How To Avoid Scams

Protect yourself from falling for freebie and sweepstakes scams with these simple tips

If you're on the hunt for no-cost items, consider these smart guidelines.

  • Safeguard private information. Most offers ask you to provide your full name, mailing address, e-mail address and phone number. If you are asked to include personal details -- like your Social Security or credit card number -- steer clear.
  • Read the fine print. Check the website’s privacy policy for offer details and clues to how your information may be used. Also look for a working phone number so you can call to clarify anything that’s not clear. If the freebie seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Vet a new website. Do you spot broken links or bad graphics? These red flags signal a poorly-managed site. Google “who is” plus the site name to research the owner of the domain. While you’re at it, search for unbiased reviews of the site from freebie hunters like yourself.
  • Monitor activity. Has anyone left comments on the site within the past few months? If the offer is on a Facebook page, is there a lot of action on the wall and does the account have numerous “likes”? If not, be cautious.
  • Avoid unsolicited ads. There’s a difference between a deal that comes from a friend or a reliable blog and one that arrives out of the blue. If a pop-up ad or unfamiliar e-mailer invites you to cash in on an offer, skip it.
  • Tap trusted sources. The product manufacturer is the best source for finding free samples, followed by the company’s partner sites, like instoresnow.walmart.com, and proven aggregators, including heyitsfree.net and freebies4mom.com.

If you're applying to sweepstakes, look out for these signs of fraudulence.

  • There’s a fee. You should never have to make a purchase or provide a credit card number to enter or receive a prize (this includes paying taxes or handling costs in advance).
  • There’s no privacy policy. Make sure you read the fine print before submitting your form (especially if you aren’t familiar with the brand) to see how your information may be used.
  • You’re told you’re already a winner. Don’t trust ads claiming you are entitled to a prize because you’re the millionth visitor to a website or anything similar to such a claim. If you didn’t enter, you didn’t win.

Sources: Chris Davis, owner of freestufftimes.com; Dianna Ranere, founder of freesamplemomma.com; and Sandra Grauschopf, guide to contests and sweepstakes for about.com