The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is helping people to spot and avoid legal, but deceptive lead generation advertising that lures unsuspecting consumers with free product promotions.
Offers to consumers range from low-end gift cards, to high-value items such as iPods, video gaming systems, laptop computers, high definition televisions, and even the much-anticipated Apple iPhone – despite the fact that it won’t even be available until late June.
Last year, the BBB System logged more than 5,200 complaints against online and direct mail marketers. Many consumers complained that, despite jumping through the considerable hoops – which often included buying pricey merchandise and services or providing friends’ e-mail addresses – they didn’t receive the “free” merchandise they were promised or were billed for other merchandise they didn’t want.
“Some consumers actually do make it through the marketing gauntlet and get their ‘free iPod,’ but, we’ve also heard from consumers who spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours, but never got the goods,” said Steve Cox, BBB System spokesperson. “This type of lead generation advertising is legal, but definitely preys on consumer’s trust with banner ads, e-mails and regular mail offers that promise free computers, TVs, or iPods, but in the end, simply cost people time and money.”
The BBB warns that many offers for “free” merchandise – which aren’t limited to online offers and can often be found in print media or in your home mailbox – will require you to do any or all of the following:
- Purchase goods and services. The BBB has seen “free” offers associated with dozens of products and services including credit cards, phone services, vacation and travel packages, and even wine clubs. Regardless of whether you need anything, you’ll still have to buy something to get your “free” merchandise.
- Answer an extensive survey. Some offers require you to answer well over 30 pages of questions in the hopes that you’ll give up before you’re done – but after the valuable information you’ve provided has been captured.
- Provide e-mail addresses of your friends. This could mean giving as many as 20 of your friends’ e-mail addresses to a company that can then sell their e-mail addresses to spammers. But wait, there’s more! Before you get your free merchandise, your friends are also required to go through the process you went through, including providing more e-mail addresses, purchasing goods or services, and/or signing up for trial offers.
- Meet additional unreasonable requirements. Even after jumping through all the hoops, some offers have fine print requirements such as time windows. It’s just one more roadblock placed between you and your “free” merchandise.
“Not only do many offers give you the runaround, but outright scam offers may potentially install viruses such as spyware or adware on your computer,” added Cox. “If you’re required to provide your friends’ e-mail addresses, you’re setting their computers up to become infected as well. In the end, you just might get your free HDTV, but, then again, you might not have any friends who’ll want to come over and watch it with you.”
For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, or to checkout one of the more than three million BBB Reliability Reports on businesses, go to www.bbb.org.About the BBB System BBB is an unbiased, non-profit entity that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses and charities that earn BBB membership contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business Reliability Reports and charity Wise Giving Reports, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers who need help with unfair or unethical business treatment. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 128 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 3 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about the BBB System.