Surveys For Money – Is It a Scam or is It Legit?

Survey Cool's current No.1 paid survey website (as of Feb 2017) goes to: MySurvey !!!

Surveys

Knowledge about how your customers feel about your product or service is a valuable commodity, knowledge that market researchers will go to great lengths to uncover. Whether it be for the latest HDTV or a new brand of shampoo, companies want to know who is buying what they are selling and what they can do to sell more of it. To this end research surveys were born. For those who do not know what these are, research surveys involve a user specifying their demographic through personal information before answering questions on a given topic. Researchers gain marketable information and the user is rewarded with a small amount of money or equivalent points. This is what should happen, but it can go wrong. The internet is bursting with the frustrated howlings of spurned survey-takers who can attest to this.

So which is it? Can you legit make millions just from clicking a mouse, or is it all just a scam like Ipsos I-Say? That is a complex question that requires further elaboration.

The Short Answer

The hundreds of new products and services launched each year by huge companies the world over would simply not be possible without market research. Anyone who ever been involved in the creation, launch or iteration of a product knows and appreciates its importance to the success of their product. That includes paid online surveys. For this reason, any company worth its salt will carry out research surveys and product trials to better increase their chances of success for their new products and services. Most of the time it is more cost effective and less troublesome to outsource these tasks to market researchers, who in turn will source and pay regular users like you and me for our opinions. So yes, in short, in a perfect world, paid online surveys are legitimate.

But Are They Worth It?

european coins

It isn’t hard to see the appeal of online paid surveys. Who would not want to work from the comfort of home? You can keep whatever hours you like, and because the whole point of the surveys is to consider different groups of people you do not need any special qualifications. They will not make you rich but for many users they provide a much needed supplement to their daily income, earning them a few hundred dollars per year. If you would like to be one of them, the first thing you can do is sign up for several survey sites to improve your likelihood of being selected and invited to participate.

Watch out for Token Rewards

Many users, eager to make big bucks fast, jump into surveys that may not necessarily have their best interests at heart, and it is important to be realistic about how much you can earn. Remember that it is the market researchers, not you, who get the most out of this relationship. Avoid any sites that promise token rewards like entries into sweepstakes or auctions. Your chances of winning are incredibly low, and even if by some miracle you were to win it is not as if it is going to set you up for life. For most, the prize money is no higher than two hundred dollars. If you spent hours each day for months a time on such a site, would that prize money even have been worth it?

Toxic Culture

Worse than this are the many sites that run a reward system that expects users to save up ridiculous amounts of points and redeem them for a tiny amount of cash. Some sites will only pay you for referring others, a system that is tantamount to a pyramid scheme. This inevitably leads to a toxic culture where no one likes or enjoys the site but they keep praising it anyway in the hopes of making a small profit.

The reality is that most paid surveys do not pay much, and the ones that pay well will not provide for each and every member every hour of the day. You have to be invited to participate, which limits your earnings from the beginning – you cannot possibly fit every demographic. If you are content with that and can avoid the dangers listed above, then paid online surveys can be worth it. You will make a little money each day, and slowly but surely this will accumulate. The most mundane risk surrounding paid online surveys is that you are wasting your time. If a site is not working for you, drop it.

Legal but wrong

court gavel and legal definition, closeup from above

It is important to be aware of the fact that nearly all paid online surveys deem themselves legitimate because they adhere to their terms of service, terms written in their favor. Some unscrupulous sites reserve the right to shut down your account at any time, even (read: especially) if it contains a lot of money or points. Others have abysmal customer service that simply does not care about your problems, administering just enough support that you will persevere with the site and keep answering questions. These survey sites are doing nothing wrong contractually, and can therefore be defined as legit. It is equally important to note that not every site is like this, and many operate responsibly and admirably towards their users. The question is, how do you tell the good from the bad? Find out below.

What to Watch Out For

The best thing you can do to ensure you choose an honest survey site to commit to in 2016 is through good old-fashioned research. Scour the web for user reviews from current and former reviews, but do not trust just one source and treat aggregate ratings with skepticism. There are plenty of bogus reviews out there that paint bad surveys in a positively angelic light. That being said, it is not hard to tell these reviews from the grievances of genuine customers.

