I was having coffee with a friend of mine (Stella) and we stumbled onto the topic of how the Internet is a playground for scam artists. “How so?” I ventured. “Well,” she said. “Whenever you have a community—and the Internet is a giant community—you’ll always have door- to- door salesmen.” I nodded my head. She continued, “In real life, if someone tries to sell you a vacuum cleaner, you can slam the door on their face and call it a day. But on the Internet, the salesman is not only much more persistent, but is also inescapable. Whenever you turn a corner, he’s there with his suitcase, with something to sell you.” I nod some more. Stella goes on: “And the crazy thing is this, the salesmen on the web are like cockroaches that multiply every other second. You ever got an email for Viagra?” I nod. “What about for one of those phony survey sites?” I nod. “Did the Prince of Nigeria ever contact you with a chance to secure a million dollars, because he found some magic cave filled with gold?” I nod. “The point is: the Internet is full of these salesmen who try to exploit guys and dolls, like you and me.” I nodded and said, “So all salesmen are bad?” It was her turn to nod. “Yes! They’re all evil.” I lifted my finger. “Aren’t salesmen just people trying to pay rent and feed their families?” She put her finger on her chin with a thoughtful expression on her face. “What I mean is that no one can be trusted on the Internet.” I sipped my coffee.
A month later, as I was browsing the Internet, shopping for a Mother’s Day gift, someone sent me an email with the following message:
Do you have something to say about that waiter at your local Applebee’s? Take a quick survey about your experience, share your opinion and be rewarded with a gift of you choice! Whether you hate it or love it, your opinion makes improvement possible!
Speak out! Your reward awaits you here!
As I was wondering about how this advertisement had found its way into my inbox, I thought about Stella’s salesmen theory. What if this was just another scam job? But then, what if it wasn’t? But what if this was a legitimate offer? What did I have to lose, anyway?
So I decided to follow my gut and give it a try. I clicked into the ad, filled out all the requirements with caution and, when the final page showed up, I clicked on the offer for a $15.00 gift card. The entire process took about thirty minutes. At that point, I still had my initial doubts floating in my head. Was I just scammed for 30 minutes of my precious life? 30 minutes I’ll never, ever get back?
I waited a few days and nothing happened. Then, I waited some more. Finally, a week later, I received a letter in the mail for a $15.00 dollar gift card. I invited Stella out for coffee and told her all about it.
“15.00? Really?” I nodded, sipping my coffee. “Are you sure?” I took out the gift card and showed her.
“What did you do?”
“I just filled out a multiple- choice survey for Applebee’s.”
She eyed the gift card with skepticism. “I’m not sure if I want to believe this.”
“The fact of the matter is this,” I began. “You certainly won’t strike oil with these online surveys. But you can get access to coupons and discounts, gift cards and sometimes a few extra bucks. You won’t be able to make a living off these websites is what I’m saying, but you can certainly get something out of participating.”
“Like everything else in life, you just need some patience and common sense.”
“And how long did it take you to complete this survey?”
“Roughly thirty minutes.”
“That’s not too shabby.”
“I also think it’s our responsibility as consumers to use our voice. Too many people complain about the crummy service at restaurants or about how certain products are cheaply designed or constructed, but they never get or take the chance to express themselves.”
“I guess that is a good point.”
“It isn’t about getting rich, or being scammed. It’s about finding the best way to improve the products and services that influence our lives.”
“But how can an individual voice change anything?”
“America was founded on individual voices.”
She nodded thoughtfully.
“Change begins with a single voice,” I said. “And that single voice can inspire hundreds, or even thousands.”