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Updated Sep 5, 2007 - 2:54 pm

Q: Are Online Surveys Safe?

Question: Are online surveys safe? A friend of mine does online surveys to make money and she wants me to start and I want to know if they are safe to do or not. -Debbie

Ken's Answer: As with anything on the Internet, when it comes to online survey sites, there are a small group of legit sites and there are a huge number of scam sites.

As far as making a living filling out online surveys, I wouldn't count on it.

If you want to make some extra money (generally less then a couple of hundred dollars a month for a substantial amount of work) or more likely score gift cards or credits to specific retailers by filling out surveys, it can be done but be extremely careful.

The way that most legitimate "market research" sites work is that you register with them and fill out a demographic survey of yourself. Based on your demographic profile (if you're even accepted), you are sent surveys for companies that are interested in the opinion of folks in your demographic group.

From the various postings on the Internet, most companies will only send you one or two surveys per month or even one or two a year in some cases, depending upon your demographic profile.

This means that you will need to sign up with many different sites if you want to have any chance of generating any measurable returns.

This also increases your chances of becoming a victim of a scam, so the risk/reward ratio is going in the wrong direction.

If you are going to give it a try, here are some things to keep in mind:

Never use your personal e-mail account. Sign up for a free-mail account just for the surveys in case you get bombarded with spam (a common reason for luring people into a survey site) or you decide that it isn't something you want to continue.

Never register with a site that requires you to pay a fee for either filling out the initial demographic forms or to get a list of "legit" paid survey sites. No legit market research firm asks their participants to pay.

Never get involved with a site that makes outlandish claims or offers you a guarantee. You don't have enough time in the day to fill out enough surveys to make a living.

Avoid sites that do a lot of advertising as most legit companies don't have to spend money to get survey takers.

Do your homework on a site before you give them your information (use Google to learn what others are saying or go to sites like bbb.org and scam.com).

NEVER give a site your SSN during your initial registration (they will claim they need it to pay you - ID THEFT ALERT!). They should not need it until you have generated more than $600 in a calendar year. In other words, you will have had to take lots of surveys and been compensated repeatedly before they need your SSN.

Most of the big research firms don't even pay in cash; they pay in points that can be applied towards goods and service and have monthly contests to try to keep you interested.

Don't get sucked in by written testimonials, images of paychecks or pay stubs as "proof or even your friend's enthusiasm.

Many scam sites encourage users to get their friends to sign up (much like a pyramid scheme) just so they can get more personal information to sell to others.

Even if your friend claims that they are getting paid, DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST!

As always, if it sounds too good to be true, take a pass!

Ken Colburn, President of Data Doctors Computer Services

Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Host of the award-winning "Computer Corner" radio show (www.datadoctors.com/radio)
Weekly tech contributor to CNN Video at www.cnn.com/video

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