Free is one of my favorite words, right next to cheap.
I don’t know too many people who wouldn’t love to get something great for nothing, but you have to beware when applying for freebies over the Internet. How many times have you signed up for a free offer and have to give away a page full of information? My point exactly, and then all of a sudden your inbox is loaded with crazy offers and your e-mail address has been sold to fraudsters world-wide.
According to Kate Ashford of Family Circle, there is something you can do to get the freebies and keep your information safe. Here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do.
First, don’t waste your time filling out forms especially the ones who want a commitment to a trial offer that you can cancel in 30 days. Chances are you won’t remember to cancel the offer and then you are stuck with a debit to your account that will take forever to cancel. The best freebie deals only require your name and address. The best place to find legitimate free samples of Proctor and Gamble products is not getyourfreestuffhere.net. It’s actually the Proctor and Gamble consumer products site, pgeverydaysolutions.com, where you can register for samples and discounts as they become available. Beware of sites that are not directly connected to the manufacturer.
Second, don’t give out your digits; that means never provide your credit card information or social security number. If it’s free they don’t need your financial information. Do be realistic when applying for freebies, if it looks too good to be true, well you know the rest. If the site offers a phone number call it. Some sites use random phone numbers from the phone book. Check before you click. Do not email your everyday email address even when you are signing up for legit offers, when you give out the email address you are releasing it into the wild. It is recommended that you create a special address for those offers. Recently after watching a television show about extreme couponers and contest winners I gave my email address to a ton of sites and now all I get is junk and spam.
A seemingly harmless site may have entry points for danger. Facebook has a lot of freebie ads on the right hand side. Some of those are ploys that have codes embedded in them. Don’t click. A sketchy site could steal your personal information. Invest in security software that alerts you when a site isn’t safe or if something’s trying to access your hard drive. A good free option: Avast.com. Also consider an anti-spyware program like Spybot Search & Destroy.
Out of all of these tips I think the best tip of all is don’t forget about letter writing. A well written snail mail letter to a manufacturer’s consumer affairs department stating you love their products and are interested in samples and coupons can make your request stand out.
Dan Barnes, author of “Absolutely Free,” a guide to requesting and receiving products and coupons, says look at the packaging of items you like and write down the name and address of the company, one stamp could reap rewards for years.
(E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.)