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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.

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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? 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, 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.

8 ways to stop wasting money at work 

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 4:56 PM

Telecommuting is on the rise, and can save you big. See if you’re cut out for it, and if so, here’s a way to find work.

Certainly, it's ironic that it costs money to work to make money to pay your bills. But if you haven't considered how much you spend on the expenses of working, from commutes to coffee, you may be missing significant ways to cut back your personal expenses.

These tactics are even more important if you're considering cutting back on your work hours in the near future, or another upcoming event in your life will necessitate saving money in all areas.

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

Cutting back on work expenses may be far easier than you think, according to frugal bloggers. And there are side benefits like improved health from walking instead of always taking a cab, or packing a lunch instead of eating fast food.

Here are eight quick money-saving ideas to consider:

Consider sharing your ride. If your work involves a lengthy commute, or even a short one, you may be kissing hundreds of dollars a year goodbye in commute expenses. One way to save the big bucks, according to Marie Claire, is simply to find someone to carpool with. If you're feeling adventurous, check out to hitch a ride with a friend you haven't met yet.

Cut gas costs while you're driving. Keep your heater or AC on just long enough to get your car to the right temperature, or roll down your windows to save gas money.

Double check the bus and train fares. Marie Claire suggested re-checking your route and pinpointing the place at which your commuting fare goes up. "If you can save a few bucks a day by getting off two blocks earlier, it might be worth the extra cash," it noted.

Walk on by expensive hosiery. If you're habitually spending $40 a pair for hosiery that adheres to your company's dress code, cut it out, Real Simple recommended. "That $40 pair may take a little longer to ladder, but in winter especially, you're usually better off buying multiple pairs of cheaper tights than one or two pairs of expensive ones, New York-based image consultant Annie Brumbaugh told RS. 

If you're in a white-collar career, buy one really good jacket. Instead of spending lots of time and money coming up with new business outfits each week, buy a quality jacket and base your wardrobe on that. "A very good jacket can do a lot for your overall look," Brumbaugh said. "You could wear just a T-shirt and jeans, but an expensive, fabulous jacket upgrades your outfit." RS advised to look for a jacket that fits the widest part of your body and if your bust is large, buy a jacket that will close over your chest. In any case, have a reputable tailor fit the jacket so you can wear it with several outfits a week.

Protect those expensive work shoes. Instead of buying lots of inexpensive shoes that won't last or continually replacing one high-quality pair, Brumbaugh recommended buying high quality in a style you can wear daily. To protect that investment, have your good work shoes weatherproofed and the soles reinforced with rubber at a shoe repair shop.

A packed lunch will always save money over eating out, but only if you choose items you'll actually eat.(Contributed by the AJC)

Break the fast food lunch habit. Eating lunch from home instead of greasy fast food may be one of the easiest ways to start saving money, according to the Balance. "Food prices are going up, and it is common to spend around $7.00 or $8.00 a meal at a fast food restaurant," it said. "If you add this up for lunches, it would be around $40 a week or $200 a month. This is just for one person for one meal."

To make eating lunch at work easier, the Balance recommended packing a lunch the night before and carrying it to a park to eat if you can't bear to stay at your desk while you eat. "Frozen dinners and soup are a good fallback for the days you didn't have time to prep a lunch," the Balance noted.

Kick the big bucks coffee habit. According to the Good Financial Cents blog, it's easy to spend $4 per cup or up to $80 per week on coffee. To cut the habit, GFC recommended flavoring your own coffee with spices, eating a piece of fruit for an energy boost in the afternoon instead of drinking coffee, and at the very least, looking for gift cards to your favorite cafes on eBay and Craigslist to save money.


6 signs it's time to break up with your workplace friend

Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2018 @ 10:58 AM

Here are five of the most common toxic colleagues The Flake: factor in their anticipated laziness when you're given a project with a lazy co-worker The Betrayer: they'll throw you under the bus the second a project goes wrong, so protect your ideas by sending a memo of your thoughts The Full-time Downer: spend as little time with them as possible The Office Gossip: keep your personal details close and limit this co-worker's access to your social media posts The Narcissist: keep your expectations of what t

Since you spend so much time at work, of course you want to have friends there! But whether you're enjoying the nonphysical, non-romantic friendship of a "work spouse" or have numerous buddies at the office, some friendships do more harm than good.

