How to spot free sample scams

How to spot free sample scams

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Like many people, Charlcie Munsey enjoys watching QVC, the popular television shopping network. This 72-year grandmother, a widow who lives on a fixed income, watches the network for fun and therapy. Like many people, Charlcie Munsey enjoys watching QVC, the popular television shopping network. This 72-year grandmother, a widow who lives on a fixed income, watches the network for fun and therapy.
The other day she received an unsolicited phone call about an unusual survey. The other day she received an unsolicited phone call about an unusual survey.
By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Internet is filled with free opportunities to test samples, from household products and perfume, to dog and cat food. Often, but not always, these samples come with a catch: you are asked to fill out a survey on your opinion of the product.

For many stay-at-home moms and seniors, free sample sites can be rewarding, but there are some red flags to know about.

Finding websites that give out free samples without bombarding your email with junk or making you jump through" countless hoops can be frustrating.

While some people are skeptical when they hear about "free stuff," because there are strings attached, others participate frequently without consequences.

What can some of the consequences be?

Like many people, Charlcie Munsey enjoys watching QVC, the popular television shopping network. This 72-year grandmother, a widow who lives on a fixed income, watches the network for fun and therapy.

Because of painful arthritis, Munsey says she takes extensive notes on products to keep her arthritic hands limber. Munsey also responds frequently to surveys where she tries free new products.

The other day she received an unsolicited phone call about an unusual survey.

"'I'm calling you to see if you would like to try some of our samples. Then tell us what you thought of them,'" she said, quoting the caller. "And I said, 'What kind of samples?' She said, 'Our product.'"

Being a note taker, Munsey told the caller, who identified herself as Sarah, that she wasn't too sure if she wanted to try unknown samples.

She said, 'Well, we'll send you a free $100 gift card, to any store you want. We'll send you a $50 card to go dine. And we'll also send you a card for the pharmacy,'" Munsey said, again quoting the caller.

"And she said, 'Now, we do need $1.95 to cover postage. I said okay. She said, 'We'll need the credit card number or debit card number so we can get this paid and get your free cards to you, and start sending you our samples.'" said Munsey.

The catch to this deal is becoming obvious.

"I said I don't give out my debit card or credit card number, and I always pay with a money order," she said.
 
At that point, Munsey says the lady on the phone ended their conversation.

If you go online, you'll find many websites that offer free samples. Some are tied to surveys. They want your opinion about the product.

To participate, you should not have to give out any personal information to get a free sample. That means no date of birth, mother's maiden name or Social Security numbers.

You should not have to give out any credit card information or pay any shipping and handling fees.

Munsey admits at first the call peaked her attention, until she was asked for her credit card numbers.      

"I would have really been in a mess, because then you wouldn't have any money at all. And they would have had the numbers and any money that comes in, probably wouldn't have been there long," she said.

There is more to the story. We called the number left on her cell phone.

"It is likely you have been contacted by one of our representatives and are calling back for additional information," said a voice on the other end of the phone.

We did ask for additional information, but received no return call.

Munsey says with all the incentives tied to the survey, some people might have been lured into the deal.

"They think this is a good deal. We get all of this for $2," she said. "Now if they had let me send that money order, it would have been out the door and gone, but they don't get my card number."

A freebie isn't a freebie unless it is free. If a website or unsolicited caller wants you to pay for a freebie, tell them you're not interested. Sometimes they'll try to sweeten the deal by offering gift cards, but first they'll want your credit card information for the so-called processing or mailing fee.

Often, what will happen is, your personal information will be sold and you'll never receive the gift card.

More online: FTC Complaint Assistant

If you receive a suspicious call, contact the Federal Trade Commission at and report the phone number.
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