Introduction

Survey scams have been used by fraudsters since the days of dial-up to make you think you are making money or earning a prize for a modicum of time invested. In reality, survey scams are conning you into falling into a trap of sorts where they will take your personal information (or worse). 

Anybody that has been using email for a substantial amount of time has received one of these survey scams from a seemingly reputable company. They lure users into taking them with sometimes modest, sometimes lavish survey scams for money or prizes. Luckily, spotting survey scams is relatively easy if you know what to look for. 

This article will detail how to spot a survey scam and will explore what you should look for if you want to avoid being a victim of these attempts to separate you from your hard-earned money.

A little about survey scams

The survey scam has seen a marked increase in use by fraudsters promising money or prizes for your participation in a seemingly innocuous survey. Scams for money have been observed luring with small amounts of money such as $5, which can escalate to larger amounts as well as the reoccurring $1,000 promise. Survey scams for prizes offer gift cards to large retail stores, iPads, iPhones and other popular electronic devices. The whole point is to lure a victim in order to steal their data or infect them with malware.

What obfuscates this is the fact that there are legitimate surveys for money or prizes out there, and with the COVID-19 pandemic causing many to be at home (and online) more, cybercriminals are exploiting this convergence and hitting email inboxes with more scams like these. 

Fortunately, there are some tell-tale things to look for in these surveys which will help you spot if it is indeed a survey scam. 

Survey scams are sloppy

Sloppiness is a tell-tale sign of a survey actually being a scam. The most glaring example of this is misspellings and bad grammar, which no self-respecting company would ever allow through when representing their company. Things like this would cost digital marketers and other legitimate organization employees their jobs. Whether because cybercriminals are being careless or because they simply don’t have a good grasp on the language the survey is in, survey scams are often sloppy and easy to spot in this way.

Things just don’t match up

Another thing to look for are mismatches between what the survey displays and the purported company that is hosting the survey. One such example from a reputable hardware store was offering health and beauty gifts for participating in a survey about the retailer. Soon into the survey, the questions began asking about their local grocery store. Seeing as hardware stores are more likely to sell tools than makeup or groceries, an error like this is easy to spot.

Survey scams have been observed indicating how many people have taken the survey and how many prizes they have left for “lucky” survey takers during the course of the survey. This is used to plant a feeling of urgency in the user, making them more willing to plow ahead with it. The strange thing that you will notice is that these numbers will change, with the number of prizes shrinking each time until there is only one left. If you see this, abort the survey! Legitimate surveys would not mention this. Even if they did, it’s unlikely they would be updated in real-time to give an accurate prize count.

Double or nothing

Survey scams for money will often lead you on throughout the course of the survey by escalating the value or desirability of the prize or increasing the amount of money it is offering you. When surveys are legitimate, the prizes or amounts of money will not be increasing. 

TMI (too much information)

Surveys that ask for your personal information (aside from basic, vanilla information such as your email address) shouldn’t be complied with, as they are probably scams. This might seem counterintuitive at first: after all, they need to have your banking information to send you your prize money, right? Wrong. Any survey that asks you for information of this type can send your money or prize to you in some other way, such as mailing a check, gift card or prize.

Who is the sender?

Survey scams come into your inbox via email addresses that are different from the official company they are posing as. They may be from misspelled email domains, misspelled company names, presented in a different form (such @walmartsuperstores.com). These will be some of the first indications that the survey is a scam and you should treat it as such. 

If you still think the survey is legitimate, contact the company and inquire if it is legitimate. Scammers will either not respond, respond with emails that include misspellings and/or bad grammar or may respond with a request for personal information.

Conclusion

Survey scams (and survey scams for money) have seen a substantial increase since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. This may be just a coincidence but with the record size of the workforce working from home (and those out of work), cybercriminals have been harder at work flooding our inboxes with these bait-and-switch traps. 

Cybersecurity skills are rooted in common sense and this is the lens with which you should view surveys. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

 

Sources

  1. Anatomy of a survey scam – how innocent questions can rip you off, Sophos
  2. 7 Red Flags a Paid Survey May Be a Scam, Debt.com
  3. Sweepstakes & Survey Scams: Beware of scammers making you think you’ve won a prize, News 4 Nashville