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Everyone has opinions, and there’s no shortage of people seeking to tap them, from corporate marketers to political pollsters to friends on Facebook. But exercise caution when you get a survey solicitation — it could be crooks aiming to cash in on your views.

Survey scams take many forms. You get a call, email or text, or see an online ad or social media post, inviting you to participate in a poll or consumer questionnaire. Con artists might impersonate big-name retailers or familiar service providers (say, your bank or wireless carrier) gauging customer satisfaction. They might try to pique your interest by soliciting your take on celebrity doings or candidates in an upcoming election.

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There also are telemarketers who pretend to be survey takers to get around federal restrictions on spam calls to people who’ve signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry.

Of course, many legitimate companies and organizations, including AARP, conduct surveys for research purposes or to improve products and services. But survey scammers don’t really care about your opinion. Their goal is to get you to call a number or click on a link to a phony survey website, often dangling a “free” reward like cash, gift cards, tech gadgets or travel as bait.

Amid questions about the supposed subject, sham surveys solicit personal or financial information, such as a credit card number to pay a shipping fee for your prize — something a legit survey will not do. They might trick you into signing up for a “free trial” offer that’s actually a costly subscription for a dietary supplement or other product.

Clicking on the link might also launch malware that can scrape sensitive data from your device. Either way, the scammers get information they can use for identity theft or sell on to other bad actors.

Some major retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, do offer gift cards as prizes for customers who complete online surveys about their shopping experience, but those companies say they will never ask participants to provide sensitive data.

As with many long-standing scams, there’s now a pandemic twist on survey cons, with crooks sending out emails and texts in the guise of COVID-19 vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Astra Zeneca seeking feedback on the shots, with a free prize like a new iPad as an enticement. As with older versions, it’s a ruse to pry loose credit card or bank information.

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Warning Signs

  • A survey asks you to provide private data such as a Social Security number, credit card or bank information, or an account password.
  • A survey solicitation contains bad grammar, misspellings or odd word choices. Communications from legitimate companies doing market research or seeking customer feedback are carefully edited.
  • A survey website doesn’t display a privacy policy or explain how it will use the information it gathers from you.

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do be wary of surveys that offer expensive gifts like an iPad or a cruise if you fill out the questionnaire, especially if they seek payment for a shipping or processing fee.
  • Do look carefully at the sender’s email address on a survey solicitation. If it’s from a free email service such as Gmail, AOL or Yahoo rather than a company domain, that’s a red flag.
  • Do search online to see if there’s a scam alert on a survey you receive. Some companies post detailed warnings about how to spot scammers who are impersonating them.
  • Do consider installing a call-blocking mobile phone app to screen out unwanted texts from survey spammers.
  • Don’t click on links or open attachments in a suspicious email or text about a survey.
  • Don’t divulge sensitive personal or financial information to a survey taker. Legitimate surveys won’t ask for it.
  • Don’t respond to a survey message using the contact information in the message. If you want to check whether the survey is legit, go to the official website of the company it claims to represent and look up the customer-service number or email address.
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More Resources

  • Report survey scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Call 877-382-4357 or file a report online.
  • If you receive a text or email with a link to a supposed COVID-19 vaccine survey, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, online or at 866-720-5721.
  • If you suspect a survey site you’ve given information to is fraudulent, you can find resources to protect yourself at the FTC’s website.