You may have seen the TV, press and web advertisements offering free laptop computers and wondered how this is possible? How can these firms be making money? What's the catch? This article focuses in on how these schemes operate and the hidden costs you need to be aware of.
The first thing to note about these schemes is that while a number of them are scams, the majority are actually legitimate lead-generation marketing tools used by firms. In much the same way that firms run customer competitions to harvest personal information, these free laptop computers are your prize for providing a lot of personal information.
Each scheme will vary, but in general they will be expecting you to fill out a number of questionnaires about all manner of personal information. Everything from phone numbers and email addresses to health, credit and family information. Most people would be rightly concerned about giving out such information so readily.
As part of the terms and conditions, this personal data can then be sold to other companies to be used for their own purposes. There are generally no limits on the number of firms that the data is sold to and they are permitted to contact you in relation to other programs (via mail, phone, post, etc).
Finally, the free laptop computers are only given out after you sign up for several associate programs. These could be related to other industries you have no interest in, have minimum period clauses (so you get charged for dropping out early) and have signup / recurring charges of their own.
If you are considering these schemes then make extra sure to go through the terms and conditions rigorously, establish how much information you will be expected to give and the details of all associate programs you have to sign up to prior to getting your 'free' laptop .