Have you ever filled out an online survey? Probably so. In fact, according to SurveyMonkey, one of the world’s leading online survey platforms, they collect more than 2 million survey responses every day from consumers just like you.
And when you add to this equation dozens of similar companies who are all doing the same thing, you get a whole lot of online surveys completed every day, all across the globe.
But let’s be honest, whenever you’ve completed surveys in the past, you weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect. After all, sitting in front of your computer and answering dry, boring questions about your spending habits isn’t most people’s idea of a good time.
Because of this, most companies will entice customers to complete their surveys by offering something in return, such as coupons, gift certificates, chances to win big, expensive prizes, and so forth. And when they do this, a lot of people bite; about 25% to be exact.
Traditional Online Survey Scams
Because of the relatively high number of online survey respondents, it was only a matter of time until scammers figured out how to use these statistics to defraud unsuspecting victims of their hard-earned money through a process known as phishing. In other words, scam artists would use legitimate-looking surveys to steal people’s personal information, such as address, phone number, bank account details, and more.
After all, in many instances, these fraudulent surveys are well done and look completely legitimate, and are intended to mimic large banks such as Chase and Bank of America. As such, you might never suspect you were being scammed until it was far too late.
A New Twist to Online Survey Scams
More recently however, the HighYa team has noticed a growing trend of companies, primarily within the anti-aging and skincare industries, who are taking tactics once reserved only for scammers and turning it into a money-generating machine.
Instead of stealing directly from your bank account though, these “legitimate” companies will often lead you to believe that you can earn a free gift by filling out a quick online survey. What you don’t realize is that this “free” gift will quickly turn into an autoship program, where you’ll continue to receive a regular supply of a highly overpriced and ineffective product (for an in-depth look at this trend, be sure to read through our Exposing the Widespread Scam of Anti-Aging Products & Free Trials article).
Here’s how one HighYa reader claims the scam works:
“When I tried to access my online bank account I was presented with an offer to answer survey questions about my bank in exchange for a free gift. I took the survey and then was redirected to a page showing a selection of "gifts" requiring payment of a shipping charge. I chose the Skinology face cream and gave my debit info to pay 4.95 shipping. I received the product and my account was debited 4.95. A few weeks later, my account was debited for $92 by the same company. When I called to complain a woman with a hard to understand accent on a choppy phone connection said I had agreed to their terms and conditions, which involved a subscription for their product. The fact is I only agreed to pay 4.95 shipping for the one free trial product. I asked my bank if they were actually doing a survey and they said they had nothing to do with any online survey. It’s a scam!”
These companies understand that most banks and credit card companies send special offers to their customers, so they’ll mimic the same look and feel in their emails. The key difference here is that real banks will only provide access to these offers after you’ve signed into your account, while the less-than-stellar companies claim to provide these “gifts” without signing in at all.
But with such well-made emails, how in the world can you immediately identify these scams and avoid falling victim? Let’s take a look.
How to Identify a Fraudulent Email
Here are 8 tried-and-true methods of identifying (and avoiding) these online survey scams:
1. You Know What They Say about Assuming
As mentioned above, scammers are really good at mimicking legitimate businesses, so don’t automatically assume that an email from your bank (or any other financial institution) is the real deal before you’ve had time to read through its contents and assess the situation.
Bonus tip: Keep in mind that although these types of scams often pretend to come from your bank, scam artists could mimic any popular company in order to gain your trust.
2. Great Expectations
Even if you’ve read through the email and it seems legitimate, before clicking, ask yourself, “Was I expecting this email?” In other words, is the email simply a notification that your online statement is ready or that your bill is due soon, or something completely out of the blue?
This is important because most banks won’t send random emails, so if you receive something out of the ordinary, it could be a strong indication that it’s fake. If this is the case, proceed with caution (or don’t proceed at all).
3. Pleasure to Meet You
Keep in mind that official communication from your bank will always include your full (first and last) name somewhere in the introduction. Something like, “Dear John Smith.” In addition, official bank emails will also almost always include the last 4 digits of your account number.
On the other hand, a fraudulent email might begin with something much more generic, such as “Dear Chase Account Holder” or “Dear User,” and will almost never include any of your account information. This is because the crooks sending these fake emails don’t really know your name or your account information.
4. Inspector Gadget
If you decided to click on the link contained in the email (something that we never recommend doing), be sure to inspect the website’s URL. There, look for the “lock” icon in the address bar, as well as an “s” in the “https” section.
If you don’t see either of these, this means you’re not using a secure connection, and any information you transmit could be intercepted by a scammer. Any legitimate bank will always do business only over a secure connection.
Finally, be sure to check the URL for any misspellings; e.g. www.paypak.com instead of www.paypal.com. Scammers like to create URLs that are very close to the original, and are easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention.
5. A Pressing Matter
Next, scammers know that they only have your attention for a split second, so they’ll often create a sense of urgency in order to convince you to take action. This includes stating that the offer “expires today,” that there are “only 150 free gifts remaining,” or something along these lines.
6. Pick up the Phone
If you’re still on the fence at this point, before clicking on any links in the email, pick up the phone and call the online banking department of your financial institution. Once you have a representative on the line, ask if any official communication has been sent out that matches what you received.
7. Your Little Secret
As we’ve mentioned many times in the past, if you’re confronted with one of these emails, never—ever—give out your personal information, since this email could entail a phishing scam and an autoship scam in one.
Here’s a simple rule to remember: No financial institution will ever ask for your name, username, password, or account information in an email.
8. Take Immediate Action
Finally, if you clicked on a link in one of these emails or provided any of your personal information, notify your bank immediately. Otherwise, the longer you wait the more time these criminals will have to steal your hard-earned money.
We Want to Hear from You
Now that you have all the information you need to avoid these new online survey scams (and almost any other type of email scam, for that matter), we want to hear from you!
Have you encountered any of these online survey scams? Were you able to identify that they were a scam, or did you fall victim? Help millions of HighYa readers around the world by sharing your story in the comments section below!