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Finding Freebies: A Comprehensive Guide

Think there's no such thing as a free lunch? Think again. The economy may be slumping, but companies still have their wallets open and are handing out freebies to people willing to provide their time and opinions or share content with their friends on social media. If you've got the time to search, freebies await you all over the Internet. Be careful, though; there's nothing scammers love more than to prey on unsuspecting consumers hoping to get something for nothing. To find freebies online, be prepared to devote a bit of time and energy to your efforts and stay on the lookout for some common freebie scams.

Freebies With Subscriptions

How to Find Freebies

Consider the razor-and-blades business model; when a product requires consumable items to work properly, companies often sell starter kits at low up-front prices hoping that you'll later buy more profitable items to keep the products working. In the world of freebies, a classic example of this is the free e-cigarette scam. E-cigarette kits usually cost at least $50, with refill cartridges selling for around $10 per pack. Some companies have taken the razor-and-blades model to an extreme by offering these kits for shipping costs only. If you read the fine print, though, you'll see that by accepting the offer you're committing to buying refill cartridges each month for several times the standard retail price. This business model can be applied to almost anything consumable, so if you see this type of product offered online as a freebie, you should ask yourself where the company is making its money and read the fine print carefully.

Signup-Driven Freebies

Sign Up for Freebies

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for entrepreneurs to earn money online. The affiliate marketer recommends and links to a product, and then earns money if a reader clicks the link and follows through with a purchase. In some cases -- offers that pay when people sign up and are accepted for credit offers, for example -- affiliate commissions can be very large. The larger an affiliate commission is, the more difficult it is to acquire new signups. So, some affiliate marketers offer incentive-driven programs through which a portion of these commissions are returned to the people who sign up. The most common example of this is freebie offers involving electronics such as laptops and tablets. This type of freebie offer may be legitimate. However, getting it won't be easy; you'll not only have to sign up for at least one offer yourself, but you will also have to convince several other people to do the same. Since all of these signups will earn the website offering free laptops thousands of dollars, it makes financial sense for them to give a bit of that money back in the form of free laptops. Many of these freebie offers may be legitimate, but beware; if you search for reviews of free laptop offers online, you'll mainly see reviews from people who have never received a free laptop and are merely hoping to acquire new signups themselves.

The Freebie That Isn't

You may have seen television commercials for auction websites claiming to sell expensive electronics for a fraction of their normal value -- large screen televisions for $25, high-definition cameras for $3.00 and so on. This is called the "penny auction" system; an item is listed for sale and bidding advances one penny at a time until the timer runs out. At that point, the timer is continually extended for a few seconds until no more bids are received. When the auction is over, the winning bidder agrees to buy the item -- usually for a minute fraction of its retail price. As is typical in the world of freebies, though, this "elevator pitch" doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, to bid at a penny auction website you must first pay for the privilege to bid in the form of "bid packs" costing at least 50 cents per bid. If a product has a retail value of $1,000 and sells in a penny auction for $30 with bids costing 50 cents each, the website profits by $530 when the cost of bid packs is considered. You can see, then, how selling an item in the penny auction format could be far more profitable than listing it in a standard auction format -- and people are driven by the thousands to penny auction websites with the hope of obtaining these near-freebies. Penny auction websites may be legitimate, although there is suspicion that some fly-by-night websites may be using automation to drive bid prices up and ensure profitability. Before you join a penny auction website and begin bidding on a near-freebie, though, consider the number of people you will be bidding against; you can't recover the cost of your "bid packs" regardless of whether you win an auction or not. Therefore, you may spend a great deal of money and win nothing. In that sense, bidding on a penny auction is essentially like gambling. Make sure you're comfortable with that before bidding.

Online Surveys

Today, companies rarely release new products or undergo rebranding campaigns without extensive market research. Frequently, they are willing to pay for the opinions of real consumers. Search for the term "paid surveys" online to find some examples. Anyone can complete surveys for money and freebies. In addition, some surveys are only open to consumers to meet a certain set of demographic or other requirements, so there may be times when you'll answer an extensive set of qualification questions only to find that you aren't invited to complete the paid survey. Nevertheless, paid surveys can be a rewarding way to monetize your time when you'd otherwise be on the computer chatting with friends or playing games. Don't expect paid surveys to replace your "day job," though; companies typically pay participants just a few dollars each. Also, remember that people wishing to take paid surveys are often targets for scammers. Before signing up for a paid survey website, check for a clear privacy policy stating that your personal information won't be sold. If you are asked to pay a membership fee, don't sign up; you'll never earn enough money to recoup your expenses.

Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping may be a fun way to get freebies by having another company pick up the tab on items you would have bought either way, such as food. If you are selected as a mystery shopper, a company conducting research will ask you to shop anonymously at a specific location and report on your experience. Depending on the type of research being conducted, you may be asked to take pictures, complain about a problem or ask employees for help. The company conducting the research reimburses you for the expenses incurred during mystery shopping. To be a successful mystery shopper, you must be able to document your experiences in detail. Mystery shopping is an opportunity to get freebies from supermarkets, department stores and restaurants -- and many mystery shoppers find the experience of "playing the spy" rather exciting. However, in most states mystery shopping requires no special certifications or training. Therefore, competition can be intense when mystery shopping positions open up. Don't be discouraged if you get turned down many times before landing your first steady gig.

Company-Sponsored Freebies

In highly competitive industries, it's not uncommon for companies to sponsor giveaways with the hope of gaining favor among the readers of popular blogs and social media users. To find company-sponsored freebies, search the Web for pages on which the words "sponsored" and "giveaway" both appear. To enter in one of these giveaways, it's often necessary to perform an action such as sharing a certain URL with friends on Facebook. If you plan to spend a significant amount of time finding freebies online, it may be wise to open secondary social media accounts to avoid spamming your friends.

Blogging for Freebies

Many bloggers review products online. They may do so for fun or because they hope to drive traffic to advertisements or affiliate offers. The road to success in blogging is long and difficult. If you're able to build a large audience, though, companies will be willing to offer you freebies in exchange for exposure to your reader base -- and if you're already a blogger, don't be afraid to ask for freebies. When asking, give the company a few links illustrating some of the detailed product reviews you've written in the past. If a company can be certain that you'll write a high-quality impartial review, they may find the expense of sending you a freebie worthwhile. If you aren't a blogger, pay close attention to the blogs you read. Bloggers who receive many freebies generally can't use them all. To engage their readers, they offer them in random drawings. If you see a drawing on a blog with a smaller reader base, your chance of winning may be excellent.

Freebies at the Source

When you hunt online for freebies, it's always worth the effort to go to the source. When a company launches a new product -- particularly when that product is a food -- it's common to see thousands of free samples offered. By giving the product away, the company generates awareness and establishes a foothold in the marketplace. If a the manufacturer of a product offers it as a freebie, you can almost always be certain that the offer isn't a scam.

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