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.

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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

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: href="">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

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

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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

    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 href="" target="_blank">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!