Better Business Bureau: Consumers must be wary of online surveys

August 15, 2013 

While trying to access the BBB's YouTube site, I was invited to take a survey and win an iPhone 5, Apple iPad 2 or a $1,000 Visa Gift Card.

For completing a 30-second questionnaire, I qualify for a prize. But to get the prize, I had to give up my email, title, name, address, phone and date of birth.

With that much information, I considered identity theft. Then I read the small print at the bottom of the offer - yourgiftcenter, a subsidiary of Bravata LLC, of Boca Raton, Fla., wanted me to register for the offer-based survey. Bravata has 104 websites representing companies from across the country that use "offer-based" surveys to sell their products.

The fine print on this "survey" requires me to register, answer the survey, and complete 10 company-designed offers. These offers, not specified directly in the fine print, will require me to buy something. It goes on to say I'd get my check, only after I fulfill the program requirements.

These types of surveys collect consumer leads that are generally sold for marketing purposes - they sell your registration to (in this instance) to companies that try to sell you stuff.

Market research companies use surveys to gather consumer opinions on products and concepts. Some research firms give rewards or compensation for you time. Most keep your data private unless you sign a waiver.

BBB says remember these points, compiled from Survey on offer-based surveys:

Bare-bones first-page registration - A site asking for a first and last name and email address is usually a scam site and not a market research panel. If the initial signup page looks overly simplified, be wary - most online survey companies collect additional information so they can better target panelists for available surveys. Be cautious with these websites and watch for these next signs.

No "About Us" - Similar to a one-page registration, many survey scam websites do not provide information about their business. Marketing research companies willingly disclose information - headquarters, company history, survey panel information, etc.

No privacy policy - Similarly, a website with no privacy policy is likely not legitimate. Survey panels will list panelist information uses in a highly visible privacy policy.

Too-good-to-be-true promise - Joining or registering for an online survey offer that promises expensive gifts or money could be too good to be true. The offer's rules or requirements may invalidate any effort you put in to get the iPad or $1,000 gift card. Most verifiable market research firms want opinions that may influence the products and services of tomorrow. Reasonable compensation is usually awarded, but taking surveys is not a huge moneymaking endeavor. Websites promising otherwise should be thoroughly investigated.

Bottom line: Offer-based marketing firms can use your information from the time you complete registration and submit it, and it may be in ways you might not agree with. If you still feel the need to complete the survey, set up an alternate email address. This way, if your judgment is incorrect, the spam you receive will be to a less important email account.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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