Online Surveys: Are They All Scams? Plus 2 Real Alternatives…

Discover the risks and rewards of offline and online surveys and other ways to earn income: Internet Scambusters #373

Paid online surveys frequently are not all that they seem. Instead of making money, you end up spending it.

Even when you’re just trying to be helpful, scammers and smooth-talking sales people use a fake online survey as a cover for pulling other tricks.

This week, we explore not only the murky world of online survey scams but also their counterparts in the street, at the mall, on the phone and in your postal mailbox.

Let’s get started…

Online Surveys: Are They All Scams? Plus 2 Real Alternatives…

Online surveys are one of the fastest growing market research tools. Companies like them because they’re quick, easy and cheap to do.

In fact, we use online surveys to find out what our subscribers want to know — and do them periodically via this newsletter.

Scammers love online surveys because it’s also easy to trick people into handing over money or personal information in the belief they’re going to be paid for taking part.

For legitimate companies, the growth of the Internet gives them much more direct and immediate access to customers. We’re all familiar with those pop-ups that appear on web pages we visit, asking for our opinions.

It’s not unusual either to get a survey request in your email inbox from a company that you’ve been doing business with. It could be about anything from product satisfaction and customer service to future buying plans.

These types of online surveys generally don’t offer payment but you need to maintain a healthy caution with them anyway — mainly just to be certain they come from who they say they’re from and to ensure (by having up-to-date Internet security software) that any links they provide don’t install malware on your PC.

But the trouble really starts when you sign up to take surveys in the belief you’ll get paid, by responding to a spam message or online ad.

We highlighted some of the ways these online survey schemes operate in an earlier Scambusters issue: Online Surveys: Can You Actually Earn Any Money?. If you haven’t seen this issue, we highly recommend you check it out before you continue.

In this issue, we widen the scope to explain some other fake surveys, in the street or mall or on the phone, as well as on the Internet.

Unlike online surveys, these don’t so much offer you payment as aim to get information from you for some underhanded or illegal purpose.

Online Survey Scams

As we wrote in our earlier issue, the key online survey scam is based on the notion that you can earn big time cash by completing questionnaires online.

With computers in nearly every household these days, and the economic downturn in the background, the appeal of signing up for what seem to be easy-money schemes you can do at home has lured in tens of thousands of victims.

Very few of these schemes are legit and those that are don’t offer a get-rich-quick route to success.

We’ve not seen any evidence that you can earn even $10 an hour.

At their most basic, home online survey scams are usually a front for one of four tricks:

  1. Getting you to pay money for nothing. It’ll be a payment for a useless training kit or a fee for “membership” of a club or organization that promises to pass details to you of upcoming paid surveys. In the latter case, there may indeed be a list of legitimate surveys but you can find these on the Internet for free.
  2. Getting hold of your name and other details (like income, education etc) , which will then go on to a spamming list. You won’t get any survey forms but you will be bombarded by offers, either from the company you first contacted or by other marketing companies to which they sold your details. (This trick of collecting names to pass on to others is known as “roping.”)
  3. Using your personal details, acquired in either of the above survey scams, for identity theft. Survey scam artists can draw up a fairly comprehensive picture of you from the details you provide, especially if you’ve also given credit card or bank details to pay them for their service.
  4. A cover for an advance fee scam, in which you’re sent a fake payment check for taking part, then asked to wire part of your “payment” to someone else.

Offline Survey Scams

But survey scams are not confined to bogus paid survey projects, and they’re not just on the Internet. You can also be on the receiving end of a phony survey for which you’re not even being offered payment.

We warned recently about Census scams, in which crooks posing as data collectors use the forthcoming household and population survey as a front for phishing for personal information.

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Another trick, used by telemarketers, in direct mail, and even in face-to-face surveys you might encounter at your local shopping mall, is to pretend to be researching a particular subject when, in fact, it’s just an entry point into trying to sell you something.

You might be asked what seem to be perfectly reasonable questions about your consumer habits and product ownerships. Then the sales person pounces, offering you a deal and putting pressure on you to buy.

All sounds rather gloomy doesn’t it?

But it is possible to make money (or win prizes) from surveys, both online and offline. It’s just that it can be difficult to distinguish who’s legitimate and who isn’t.

Two Legitimate Alternatives

  1. You might be able to make money working as a Census data collector. If you are interested in getting a Census job, contact the US Census Bureau directly.Don’t use any other route. Most of the temporary jobs for the 2010 Census have probably been filled by now but you might still be able to find something suitable.
  2. You can also make money as a market researcher — collecting information from people rather than simply filling in survey forms for yourself. If you are looking for employment in marketing research, again, contact research firms directly. You will find many of the listed in the industry’s GreenBook.Although this is meant to be a directory for other firms seeking research services, it may help you identify the research companies themselves.

Two More Cautions…

  • Don’t pay to become an online survey taker — no membership fees, no training kits, no promises that your name will be passed on to other survey companies’ lists.The only paying exception might be if you choose to buy a list of firms that seemingly really do pay for surveys, on the principle that buying the list will save you time.

    Unfortunately, we cannot recommend any such list and you would be taking a risk if you choose to pay — especially if parting with credit card information or especially a check.

  • Be cautious of “surveys” about what you own or might be considering buying, giving your names, address and other details to surveyors of any sort. How badly do you want to win that “prize draw” anyway, at the risk of letting others know your buying intentions and opening the floodgates for junk mail offers? That badly? Well, check out the credentials of the individual or organization you’re dealing with first.Whatever you choose to do, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid parting with any information about yourself until you’re 100% sure of who you’re dealing with.

    And that means researching them and checking them out thoroughly. If they’re survey scam artists, someone will almost certainly have already been a victim and you’ll perhaps find them online.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!