MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 6, 2012

Online offers may have a catch

By Jill Cataldo
CTW

— Dear Jill:

Your recent column on having to register online for a coupon, then getting to the next screen and discovering there is no coupon available to download reminded me of a problem that bugs me. I like to get free samples of products online. I visit a couple of sites that are reliable for freebies. But sometimes when I am surfing the web, I see banners offering a free sample of something like a free bottle of shampoo or free laundry detergent. But when I click them, I have to fill out two, three, four or more screens for different offers from companies not related to the sample. One time I had to sign up for a magazine trial, and another time it was for a recipe site. Then, of course, I got a bunch of spam! How do I know where to get good samples? – Miriam E.



Dear Miriam:

You’re not the only one who enjoys free samples! Manufacturers often distribute free samples to consumers to let them know about new varieties of products, or to get shoppers to try a product they may not have used before. In the pre-Internet age, shoppers might have waited for a surprise sample to come in the mail or picked up a free sample from a store display at the supermarket. But if you’re online, it’s easy to find opportunities to score free samples.

On the web, you’ll find sites devoted to free samples. You may also come across web banners advertising a free sample of this or that, if only you’ll “click here!” Although the link you click may be legitimate, it may also be designed to capture personal information about you. That link may lead to another link asking for your name and address again, but this time to fulfill a different offer. And when you click “submit” on that link, guess what? You may be redirected to fill out yet another form!

Will you get your sample after jumping through all of these hoops? You may. But you might have guessed by now that the sample you get may not actually come from the manufacturer at all. Some websites that offer free samples actually harvest data for other companies. You must complete several different promotions, often described as “qualifying offers,” before you get to the screen advertising the sample.

The website that hosts the parade of offers you’ve dutifully filled out will, indeed, provide the sample – but it might be a travel- or trial-sized product identical to those offered in the aisles of your favorite grocery store. The company has purchased these samples in bulk and provides one to you – after you fill out lengthy sets of forms and offers for other items. Yes, you get something “free,” but the value of the data you supply is far greater than the cost of the sample.

How do you tell the difference between a legitimate sample offer and one that might trap you in a seemingly-never-ending web of forms? There are a couple of ways. If you click on a web banner offering a free sample, and the word “Free” has an asterisk next to it  – “FREE* Sample of Shampoo!” – it’s usually a pretty good indicator that the sample isn’t truly free. You’ll have to work for it.

I prefer to take part in sample offers that come straight from a manufacturer, via the manufacturer’s own website, or from a trusted partner site.

Here are some of my favorite sites for free samples:

• Startsampling.com: Well-known manufacturers offer free samples in many categories, from detergent to over-the-counter medications and personal care products.

• Pssst.generalmills.

com: General Mills’ Myinsite offers free samples and coupons for General Mills products and brands.

• Vocalpoint.com: Free samples and coupons for a variety of products and brands, including Procter & Gamble products.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your couponing victories and questions to jill@

ctwfeatures.com.