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Avoiding Freebie Scams

Avoiding Freebie Scams

Oct 13, 2016

When online scammers look for potential targets, they frequently exploit the natural desire to receive something for nothing. It’s much easier, after all, to get people to respond to a “freebie” scam offer than it is to sell a product or service. However, the fact that many people sign up for these scams is little consolation for those who expected to receive a freebie and only had their inboxes filled with more spam — or worse, had their identities stolen. The desire to avoid freebie scams might prevent you from signing up for legitimate offers, which is a shame. Instead, read this guide to learn how to find real freebies online and avoid scammers.

Guard Your Identity

When signing up for freebies online, pay close attention to the personal information requested of you. No legitimate freebie offer should require your social security number, for example, and you should be wary of any freebie offer that requires your credit card information for “processing.” Even something as seeminly innocuous as a Facebook login screen for the purpose of “verifying your identity” can turn out to be a terrible freebie scam; social media accounts fetch significant money on the black market. If you mistakenly enter your login information on a page not belonging to the social media service, your account could be used to transmit spam to your friends for weeks before you learn of the deception. You shouldn’t be surprised, though, if a freebie offer requires you to provide your mailing address. If the offer involves receiving a physical item, the company sponsoring the freebie will need to have somewhere to send it.

Spamming for Fun and Profit

You may find freebie offers online that promise to send something for free in exchange for several email addresses of friends and family members. At best, you’ll be subjecting your loved ones to spam, which won’t make them very happy. At worst, you’ll receive nothing and the email addresses you provided will be sold to the highest bidder — email addresses are some of the most popular commodities among scammers. Collecting and selling them can be quite profitable, even if the freebie offer isn’t a scam. Even if the website offering the freebie has a clear privacy policy stating that email addresses won’t be sold, you’ll have to take them to court if you want it upheld. It’s far better to avoid these potential freebie scams entirely.

Freebie Fine Print

Providing a credit card number when signing up for a freebie doesn’t just make you a potenial target for identity theft — it may trigger a monthly subscription fee that will be difficult to avoid. This is a common freebie scam in which the item being given away requires another consumable item to be useful. E-cigarettes require cartridges, a self-tanning airbrush requires makeup and diet aids are only useful if you continue taking them. This strategy is called “freebie marketing” and it’s a perfectly legitimate way of doing business unless sellers try to hide the recurring charges. Before you sign up for a freebie involving a product that will only work for a limited time, read the fine print carefully. Make sure that you aren’t signing up for an inflated monthly subscription and avoid providing payment information.

You Win!

If you’ve seen the film “Glengarry Glen Ross,” you know that an underhanded salesperson may attempt to convince a potential mark that the product he’s paying for is, in fact, a prize. You may see this common freebie scam online accompanied by a banner stating something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you’re our millionth visitor! Click here and tell us where to send your free laptop!” It can’t be said enough — if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I’ve Been Scammed. Now What?

If you’ve been caught up in a freebie scam, recovering may not be as difficult as you think. If your credit card has been charged without permission, the issuing bank may have a system through which you can swear the charge was fraudulent and recover your money. Don’t stop there, though — do your part to prevent others from falling victim to freebie scammers. There’s a good chance that any contact information listed on the website will be fake. Network Solutions is one of many companies that can enable you to find out where a website is hosted. Simply type in the name of the domain and look for the Web host’s name under the “Name Servers” section of the resulting report. Contact the company and let them know their servers are being used for a scam. If you have difficulty resolving the issue to your satisfaction, contact your local Attorney General’s office.