From Web designer to Census taker to mystery shopper, Bethany Mooradian has held so many random jobs over the past 13 years that she now calls herself "queen of the random job" and trains others on finding nontraditional jobs and avoiding scams. She's the author of I Got Scammed So You Don't Have To and The Mystery Shopper Training Program.
U.S. News chatted with Mooradian about strategies for piecing together a living and paying taxes on a patchwork of unusual projects. Excerpts:
You've been working random jobs since 1999, but a lot of people are just discovering that sort of career path, thanks to the recession. Could you explain your path to becoming "queen of the random job"?
I decided to get my college degree in puppetry, and I quickly found out puppeteers don't make that much money. So I just had to find random ways to support my puppetry habit. I babysat, walked dogs, delivered phone books. I've done mystery shopping, I've been a virtual assistant, I've done all of these random things. But then I realized that I had a knack for finding legitimate work-at-home jobs and avoiding scams. So I just started teaching other people how to do the same.
What is the most unusual job you've held, and how did you find it?
Ronald McDonald's bodyguard. That was back in 2000, so I actually got that through a newspaper ad. It said "a nationwide mascot needs a handler," and I went in for the interview, and it was for Ronald. And I thought that was absolutely hilarious.
We did school shows. I would set up the stage, and I'd run the whole show from behind the scenes, and then when we did parades, I would make sure kids weren't getting overly handsy. Thirteen-year-old boys were the absolute worst because they wanted to pull on his wig and step on his shoes. And I just had to say, "Hey, step away from the clown." I did that for about a year, but it wasn't consistent.
What are some of the legitimate random jobs that might surprise people?
Most people are surprised that mystery shopping is legit. A lot of times [consumers will] pay for information or they'll pay to be listed with a company, and those aren't really real companies. They end up getting scammed, and it's not a scam. I've been doing it for 13 years.
I've also done standardized test scoring. Remember when you were in school and you had to take all those tests? When you're doing reading comprehension, the kids have to actually write out sentences, and a computer can't score that. They are actually scored by real people.
Also, getting paid to receive mail as a mail decoy agent. That's where I get paid to receive mail in my business, and I send that mail to a company. They send you mail or they put you on a list, and what they want to see is if your name gets sold to any other lists and how long it takes for you to get a particular mailing.
What are some of the red flags that might tip off readers to a job scam?
In my book, I outline what I call my "SCRAM Principles." "S" stands for scrutinize the source. Where did you hear about the company? When are they posting online? A lot of the job ads are posted by scammers. They're posted in the wee early hours of the morning because that's when the people overseas are awake but we're asleep. So you have to look at the time of day that they post this. And scrutinize the website. I teach people how to trace emails and track IP addresses so they can actually see the person behind the technology. Nowadays, anyone can make a half=decent-looking website, but people can't really hide behind the technology.
"C" stands for check for affiliate links. You'll see job ads that say you can get paid to do surveys online, and then they have a link to something where you have to buy it. That's not necessarily a scam. That's a person trying to sell something where they get commission. You really want to look for things where you have to pay money. Chances are, someone is making commission off of that through affiliate marketing.
"R" stands for research the heck out of every single detail. I tell people, "Look them up on Facebook on LinkedIn, Google their emails, their phone number, their physical address to see where else they come up."
"A" stands for ask for more information. People are so concerned about contacting companies because they don't want to get on the "bad list." So I tell people, "use a different email address, use a different name." Just contact them to see what other information you can get, then you can research their email address.
"M" in the SCRAM formula stands for mouse over images and links. If you're contacted by a company and you can get an email, you can mouse over an image, and it will show you in the lower destination browser bar where you will actually be clicking. And if the email is supposedly from PayPal or Monster but the image goes somewhere else, you know it's a scam.
Once you've worked through these principles, how can you determine if a random job is right for you?
Sometimes it is a matter of trial and error. What I teach people to do is assess their skillset and their skill level. Working from home isn't really a career in and of itself. You have to take your skillset, and then translate that into an online job or a job at home.
Figuring out your taxes must be a nightmare. How do you keep track of your income?
Keeping track of my taxes is a pain, because I'm signed up with over 150 companies. So Excel is my friend, and QuickBooks is also my friend. I keep track of everything.
I recommend to people who do random jobs to pick up a W2 random job because they'll withhold your taxes versus an independent-contractor gig. When I do mystery shopping jobs, that's all independent contractor work.
However, when I do election poll work, that's a W2 random job. I just have them take out as much tax as I can, because then at the end of the year, my tax liability is a lot less. Having some random W2 income helps offset your taxes.