How many of you get those spam emails with “Your $1000 Home Depot Gift Card is waiting for you” or “Click here to pick up your free 42″ Plasma TV”?
I did, and I got 2 Sony Vaio laptops and a $1000 Visa gift card out of it.
You see, not all of those emails are scams. And this article is going to give you a little insight into how these sites work.
How I got started
Two years ago, a coworker tried out some offers for a free XBox and Apple iPod. He had to complete 4 advertiser offers for each “gift”, but he did the offers and eventually got the Xbox and iPod. I decided to give it a shot too.
I immediately went for the big stuff. My first offer was a Sony Vaio I received in my Hotmail account. I looked at the terms and conditions and I only had to complete 6 offers with no referrals. Looked good to me!
How do these things work?
I’ll try to run down the basics for you. Each promotion site is slightly different:
- Most sites require you to complete a certain number of advertiser offers. I’ve seen them vary from 2 to 20 required offers. You have to pay for these advertiser offers, but they’re usually 7 or 30 day trials, which you can cancel at any time and just pay shipping or for one month of the product. Other offers could require you to complete an auto loan, buy furniture, or sell your first child. I’ll give you some tips on this later.
- In addition to advertiser offers, some sites also require that you refer a certain number of other participants. This means you need to get friends, family or strangers to sign up for the same deal as you. Plus, you have to wait till they complete their offers before yours is finalized. Always avoid offers that require referrals!
- These sites also require you to sign up with your name, address, phone and email, and then “fill out a brief survey”. This survey consists of numerous screens of “Do you want information about Student Loan Consolidation” or “Do you like coupons”. Just click No for everything and get to the good stuff.
- These sites make their money from the advertisers. The advertisers make their money from the shipping on free samples (that cost almost nothing to make), but mostly from people like my sister who signs up for Columbia House and keeps forgetting to cancel the Featured Selection!
How do I pick out the safe sites from the scam sites?
The providers of these “free” offers are getting trickier and more strict, so they’re always changing tactics. However, these few tips should always help make the search a little safer:
- Whether you get an offer via email or browse directly to a site, check the Terms and Conditions FIRST and read it COMPLETELY. The T&C will tell you how many offers you must complete and whether you need to get referrals. Also, it should provide some methods to check your account and maybe how to contact the site owners.
- Google the name of the site. For example, “Product Test Panel” or “Consumer Incentive Promotions”. You’re bound to pull back some listings on Scam.com and other sites. Don’t let this deter you. Read all that you can about the provider and make your best judgment on how reliable and trustworthy they may be.
- Finally, look up the site on the Better Business Bureau’s official site. Most providers have multiple aliases, addresses and phone numbers. Jot down the company’s information and then test out those phone numbers. If you get a live person, great! But, most likely, you’ll just get a voicemail. Leave a message to see if they’ll get back to you. Just tell them “I’m interested in your free promotion, but I want to make sure I can contact you in case there are issues. Could you please call me back or email me at …?”
My methods to beat their system
I’m not the most diligent person with regards to keeping track of information, except when it comes to money. I don’t want to get shafted out of hard-earned money, so here are my methods:
- I verify the site credentials as stated in the above section
- I obtain a screenprint of every web page they give me, except the survey pages. I personally print the pages as PDF files, but you can also accomplish the same task with screen prints. The important pages are the homepage, Terms and Conditions, and each offer page
- I view the offers on ALL the offer pages BEFORE I sign up for anything. That way, I can see whether the offers will be too steep to complete or aren’t worth the promotional product. The sites let you advance through the offer pages and return to prior screens.
- I complete the prescribed numbers of offers presented on each offer page. For a 6 offer promotion, I usually get sent to 3 pages, where I complete 2 offers per page. The first page has the inexpensive offers with free trial periods. Each successive page has more expensive or more difficult to fulfill offers.
- As I complete each offer, I add the offer details into a tracking spreadsheet. You can download a sample spreadsheet here. I completed this spreadsheet for a Plasma TV. However, I decided to take a $1000 Visa Card instead
- Once the offers are completed, I keep checking my account daily to see when the offers are validated. In all 3 times I did these promotions, some offers didn’t report back to the provider site, so I had to fax proof of the offer completion.
- Also, and most importantly, I make sure I cancel any and all offers I completed before their trial period ends. Some offers also require you to return the product for credit, so make sure you do, and send it via certified mail.
How much have I spent on these promotions?
- Sony Vaio PCF-V505ECP Laptop = $95 (my daily laptop)
- Sony Vaio VGN-FS790B Laptop = $30 (Clever Dudette’s laptop)
- $1000 Visa Gift Card (was for a Plasma TV) = $300 (Bought a new grill, pressure washer, and curio cabinet)
Total Cost = $425. For about $3600 worth of stuff, not a bad deal. However, these deals count as gift income and you’ll be required to pay income taxes on the retail value. However, not all promotion sites follow through with the paperwork. Read into that as you wish…
When I come across a good offer, I’ll present a walk-through on this site. I thought I had a good one with Product Test Panel, until I viewed the final offer page. They only gave 3 offers, and I had to complete 2. Only one of the offers would have cost me less than $1500. Definitely not worth it!
So, if you follow my tips and methodologies, keep all records, and follow up consistently, then you could score yourself an “almost free” Plasma TV, Gift Card, Laptop, or even a Vespa Scooter!
Have any of you completed these deals? Have you been scammed? Are you like my sister and forget to cancel the offers?
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