How? Here's how it works in three kinds of survey subterfuge.
Invitation to a Burglar
In one recent phone survey, supposedly by a well-known computer company, people were asked what type of computer equipment they owned and were promised free software in return for their answers. It would be installed by a company technician who would come by their homes at their convenience.
Photo by Steve Satushek/Getty Image
In reality, the goal was to determine where the home was and when the people wouldn't be there. As in a victim saying: "Come by at six — I'll be home by then."
At least one respondent who provided address and appointment time for the faux freebie returned to find his home fleeced of its valuables.
Another variation of this scam, aimed at New York state residents, opened with a soothing disclaimer that "this is not a sales call but a survey."
Questions followed: Does your home have smoke detectors? Fire extinguishers? Seems innocent enough. Then: Does your home have a security system?
That's obviously not info you should share with a stranger who may be trying to find out if your doors and windows are unprotected.
The ruse has prompted warnings by local police.
Information for Financial Fraud
Telephone scammers promise easy money for answering a few questions about the merchandise, service or quality of your favorite stores.
After responding to innocuous questions — Was the food good? Did the cashier smile at you? — you're asked for your bank account number so your $100 payment can be directly deposited.
Or you're promised a gift card for a "shopping spree." Just give us a credit card number to pay for the card's delivery by courier.
The result: You get nothing for your efforts, the scammers get your prized financial account info.
Now, it's true that legitimate merchants do sometimes pay for your opinion, but the surveys generally take place in their stores. Companies rarely, if ever, offer rewards for answers given over the phone or online, and neither they nor their market researchers ask for bank or credit card information.
Links to Your Friends With Shocking Videos
Emails and advertisements on legitimate websites promise a free tablet computer or other goodies for your "vote" on a would-be presidential candidate or another in-the-news topic.
At best, these are ruses that allow unscrupulous "researchers" to earn commissions for collecting responses from you. Forget about getting a tablet computer — what you may actually get is a barrage of spam.
At worst, these come-ons are meant to get you to click on a link that infects your computer with software that collects your online banking numbers or hijacks your personal files.
Scammers know this kind of bait has lost some of its appeal, so now on Facebook, YouTube and other sites they're promising exciting video clips: a celebrity's mishap, a natural disaster or, the latest, a "disgusting" video of a spider crawling under someone's skin.
With the spider scam, if you click on the video "play" button, you're actually doing the scammers' work for them, before you're sent off to a survey page. You're sharing the original link with all of your social network friends, setting them up for more of the same.
Also of interest: Fraud alert or credit freeze to fight identity theft? >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.