Evaluating free stuff offers is pretty easy if you use a little common sense mixed with some knowledge and a bit of experience. Below are some tips to help you avoid the free stuff boondoggles:
- Too good to be true - Offers that appear too good to be true are. Examine the motivation for the free offer. A free trial size shampoo makes sense because they are trying to sell shampoo. A free vacation is unlikely, unless there are large hidden charges or other commitments attached.
- Ignore unsolicited offers - Just take it as a given that spammers have nothing of value to offer. Variations of the advance fee scam like the email from Nigeria saying they want to use your bank account to get money out of the country are on the rise. Just delete these without giving them a second thought.
- Don't pay for prizes - If you get email or postal mail proclaiming you the winner of a great prize and all you have to do is pay a fee or provide sensitive information to claim it, don't. It's a scam and the only winners are the scammers.
- Free with shipping and handling - These offers are generally OK as long as the shipping and handling fees are reasonable and you get something of value. $4.95 for a CD-ROM you are interested in is fine, but $4.95 for a cell phone antenna booster (which does not work no matter what they tell you) is a waste of money.
- Beware email collection scams - Most of the sites that consist of nothing but a form offering free stuff are there to collect email addresses for spammers. These sometimes have long lists of offers or "newsletters" you can subscribe to. If you are tempted to sign up for these, be sure to use a disposable email address.
Just put these tips together with your own common sense and you can enjoy the legitimate offers and avoid the free stuff scams.