U.S. The median household income there is around $44,254. If a household from McAllen was lured to Atlanta, they'd need to make $12,000 more than they did in Texas. The cost of living is 29 percent higher in Atlanta than it is in the nation's most affordable city in which to live.

5 keys to a promotion, according to this international economics expert

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 1:19 PM

Here's how to get a promotion anywhere in the world Understand what the hiring process looks like in your company Let the company know you want a promotion Make sure your values are in line with the company Make sure you have developed Emotional Intelligence Manage your stress levels

Dumb luck or a friend in high places are pretty rare reasons for promotions. In today's fast-paced global economy, positioning yourself for a promotion is a matter of following some straightforward strategies, according to World Economic Forum behavioral science and education expert Soulamia Gourani.

RELATED: 5 surefire ways to get to retire earlier than you thought

Based on her long experience as a TED Talks mentor and working with corporate clients and leaders worldwide, including Pope Francis, she recommends these five keys to getting a promotion anywhere in the world:

Understand what the hiring process looks like in your company

Are there steps or an internal application process for employees on the way up? You should also familiarize yourself with any qualifications you might need for a promotion so you can start creating a plan.

Let the company know you want a promotion

"Communicate this message verbally to your boss and keep her updated on your progress on various projects," Gourani suggests. "Also share any of your accomplishments that have helped the company reach their bottom line."

Make sure your values are in line with the company

"The basis of all your work has to be ethics and commitment," says Fernanda Neis, president of the DeRose Method Federation in the United States. Another company value to make sure you display is being a team player. As Gourani notes, "Since so much of today's work is accomplished by working with others, it becomes even more important to share successes with your team and to avoid pointing your finger when there are failures, because when the team fails, you fail."

Make sure you have developed Emotional Intelligence

"While a high skill set is essential in any job, it's no longer enough to make you stand out," Gourani says. "What makes you most valuable is your human ability to be creative and connect with others." She also recommends cultivating a better understanding of yourself along with self-control, empathy and a natural understanding of people's decisions and desires. "People who understand others and can harness their own emotions, as well as the anticipated feelings of customers and co-workers, are the most real asset to any company."

Manage your stress levels

Use breathing and meditation techniques to keep your stress under wraps at work, Neis recommends. "A stressed person who cannot handle the work is probably not ready to be promoted."

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Straight talk: 13 things never to say in your job interview

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 1:01 PM

Here are some key things that eager job seekers should and should never say during an interview Don't complain about your last job Don't ask the purpose of the company Don't be a braggart, saying you're a hard worker or a fast learner Don't say you were fired from your last job or that you left on bad terms Don't ask about the vacation policy Don't flatter your interviewer

Job interviews can be stressful, especially if you are new to the job market or have had a hard time securing a job.

Thankfully, many resources are available to assist job seekers with their resumes and mock interviews, from LinkedIn to your local department of labor.

RELATED: 5 smart questions to ask at the end of your next interview

Though serving up a clean, impressive resume helps, you may not realize the power of your words during a job interview.

Those who are able to secure job interviews are mindful of their approach and communication with interviewers, according to Liz Ryan, CEO/founder of Human Workplace, author of "Reinvention Roadmap" and contributor to Forbes.com’s #LikeAboss series.

“It is easy to get rattled on a job interview and blurt out something you didn't plan to say,” Ryan writes.

“That's why it is vital to consciously calm and center yourself before and during every job interview.”

Below, Ryan and other career experts offer some key things that eager job seekers should and should never say during the course of an interview.

  • Don't complain about your last job. Remember to stay positive during the interviewing process. Think good thoughts; don't dwell on the negative.
  • Don't ask the purpose of the company. Do your research beforehand. Be prepared to ask a few questions about the company's culture and community involvement − something you would not find on the company's website.
  • Don't talk about your inexperience. Again, focus on the positive. Play up your strengths, emphasizing how you can be an asset to the company.
  • Don't be a braggart, saying you're a hard worker or a fast  learner. Otherwise, you may be seen as begging for the job. Instead, you may want to specify ways you have helped previous companies or even your church or community organizations as a volunteer.
  • Don't discuss potential conflicts with your scheduling before you are offered the job. Those details can be worked out later.
  • Don't say you were fired from your last job or that you left on bad terms. If you are asked why you left your last job, you can say, "It was time for me to leave." Saying you left "on bad terms" is subjective and negative.
  • Don't ask about the vacation policy, according to Catherine Conlan, contributing writer with Monster.com.
  • Don't say your don’t have weaknesses. Turn the concept of weakness on its head by saying  how you have learned from them.
  • Don't share your oddities - whether beliefs or hobbies.
  • Don't flatter your interviewer, according to Lillian Childress of Glassdoor.
  • Don't complain about past coworkers or companies. Instead you can discuss past challenges you have faced on jobs and what you have learned from them.
  • Don't say you want this job to help you with your next career move. Instead ask about opportunities for advancement within this company.
  • Don't use filler words and phrases such as "like" or "at the end of the day."

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