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Your Ultimate Guide to Online Surveys: Tips for Earning an Income & Avoiding Scams

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Earning income with paid surveys

You’ve seen the ads all over the internet and on social media: “Take a survey, get paid!” – or something to that effect. To those unfamiliar with the paid survey industry, the ads can sound a little smarmy. Snake oil for the digital age! However, paid surveys overall get a bad rap. Many of the companies whose business it is to collect data from consumers are established, experienced and effective market research organizations with the primary purpose of fulfilling the mission their clients pay them to achieve. The others, the ones that make wild promises, fail to pay out or require payment for survey access, taint the genuine efforts of the legitimate companies and the paid online survey industry.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of companies out there soliciting consumers to join their survey panels. That means, statistically speaking, there’s going to be a percentage of companies that are run by dishonest individuals who are simply trying to cheat the unaware. In particular, websites or ads that require payment, promise a specific dollar amount earned or advertise an opportunity to get rich are likely trying to scam the public.

It’s not all bad news, though. While you’re not going to make your fortune (or even a livable salary!) solely by participating in paid surveys, you may be able to bolster your budget, support that out-of-control Starbucks habit or splurge on a gift for your child with your earnings. The keys to success are applying common sense when evaluating an offer, performing due diligence before signing up with a company, persevering through surveys you may not qualify for and having realistic expectations.

Evaluating Paid Survey Opportunities

Earn income with paid online surveys!

Legitimate market research companies such as OneOpinion recruit panel members based on a screening of demographic characteristics. Collecting demographic information enables researchers to find a representative sample of the population so the data collected is useful to the clients they serve. For example, imagine Pampers wants to restructure its marketing campaign to target older, first-time mothers. They might hire OneOpinion to launch a paid survey and collect data about the shopping behavior and money attitudes of first time moms over 40. That means if you’re under 40, male or childless, you won’t qualify for the survey. That can be frustrating, especially if it happens repeatedly. Keep in mind, though, that this is one of the signs that a market research firm is legitimate. Not everyone who registers SHOULD qualify for every survey. Research firms need a representative sample to participate in a survey of the population of interest in order to produce worthwhile results.

Paid surveys and related activities should also be free to consumers. Legitimate sites will never charge consumers to register, complete surveys, read emails, watch movies, review products or any of the other paid tasks that are available. Companies like Product Testing USA “allow a user to test a variety of all the latest tech, gadgets, fashion accessories and more.” Users are also given the opportunity to “mystery shop some amazing stores and fantastic restaurants all across the US.” Users write a review of the product or experience in exchange for the freebie.

Be aware, there are some sites that pose as survey sites solely to obtain marketing information from consumers. These sites will sell your information to advertisers and you will then be the recipient of unwanted spam if you sign up with them. As part of your due diligence, make sure to read every site’s privacy policy before enrolling to ensure it is a legitimate survey site and your information will not be sold. Marketing sites that are posing as survey sites are likely to disclose their practice of sharing member information with other parties in their privacy policy. If you can’t find a privacy policy link, consider skipping that site and looking for another with easily located policy information. A credible website may have a privacy policy that includes a statement like the following: “We do not share personally identifiable information with other third-party organizations for their marketing or promotional uses without your consent except as part of a specific program or feature for which you will have the ability to opt out.” Check out Survey Junkie’s privacy policy; it’s a good example of the quality of the information that should be provided by a legitimate market research company.

Becoming a Panelist

Experienced online survey members suggest joining multiple paid survey sites since some companies send out multiple survey invitations per day while others only send out a few per month. Register with an e-mail address that you check frequently so you can respond to invitations quickly as many are first-come-first-served. You may also want to consider using a unique e-mail address dedicated to your survey participation: if you sign up with multiple sites, you are likely to receive a great deal of inbox-clogging mail! And down the road, if you decide you no longer want to participate, you can simply delete the e-mail address.