According to AARP, they are receiving an increase in complaints from people who believe that they won a large amount of money, only to find out it’s a scam.
Our Call 4 Action network says a consumer received an email promising to enter him into a sweepstakes drawing with prizes as high as $1000 if he clicked a link that would allow him to share his thoughts about his bank.
The email promised that his “feedback will help us better understand customer service performance and needed improvements in the banking industry.” Normally, the consumer would be happy to oblige.
He noticed that the email included several of the points of information that all survey requests should include, such as a name for the research firm, an estimate of the time it would take to complete, and a promise that answers would be confidential and used for research purposes only. Nonetheless, several aspects of the email raised his suspicions.
First, another required point of information, on how to contact the research firm, was missing. Second, the email was said to be from “firstname.lastname@example.org”; a real survey firm would have their own name as the email domain. Third, the prizes were offered as a “toke [sic] of our appreciation”; a real survey firm would never have allowed such an obvious misspelling to appear. An email search revealed that there was no such company as “MeritsCX Research Surveys”.
The “survey” request was almost certainly a fraud. Given the content of the “survey,” there were several possible ploys being attempted. One was to attempt to get the consumer’s personal bank account information directly from the email link. Another was to just get the name of the consumer’s bank, after which he would have received a phone call from the “bank” claiming that there were fraudulent charges on his account and that he needed to “verify” his bank account information for the “bank” to stop the fraud. A third was that the link, along with showing the meaningless survey, would have installed malware on the consumer’s computer.
This is just one example of the many types of fraudulent “surveys” distributed on email or attempted by telephone that have being making the rounds. The Minnesota State Attorney General’s office (https://www.ag.state.mn.us/Consumer/Publications/SurveyScams.asp) has reported others, including the following:
A “survey” asking a consumer for the names of magazines to which the consumer subscribed. A few days later, the consumer received a phone call claiming to be from one of the listed magazines, stating that the consumer’s subscription is running out, and asking her to renew it.
A “survey” supposedly about retail shopping preferences that asked for enough personal information (including name, birthdate, and phone number) to allow the scammer to get into the consumer’s phone account and charge the consumer for items sent to the scammer.
A “survey” that, rather than the “sweepstakes” mentioned in the first example, promised a direct financial award for participation, but claimed to need the consumer’s credit card or bank information to make the payment.
As surveys are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry, a consumer might receive a phone call that claims to be about a survey but is actually a marketing pitch. This latter tactic also occurs with door-to-door soliciting.
People who would otherwise be wary of scam attempts may be prone to let down their guard when doing a survey and provide information they would not otherwise. Consumers should also keep in mind that legitimate survey research companies will often ask consumers for personal information such as where they live, approximate income range, age, ethnicity, family size, and gender in order to categorize subgroups of respondents, or offer money for participation. Nonetheless, there are methods for judging the legitimacy of any communication claiming to be from a survey company:
Legitimate survey firms should identify themselves and describe how to contact them, tell the consumer how long the survey should take to complete, and promise some form of privacy, either confidentiality or anonymity, for the consumer’s answers.
Legitimate survey firms should have an easy-to-find website describing their activities.
- Legitimate survey firms will generally offer only a token sum as payment for participation. The only exception is focus group participation, as it requires a great deal of participant time and effort. Even if offering payment, legitimate survey firms will never ask for bank or credit card information, but rather pay by check.
Consumers should report attempted survey scams and Do Not Call Registry violations to the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 or www.consumer.ftc.gov.