Avoiding the Internet’s Free Stuff Scams

The Internet is full of scams, everything from dodgy software to “free” offers that appear too good to be true. Many Web sites thrive on scamming innocent visitors and impressive-sounding gimmicks continue to reel-in the unsuspecting public.

If you’ve been a freebie hunter for a long while, you will probably already have a sixth sense when it comes to the various offers on the Net, and you’ll be well-versed on which ones to avoid. It has been said many times over, but we’ll reprint the time-tested advice anyway:

If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

That is, unless you do the research beforehand to ensure the offer is legitimate.

Many companies on the Net are waiting to pounce on unsuspecting visitors, and some go to extreme lengths to obtain your e-mail address, home address and perhaps other details. So what tactics should you look out for?

1) Buy something, get something free.

If you must purchase something in order to obtain a freebie, you don’t need us to tell you it’s not really free. However, many places on the Net will advertise their so-called freebies in order to get your foot in the door. Remember: if you’d quite like to get your hands on the item, weigh up the benefits of the offer and then decide whether you’d like to proceed or not.

2) Free (and not-so-free) software.

Free software comes in many flavours nowadays: freeware, shareware, trials, “donationware”, the list goes on. It’s hardly surprising how many people become confused. Add to this the issues of software security (it may be free, but is it safe?), and you’ve suddenly found a recipe for even more confusion! Rest assured, is here to help. If you want free software with no restrictions, no annoying “nag” messages and the freedom to distribute to your friends and family, it HAS to be freeware (or alternatively “Open Source” software). These are the only true forms of free software. All others have some form of restriction, whether that is a suggested donation, a trial period, “register your product screens”, or a limited number of features.

You’ll be pleased to hear that all our Free Software reviews on are freeware, and if we find a program has changed its policy to shareware, we’ll quickly remove it because when we say it’s free, it really is!

3) It’s free – but with participation.

We’re not against hard work (in fact we’ve been known to encourage it), but sometimes even the hardest grafters among us have to draw the line somewhere. Sometimes referring information to friends, subscribing to newsletters or completing a short survey is a fair deal, especially if the freebie you’ll eventually receive has real benefit or monetary value. Be on the lookout for free stuff that requires participation and then decide for yourself. If you’ve got to fight tooth and nail in order to obtain the item, ask yourself: “is it really worth the hassle?” Only you can decide.

4) Free (insert highly priced item here).

If you’ve been surfing the Internet even for a short while, you will have likely seen banners advertising “free iPods”, “free PlayStations”, and so on. They do appear too good to be true, and in 99% of cases, your assumption would be somewhat correct. Unless you’re the lucky winner in a competition, hardly anyone is going to give away the latest PlayStation. However, if the offer is legitimate, you are almost certainly going to have to register for third party offers, and perhaps tempt friends to do the same. The end result? You’ll be acting as a reseller for all kinds of schemes, be it credit cards or the latest “get rich” opportunity. If time is money, this shiny new gadget suddenly looks a lot less appealing. Don’t get us wrong, people do obtain high value goods for free, but in many cases, their time would be better spent pursuing something else.

5) Free with postage and packaging.

Some product samples still exist with postage and packaging (or “shipping and handling”) charges. On rare occasions, it is worthwhile to pay the charge if the offer is particularly lucrative. Again, the best advice is to weigh up the benefits and then make a decision. In many cases it is best to avoid these types of freebies.

With all the bogus offers on the Internet, it can be easy to forget about the MANY legitimate freebies available. We’ve been listing them for over 8 years now, so:

What are the signs of legitimate freebies?

Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions – Expect to find a clear Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions statement on the freebie provider’s site. These documents outline the intentions of the Web site in question and may also include some restrictions (i.e. a site may require you to be 18 before you participate).

A reason why the freebie is available – If a company offering freebies requests your details and neglects to disclose how those details will be used, their intentions may not be as honourable as they first appear. Therefore, most legitimate freebies include a reason why the freebie is available. The most common purpose for offering a freebie is for marketing purposes. Free samples, in particular, are used to tempt consumers to purchase the item by offering smaller “test” sizes. Additionally, freebies may be used to help a company gather demographic data for market research purposes. Again, look for a statement that acknowledges this and you should be OK.

Opting out of third party mailings – If companies offering freebies intend to pass your details to third parties, they should provide an option to opt-out on their Web site. Be sure to look for this as you invariably won’t want to receive any other material. If you do wish to receive additional information, this option is available.

You found it through – A sure-fire sign we’ve done our utmost to ensure the freebie is legitimate!

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