»RELATED: 5 of the most toxic co-workers and how to deal with them

According to workplace and psychology experts, these are six signs you might need to end a workplace friendship:

Your friend needs you... all the time. "Women tend to rely on their friends more heavily for emotional sustenance," Irene S. Levine, psychologist and author of Best Friends Forever, told Real Simple. "But if someone is constantly depending on you, that's when it's toxic." An overly-needy buddy will exhaust you and take up precious workplace time, with demands that range from acting as her consultant on every decision to requesting financial help.

You're on a rollercoaster. Similar to off-hours friendships, a workplace friendship that goes up and down and around might need to come to an end, according to Levine. "The unpredictability takes a toll on you," she said. "It can make you anxious, nervous, or depressed when you don't know what to expect from a friend whom you're supposed to rely on."

Your "work spouse" is showing signs of too much attachment. If your go-to work partner is now closing the door each time you meet, scheduling lots of after-hours activities that don't really have much to do with work or spending every hour in your cubicle, you may want to pull back a bit, according to Even if you don't have a spouse waiting at home, you want co-workers to know that your workplace relationship is on the up and up. Aside from stopping the rumor mill, you also want to let other colleagues know they are appreciated and equal.

A work friend wants you to do their chores.  A friend who's taking advantage of you should cease being a friend, starting tomorrow. You can assume you really are charming and co-workers like spending time with you, but only up to a point, according to U.S. News. If a recent friend, or even a long-time pal, starts asking you to take on some of their work, it's time to question the validity of your connection. "More devious types may simply be the equivalent of that kid who, during group projects, unloaded all the work on you and walked away with an 'A' on the project," U.S. News noted. "You're mature now, so don't let that happen ... again."

Colleagues essentially consider you the same person. If you're so close to a co-worker that people literally cannot distinguish you, your friendship is depriving you of a chance to shine as an individual and take on new challenges, said psychologist Andrea Bonior in Psychology Today. You'll also suffer from any negative parts of your friend's reputation or job performance. "Don't let your bosom-buddyhood keep you from being seen as your own person," Bonior said.

It would be too drastic to end such a friendship, but you should definitely seek other buddies at work, ask to be put on separate projects occasionally and ask others for input when you can, not always your work twin.

Your supposed friend betrays you. A friend who betrays a bond doesn't get a pass just because it happened at work, according to Levine. Don't ignore that gut feeling telling you it's a big deal. Any betrayal is a sign to reevaluate the relationship.

As for setting out on another workplace friendship, there are warning times you should take it slow, Levine told CNN. Note whether a potential friend is jealous, needy or passive-aggressive, she advised. Be especially cautious if one of you is supervising the other, you work in a very competitive environment, or your paychecks are far different. Such friendships should unfold slowly "so you have a good sense of the other person, and know whether the person is trustworthy and has good judgment," Levine added.


7 ways introverts can succeed on their strengths in the workplace

Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 10:03 AM

Consider these seven strengths of introverts at work Introverts are insightful and empathetic Introverts are self-motivated Introverts are team-oriented Introverts speak with intention Introverts are writers by nature Introverts aim to please Introverts are quiet, but effective, leaders

Extroverts are the ones who sell the goods, make the big deals, network around the clock and get energized by being around people; no wonder it seems like introverts would be out of place in the bustling business world.

But the surprising reality is that not only do introverts fill a valuable role in the workplace, in certain areas they have strengths that help them outperform their extroverted co-workers.

»RELATED: 9 secrets you should keep to yourself at work

While extroverts may make great first impressions with their lively personalities, the value in those qualities at work diminish over time, UCLA researcher Corinne Bendersky told USA Today columnist Anita Bruzzese for a piece titled, "On the Job: Introverts Win in the End." 

Bendersky researched the topic with Neha Parikh Shah of Rutgers University and the two concluded that extroverts often disappoint as part of a team. "On a team, you're expected to work hard and contribute a lot," Bendersky said. "But they're often poor listeners, and they don't collaborate."

Introverts, in contrast, work hard on a team because they care what others think and wish to be viewed as someone who pulls their weight on a project.

The hidden strengths of being an introvert at work don't stop there. Whether you're trying to convince yourself, your boss or a hiring manager that introverts are an asset in the workplace, consider these seven strengths of introverts at work, part of a list compiled by Robin Young Burinskiy, writing for the Introvert Boss Network.

Introverts are insightful and empathetic. "When you listen more than you speak, you take in so much more data about other people – information that gets drowned out when you're constantly figuring out what to say next," Burinskiy noted. "People begin to associate us with the feeling of being listened to and cared about – and that will always pay off in the long run."

