Is This Survey for Real?

12/4/2002

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Occasionally you may receive a call asking you to participate in a market research or opinion poll. Survey research is a legitimate and scientific process of acquiring data from the public. Each year, millions of consumers are interviewed on a variety of topics. Such information is used to develop new products, improve services and guide policy and legislation and is used by health care providers, the government, airlines, private businesses and others.

In calls to Better Business Bureaus, however, consumers express confusion on how to distinguish between a legitimate opinion poll or research survey, and a business that is trying to sell them something. How can you tell the difference? If you are not careful to make the distinction, you could end up providing information that will be sold to third parties, or used to generate contact lists for the sales of all types of products and services.

The Council for Marketing and Opinion Research notes that legitimate survey research companies should never divulge your identity, personal information or individual answers unless you specifically give them permission to do so. In addition, they should never sell or give your name or phone number to anyone else. No one should ever contact you as a result of your participation except perhaps to validate that you did in fact participate.

Before you respond to a market survey or opinion poll, ask these questions to determine if the telephone call, mail survey or email is a legitimate survey:

  • Are you selling something?
  • Will my participation in this survey result in anyone contacting me to try to sell me anything?
  • Will my name and personal information be sold or dispensed to anyone who will contact me to try to sell me anything?

A legitimate research company should answer no to all of these questions. Legitimate researchers and professional marketing and opinion research firms do NOT ask for money or attempt to sell products or services. Occasionally, survey research companies will offer a gift to the respondent in appreciation of his or her cooperation. Such a gift could be a cash donation to a charity, a product sample or a nominal monetary award.

If the caller answers "yes" to any of these questions, assume that you are dealing with a telemarketer who is attempting to sell goods or services to the public. It is usually wise to ask a telemarketer to mail you information on their product or service. Do not make an immediate decision over the telephone. At the very least, ask for their telephone number and address, so that you can check them out with the Better Business Bureau before you make a purchasing decision.

You should also ask for the name and address of the firm or research company that is supposedly conducting the survey or opinion poll. If the caller or marketer refuses or hesitates to provide that information, assume you are not dealing with a reputable research company.

Two other activities conducted under the guise of research are the practices of fundraising and political telemarketing. Before responding to any charity solicitation, whether it arrives in the form of a "survey" or a request for a donation, check with the Better Business Bureau.

If you are asked to respond to political questions, or polls around election time, ask for the name of the firm or the research company that is conducting the research. If the caller is reluctant to disclose the name of the firm or organization, take that as a sign that you are talking to a political telemarketer. His or her goal is to influence potential voters, not gather information that will be used to determine the public's opinion on a specific issue or candidate.

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