How To

How to spot a survey scam

Team FlashField
December 16, 2022
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Participating in paid surveys is a good way to stay engaged and earn some extra income.
The growing popularity of online surveys has also led to an increase in the number of fraudulent websites posing as market research platforms. These are, to put it bluntly, scams.

Designed to take advantage of people not in the know, these sites tend to piggyback off legitimate companies by exaggerating the rewards and benefits to get you interested. They then ask you to pay them to take part or to share confidential information with them.

Through this Resource, we want to highlight some red flags for you to be aware of when it comes to looking for paid survey opportunities online. Keep an eye out for them, and be sure to look extra hard at anything that looks even a little bit suspicious. You don’t want to invest time in and take the risk of participating in a fraudulent operation that could misuse your information.

The Red Flags

We have covered a few basics to know before you get into taking paid surveys online in our Before You Begin Resource. Here we are going to point out some common red flags that should catch your eye as you explore your options. Beware of any website that displays any of the following signs:

Ask for an upfront membership fee

At no point should you be paying to take a survey. The whole point of incentivizing surveys is so that you can be fairly compensated for your valuable time spent sharing your opinions and experiences. If a company asks for a fee to join their platform, participate in surveys, or be a part of any kind of priority list, it might be wise to stay away.

Guarantee large payouts instantaneously

Credible survey panels or market research companies will not try to sell you on earning hundreds of dollars in minutes. There are strict processes and procedures that need to be followed in order to complete payouts, and these take time. On the lower end, it can take up to 6 weeks for a payout to reach your account. Any company advertising instant payouts is most likely misleading people about the incentives to get you to sign up for something you might not want to do otherwise. A company that lies about immediate payouts is not worth your time!

Offer unbelievable rewards and freebies

A paid survey that offers you a chance to win a free trip around the world is probably not legitimate. Every platform has different ways of offering incentives. Some offer monetary compensation, others have a point system where you accrue points which you then redeem for rewards or vouchers. Some brands that run their own surveys might offer you freebies or products at a discount. A platform that outright claims a guarantee of a reward that sounds too good to be true in exchange for either a small payment or sensitive information has ulterior motives. Please do not give out things like banking passwords and ATM pins in order to claim any sort of reward being offered online.

Be unclear about payment information

You should be able to understand how and when you are going to be paid for your time and effort. If you cannot find clear and direct information about the payouts or rewards system of a website, you should avoid it. If you cannot find the terms of what you receive from taking paid surveys, or if the information is presented in a confusing or convoluted manner, that is a red flag as well.


If you are not 100% sure of whether or not a paid survey website is legitimate, there are many precautions you can take to evaluate your options and help you stay clear of fraudulent websites. Here are some of them:

Take a look at the privacy policy.

Find the website's privacy policy and read it carefully. You should easily be able to find it in the menu, the footer, or by running a quick search of the company’s name and the words “privacy policy”. The privacy policy should tell you whether your information is going to be sold to spammers or if it's going to be kept confidential. A privacy policy is a legal document that discloses how user information is collected and where it is disclosed. Understanding it can be a bit of a task; they tend to be long and filled with legalese. To make it a bit easier to understand, we have created a separate Resource dedicated to understanding common clauses in Privacy Policies and terms and conditions.

Make sure the website isn’t trying to sell you on using them or parting with your information using “FOMO” and “GET RICH QUICK” tactics.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) can be strong. Playing on it and people’s natural desire to earn a lot of money fast is a tactic used by scams to instil a sense of excitement and urgency in a user, which might cause you to ignore details that are red flags. While online surveys can help you supplement your income, they are not a way to get rich. Depending on the “reward” being highlighted on the fraudulent site in question, you might be curious or tempted to at least try it – after all, if it doesn’t work out, at most you’ve lost out on some time, right? WRONG. These scams are designed to get key pieces of information from you or your computer that can lead to some serious consequences for you. It is best to steer clear of anything that looks too good to be true or promises an unbelievably good reward in exchange for taking a survey.

Be careful not to give away too much personal information.

Trust your instincts. This can be tricky because there are several legitimate reasons for companies or websites to ask for some personal information. Pay attention to the information being asked of you from the get-go. Keep information that should be confidential to yourself. Credible survey companies need details in order to send you surveys that you qualify for. These include questions like how many children you have, your age, or your contact info to ensure that you’re not a bot. They do not need things like a Social Security Number or any kind of banking password or pin. If any of the requirements seem strange, navigate away without completing the form.