Introverts are self-motivated. They're the happiest working autonomously and without interruption, which makes them easy to manage.

Introverts are team-oriented.In today's global economy, companies value employees who can collaborate and care about others, and introverts fit the bill. "We're some of the best co-workers you could ever ask for," Burinskiy said. "Rather than vying for the spotlight or to make our voices heard, we're supportive, collaborative and focused on those around us."

Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of 'The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength', says introversion can be managed.

Introverts speak with intention. Speaking before thinking will never be an issue for introverts, and their carefully-worded contributions tend to carry more weight with co-workers and clients.

Introverts are writers by nature. Because they can communicate more readily from a distance, they are great with translating thoughts into writing.

Introverts aim to please. "We're rarely careless or callous," Burinskiy noted. "We're so tuned in to others' experiences and perceptions of us that we simply can't help it! For our co-workers and our managers, this is a huge plus."

An employee the Leica Camera factory in Wetzlar, Germany, on Nov. 28, 2017. MUST CREDIT; Bloomberg photo by Krisztian Bocsi.(Bloomberg)
Introverts are quiet, but effective, leaders. "We won't seize power – we'll start quietly leading those around us through mentorship, encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration," Burinskiy added. "We keep our egos in check, and we don't take risks without thinking them through. The world needs introverted leaders now more than ever."


Why employers aren't looking at your resume (and never will)

Published: Tuesday, January 02, 2018 @ 5:17 PM

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You've been online job hunting for some time now −  for six months or even a year − but you've had no callbacks. No follow-ups. No feedback that you're the right candidate for the thousands of open positions that relate to your skill set.

Well, your resume may be contributing to your not landing a job in the here and now.

»RELATED: VIDEO: 9 résumé-killers you should never include on any job application

"A few things can become resume roadblocks," said Tamara Jenkins, a human resources coordinator in higher education. "Unless you're in the arts, head shots on resumes are a no-no. I also find that people rarely proofread. There's nothing worse than candidates not taking the time to check for grammatical errors." She warns to double-check the salutation on the cover letter as well.

"Please take the time to make sure you're submitting for the correct job, too," Jenkins said. "This includes the objective on your resume. Even McDonald's doesn't appreciate receiving an objective on a resume saying how excited you are for an opportunity for rapid growth at Burger King."

Other reasons why your resume will never, ever, ever trend with employers:

The fonts are dated.

Employers have a lot of candidate profiles to sift through. If your resume layout and font selections aren't easy on the eyes or include overused throwbacks (like Times New Roman and Arial) that's an immediate NEXT! Avoid fancy fonts like Apple chancery and typewriter fonts like Courier New as well. Instead, stick with easy-to-scan, balanced fonts like Georgia, Garamond and Calibri.

The format is too complex.

Keep the bolded, bulleted and italicized sections of your resume to a minimum. Yes, you want your resume to have order, but convoluted text only discourages employers from reading more about you. Whether you're presenting a chronological resume (formatting your experience from newest to oldest), functional resume (formatting your experience from most relevant to the open position) or both, focus on the facts in a clear, concise structure.

The word choice, descriptors are either too generic or too specific.

Sell yourself from the top of the resume to the end. Make yourself memorable by highlighting your strengths using details and stating a strong case for why you're the best one-stop shop in your field, especially in your objective statement. Avoid using common phrases like, "My objective is to find a job that fits my skills as a computer programmer." That says absolutely nothing about your worth to employers. And definitely don't take the self-serving route of declarations such as, "To secure a steady job that earns more than $70,000 annually." Instead, pump up your talents by underlining how you can benefit the company in the long run.

The typos are visibly disappointing.

If you meant "their" but spelled it "there," well there goes your chance of getting a callback. Employers are looking for candidates who pay attention to details, no matter the career field. Grammatical errors instantly count you out, so avoid these minor blunders by editing and proofreading (and editing and proofreading some more). Ask a couple of family members or friends to review your work before submitting.

The resume isn't customized to the job description.

Think you can send the same resume to every employer out there without matching your experience to the company's needs? Think again. Employers are looking for candidates that align with certain attributes and experiences outlined in the job posting. If you're sending off resumes that don't include specific buzz words or soft/hard skills, expect nothing in return. Avoid broad resumes that simply scratch the surface of your talent. Instead, study what employers are really searching for in the best candidate and honestly share your professional background in an engaging presentation that corresponds with the job post.