Membership fees are another thing to watch out for. Seasoned surfer that you are, I do not need to tell you that the internet can be a seedy place. And unsurprising as it might be this seediness has invaded the survey world and transformed it into a haven for internet scam artists. These middlemen claim to have access to proprietary lists of online surveys, lists that they promise will earn you thousands of dollars per month. They would happy to sell these lists to you, for an extortionate amount. Obvious to you but apparently not to all, these surveys can be found for free with a quick Google search.

These lists will often include other membership sites in an effort to deceive you into purchasing the same list over and over again. These reprobates also earn referral bonuses whenever you sign up to a site through their link, and some forums even discuss how they will try to dupe you into buying their list elsewhere under a different name.  Naturally, these sites have an incentive to exaggerate how much you can earn from online surveys. A legitimate paid online survey will never ask you to pay to participate, neither will they claim to make you millions. Trust your gut – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The Good News

Close-up of business team holding their thumbs up

It is not all doom and gloom however, and there are a few notable signs that indicate when a survey is above board. The con artists mentioned above might be able to fool users on the wider web, but they do not last last long on social media. News, especially bad news, travels fast. Before starting a survey for 2016, check out their profile on Facebook and Twitter. There might be the odd negative post or comment, but do not make your decision based on that – no one is perfect. If a survey site is overwhelmingly maligned however, run the other way. You will not find a perfect survey site, so what you are looking for is a reasonable ratio of good to bad reviews.

It is also wise to look for proof of payment, either displayed on the survey site or by users on the wider web. The paid survey and GPT (Get Paid To) site CashCrate for example have a payment gallery where users can upload photos of their checks they have been sent. If a site does not tell you how they intend to pay you or if you cannot find any evidence that users are being paid, jump ship – those are major red flags. They may be new, but better safe than sorry.

The Good, the Bad and the Invite-Only

It might be useful to compare and contrast two popular survey sites to give you an idea of an idea of what I am talking about. For a masterclass in bad survey sites, check out Toluna. They are notorious, rated second from last on Survey Police. Considering that there are over two hundred and fifty survey sites reviewed there, that is an impressive feat. Hundreds of reviewers call them out for their unreliable payment system, their meager payouts and for frequently timing out on users just when a survey was about to be completed.

One user reports that she had over 200,000 points saved up on the site when Toluna shut down her account. When she contested it they argued that she had opened another account on the same IP address, an action that went against their policy. The other account belonged to her husband. She explained this, but she never saw her points again. Another user reported that he would repeatedly complete surveys on the site only to be told upon completion that the survey had reached its quota, and he would not be rewarded for his time. Perhaps these claims are false, but the consensus is clear – Toluna is a survey site you should avoid.

Contrast Toluna with Pinecone Research. They are the top rated site on Survey Police, with members praising them for their interesting studies and quick payment. If you do not qualify for a survey, you are told beforehand rather than after completing the survey. They seemingly treat their members with respect, and their members respond in kind. Perhaps their only issue is their exclusivity – you have to be invited to become a member of their consumer panel. We are mentioning it here just in case a banner advert should ever present you with the opportunity to join.

These sites are extremes, and the survey site you settle on for 2016 will likely be a compromise between the two ends of the spectrum. Hopefully, the significant disparity between these two sites (and the horror stories) demonstrates the importance of research, and encourages you to investigate before carefully choose the survey sites you plan to devote your time to.

Prying eyes

Legit survey sites will promise not to share your personal information with any third parties without your consent. It is an industry standard to which almost all marketing research firms hold themselves to. Some do not make this promise however, or they make it ineffectively. They might hold themselves accountable for example but not the third parties they outsource work to.

Woman Looking Through Closed Blinds

The aforementioned CashCrate has been accused of this, of selling not just your opinions but your personal information as well. This personally identifiable information is priceless to direct marketers. At best this leads to a bombardment of spam and cold calling, at worst your details end up in the wrong hands. If you have any reason to believe that a site is doing this, move on. Are a few gift cards really worth the hassle? 

Our Verdict

Asking whether a survey site is legal might be  the wrong question to ask, because none of them would have as many members as they do without adhering to some sort of code. Perhaps a better question to ask is whether a survey site treats its members with respect. Are their complaints being addressed? Are they being paid promptly and adequately? If so, then it is more than likely that that site is prepared to act justly and responsibly as a survey provider. VIP Voice is another good site to can earn some extra cash in 2016.