Common Scams

Now that we have covered the red flags and some precautions that can be taken to avoid fraudulent sites posing as legitimate paid surveys, let’s go over some examples of common online scams. These are good to know about if you spend time online - whether or not you are interested in paid surveys specifically. The following scams are some of the most prevalent ones on the internet today.

Phishing Scams

These types of scams involve scammers masquerading as trustworthy companies to try to acquire sensitive and personal information like usernames and passwords. Phishing scams are often run via email. Legitimate companies are often targeted by scammers who count on the company’s reputation and familiarity to get their foot in the door; their logo and contact information is used in e-mail correspondence in an attempt to “phish” for information from users.

Warning signs of a phishing scam:
  • poor spelling and grammar
  • email addresses not matching domains
  • out of the blue requests to confirm your account
Nigerian Scams

A key reason to take paid surveys online is to receive a payout or a reward in return, so it’s not uncommon to receive a cheque in the mail from a survey company. The problem is that it might be fake! So how can you tell what’s a real payout and what’s a scam?

The first should be obvious – if you haven’t taken a survey with a particular site, but have received a cheque or email with instructions on claiming your payout from them, something is up. Credible survey companies do not send payments to people who have not taken a survey with them. Report and block the email, or destroy the cheque.

It’s tempting to assume that it might be a mistake that could lead to an unexpected windfall for you, or that perhaps you have simply forgotten about your participation in a survey with a surprisingly generous payout. This is never the case – the cheque will bounce. No matter who you receive an unexpected cheque from, if you get one, treat it with suspicion. Often these “payouts” are accompanied by instructions to wire a small amount of money to a Western Union account, or to purchase gift cards worth a small percentage of the amount “waiting” for you.

If you are a regular survey taker with the company but the amount is well more than what you were expecting, just ask! Double-check with the platform you use and verify the authenticity before following any out-of-the-ordinary or too-good-to-be-true instructions.

Warning signs of a Nigerian Scam:

  • receiving an unexpected cheque for large sums of money (often $1000+!)
  • the cheque is accompanied by instructions to wire money. The letter’s subject matter may pertain to a “mystery shopping assignment”
  • multiple logos from various companies are featured in the letter
  • poor spelling and grammar
Information being sold

There is a world of difference between a MARKET RESEARCH company and a MARKETING company. Market research companies, like FlashField, are the ones that conduct surveys and set up panels so that other companies can hear from the people who can use their products and services. It’s important to ensure that this is the one you’re signing up for if you’re looking to take paid surveys.

Marketing companies do not actually conduct any online surveys, and will simply take any information you supply them with and will sell it to one or many third parties. When you hear people talk about how their inbox was inundated with SPAM after signing up for surveys, you now know that they mistakenly signed up with one of these companies.

These companies are relatively easy to spot. They are different from companies asking for feedback (not paid) on their own sites or asking you to take a quick survey for them if you have bought or used a product or service and shared your email address with them. A marketing company posing as a market research company in order to get your data in order to sell it is a scam, and to be avoided.

Warning signs to look for:

  • a missing privacy policy and/or terms of use agreement on the survey website
  • a privacy policy that clearly states your information will be sold (this is why skimming the privacy policy is always a good idea!)
  • outrageous promises such as, “make $150 per hour taking surveys!”
  • no ‘About Us’ page or no information about the company behind the website.

Legitimate survey sites are run by market research companies. They employ researchers to conduct real surveys and care greatly about the results. They don’t make their money by selling your information, and will never sell it to a third party as this would damage their reputations and credibility in the industry. Most trustworthy survey sites link to a corporate website where you can find more about the research company itself.

Why are we telling you all this?

Because we are passionate about this industry, and believe in the impact it has on the world we live in. After years of operating in the field of market research and offering paid surveys to panelists around the world, we feel that being transparent about how things work and creating a positive experience for respondents is one of the best ways to address some of the issues that have developed over the years. If you have any questions about incentivized surveys, please feel free to reach out to us at any time! For more information on your rights as a user, and to understand the laws that protect you, check out our Resource on Legalities and Compliances.

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What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?
What’s a Rich Text element?

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