Think of a product you don’t really need that’s normally sold at a fairly affordable price. If you were offered this product at a 90% discount, would you buy it? What if somebody offered it for FREE – would you take it? My best guess is that you wouldn’t really buy something you don’t need, not even at a huge discount. But if you could get it for free, you’d jump at the opportunity, wouldn’t you? You’re only human. And the word “FREE” always appeals to human nature. But let’s face it, nothing’s really for FREE.

There’s always a catch. Whether they ask you to fill in a survey, “Like” the offer on Facebook or expect you to become a paying customer of the product after the trial period, there’s always a cost. And there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as these “costs” are not hidden and don’t pose a threat to people’s privacy and security. Unfortunately, this is the case with most online freebies.

The WWW is bursting with “free stuff” for you to download. But some of this stuff is used as bait for online scams. Cybercrooks use fake freebies to trick you into handing over personal information they can just sell on the black market, or make you download some sort of spyware or virus designed to perform malicious tasks on your device – be it PC or smartphone.

Beware of fake freebie scams!

Usually, you can run into ads for fake freebies in places buzzing with user activity, such as social networks, forums, online platforms for file-sharing etc. You have to watch out and learn how to recognize them, as they could really put at risk your privacy and online security. Here are the most common forms of fake freebies you may run into while surfing the web and socializing:

  • Facebook freebies. “Check this out! You actually get a FREE iPad” If you ever see posts like this one on a friend’s Timeline, or you receive a private message, be very careful. There’s a great chance you’re being targeted in a Facebook survey scam. Messages including offers for FREE iPads, Facebook Credits, Airline Ticket, Gift Certificates and Game Items are very common on Facebook. However, in order to benefit from them, you have to “Like” the post/download an app and then complete an online survey. If you take either of these actions, you’ll most likely end up infected with malware that helps spread the scam. Also, by completing the survey with the required information, you basically hand over precious information about yourself to scammers.
  • Pinterest freebies. If you see an ad for some freebie (“[Company Brand] is giving away free gifts/giftcards to all Pinterest users! Click here [link] to get yours”) posted all over Pinterest, that’s definitely a Pinterest survey scam. The way it works is similar to a Facebook survey scam, only that instead of “Liking” the ad, scammers ask you to re-pin it.
  • Free online trials. Very often, scammers post FREE trials online (even on reputable sites), for various products ranging from exercise equipment to weight-losing solutions. As these products are shipped to you, you have to provide your address and credit card details to pay for the shipment. These offers include Terms & Conditions in the fine print that’s usually very difficult to read, which makes most people skip them. If you don’t read them carefully, you might actually sign up for purchasing the product after the trial period ends. And the scamming possibilities abound.
  • Malvertisements. Similarly to the category above, you may run into ads promoting some FREE online services/apps or pop-up ads saying you’re “the one hundredth visitor of the site and you’ve won something huge”. But if you click on them, you’re either directed to a phishing site or unknowingly download some kind of malware. Hence, the term known as malicious advertising (malvertising).

How to protect yourself from “Freebie” scams? Here are some tips

  • Be suspicious of every offer that includes the word “FREE”. Research the company that’s making the offer and carefully read any fine print or license agreement that comes with the free product. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into!
  • Be careful with the web pages you enter your credit card details to. Make sure their web address contains https://, and not just https://
  • If you see a FREE giveaway ad on Facebook or Pinterest, there’s a great chance it’s a scam.  If a friend of yours liked it or re-pined it, that doesn’t necessarily mean the ad is legit – especially if it asks you to fill in surveys or give away personal information. Go to the Safety and Security Centres of the social networks you have accounts with – read about the threats you’re faced with and their advice on how to avoid them.
  • If you see an ad on a forum, or a file-sharing platform saying “Congratulations! You’re the winner”, be doubly suspicious and use common sense – do not click on it!
  • Make sure you have proper antivirus protection installed on your device and keep it up to date. If you’ve clicked on a malicious ad by mistake, a good up-dated antivirus program should block the infection immediately.
  • Remember: if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is!

Have you ever run into some kind of fake freebie? Share your experience with us and share these tips with your friends as well so that they don’t fall victim to freebie scams.