Everyone tries to ignore the flashing pop-ups when maneuvering through websites on your smartphone or laptop. And as many times you hit the "X" banishing the electronic irritants to the darkness of the World Wide Web, others return. It's a menace we persevere in order to stream video or read online content.
Animated cartoons circling cleaning products, beauty supplies, coffee, and the like advertising free stuff intrigued me. Could I get free products advertised on the internet? Not Groupons, coupons, or discounts. Just stuff shipped to my front door with no cost to me. Free for the asking. I never actively participated in pursuing getting something for nothing. Typing that sentence out, it seems as elusive as chasing rainbows for a pot of gold. Yet these ads exist, populate, and there must be some truth to them, right? I wanted for find out first-hand and get free stuff.
My mooching experiment guidelines were simple. For a two-week period, I would spend an hour a day filling out online forms for products shipped to me for free, as per their advertising. At the end of the two weeks, I'd tally up the free stuff I received to see if my time and effort were adequately rewarded.
Where to start? I googled "free stuff on the internet" and found an online article that listed 23 links to websites where anyone could get free stuff just by filling out an online form. I chose my first website, FreeSamples.org. After filling out an online form to get the name-brand products they advertised, I had to agree to receive free e-newsletters, advertisements from other partners, etc. I clicked on the "continue" button and plunged down the electronic rabbit hole.
In order to get the "best samples matched to my tastes", according to the website, I was asked to answer a few questions. I hadn't planned to do any surveys for free stuff (think "I make $5000 a week filling out surveys and testing products!" scam). Surveys were part of the free stuff process and could not be avoided.
"Only takes a few minutes" or "a few easy steps" flashed and a percentage bar counted down after every answered question. Okay, I wanted free toothpaste, lipstick, and anything else the website would ship to me, so I answered a multitude of questions.
General and personal questions looped as did the offers on everything from psychic readings to secret anti-aging cream to debt consolidation. Questions led to advertisements for products, services, and other free stuff websites. I could be completely honest or lie on every question. It didn't matter. I could indicate I didn't experience chronic pain, but I'd still get pharmaceutical ads on pain medication. I received resort information even though I answered no on wanting to go on a vacation. The most unexpected question: "Is your lack of sexual desire to blame on your or your partner's curved penis?" Yes, it was definitely my problematic curved penis that was at fault.
It's not like ordering and paying for a product online. When making legitimate transactions, you get visual cues that you have successfully completed business such a confirmation number or an email stating you have purchased a product. Something-for-nothing websites do not offer such finality. Remember the "only a few minutes" claim? Doesn't exist. After an hour of electronic interrogation, and going through screen after screen of offers, I was given a final list of items that I could apply for. No indication that any of the free stuff they persuaded me at the beginning of the odyssey was on its way. The provided links went to national websites with offers to register for email updates, download apps, or join their rewards programs. They weren't giving anything away for free, either. Yet, there was a ray of hope.
One product listed stipulated it was FREE: a bag of coffee by a brand I never heard of. I was given choices such as ground or whole bean, strength of coffee, and even flavored options. I felt like I was entering the free stuff nirvana at last. After I made my selections, I was brought to the page to fill out the information to ship free coffee to my front door. I was also met by the familiar payment grid for credit card or PayPal information. In order to get my "free" coffee, I had to pay $1.00 to cover shipping costs. Hope died a swift death.
When filling out an online form on a free stuff website, the tiny print underneath absolves the company of any wrongdoing. They do not represent the national products they entice you with. Stock of free items run out. Offers may be pulled at any time. No guarantees. Remember, these websites aren't requiring funds from the consumer to take surveys; therefore, it's not technically fraud. It felt like fraud, though.
I kept to the spirit of the experiment and did my due diligence. My inbox was jammed with offers to buy my house, tell my fortune, and help my non-existent child with better comprehension skills. I had offers to enter contests to qualify to win free stuff such as a gift card, an iPhone, or FREE COFFEE. I endured a constant loop of the same websites, offering the same survey questions, and learning at the end of the long process that I must purchase something from one of their boards to "qualify" for gift cards or "must claim deal" to continue.
One website boasted 200 pages of national brand items for free. Unfortunately, the offers were either expired by a few months or the free samples advertised were out of stock by page 5. This, of course, never dampened the website's enthusiasm of offering, promoting, and repeating the offers for free stuff and the survey questions to get them.
After hours of survey taking, website surfing, and e-newsletters and advertisements sign-ups, my experiment time expired. Below is a snapshot of all the free stuff I received via mail:
No, I didn't get a free counter top. The reflection from the overhead fluorescent gives a clear negative sign of bupkis. No free samples. Nothing I signed up for came to my door. And it's just as well.
The only way to get something for nothing requires stealing and I don't recommend that. National brand websites offer the closest to free, but you have to be a consumer and buy from them. You have to download apps, sign up for email on special offers, and be willing to hand over cash when specials are offered. But if you patronize businesses on a regular basis, an offer for a free item seems justified. You have earned getting a free item via your loyalty and being a good customer.
Please continue to ignore the flashing advertisements from free-for-nothing websites and avoid the hole altogether. I spent an hour one recent Saturday deleting, unsubscribing, and exorcising these survey websites out of my existence. I'm afraid I will have to go through life never knowing the best ways to reduce my wrinkles, watch ScaryMommy on Snapchat, or grow a better beard.