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10 Online Survey Scams and What They Hope You’ll Fall For

Scammers send fake surveys via spam texts, calls, or emails touting products and rewards — all to harvest sensitive information.

That “free” Kobalt tool set in exchange for 30 seconds of your time may not actually be a real survey from Lowe’s. Here’s how to know.

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      How Do Fake Surveys Work?

      Scammers use fake surveys to sell phony products and ferret out personal information. These scams tend to start with a spam text, call, or email asking you to take a brief survey — often in return for a gift card or product discount.

      For a man in Detroit, answering some questions about his in-store experience in exchange for a $50 “free” headlamp sounded like a good bargain [*]. At the end of the survey, he entered his credit card number and address to collect his prize. Little did he know that his personal information went straight to scammers.

      Other fake survey calls evolve into sales pitches — even if you’re on the National Do Not Call Registry. Scammers know that some survey-related calls and faxes are exempt from DNC provisions [*, *].

      They disguise their spam as “market research” and convince you to buy faulty products or surrender tidbits of identifying information.


      10 Real Examples of Fake Surveys From 2023

      A recent uptick in fake surveys has made consumers wary of any kind of survey — even legitimate surveys from the government.

      The American Community Survey (ACS), for instance, tracks critical demographic data that inform future decisions about federal funding [*].

      But since 2011, responses to ACS have plummeted from 97.6% to 85.3%. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had to issue a consumer alert to assure the public that the survey was real [*].

      Below, we cover 10 common survey scams to help you distinguish real surveys from fake ones.

      1. Costco text or letter survey scams

      Costco survey scams offer between $50 and $500 in exchange for consumer input. Scammers share fake surveys via social media posts, texts, WhatsApp messages, emails, and even physical mail.

      These sweepstakes-related messages are meant to besiege a recipient with sharp urgency. They claim to only offer rewards to the first people who answer the survey.

      Thankfully, these fake surveys exhibit telltale signs of spam. Links embedded in social media advertisements and emails redirect users to non-Costco sites.

      And emails and letters may use an alternate Costco font and modified logo. To protect its customers, Costco posts all currently known scams on its support page [*].

      2. Fake Walmart refund survey

      In a recent scam, fraudsters create fake Facebook profiles to publicize an alleged Walmart refund. These posts claim that shoppers who made a Walmart purchase in 2022 are entitled to $500 due to a lawsuit [*].

      To qualify for the refund, survey takers must reveal their age, household size, and shopping habits. Once the “survey” is complete, they must then enter their card number and address to receive a gift card — giving scammers full access to the victim’s credit information.

      Other similar Walmart scams fabricate sexual discrimination settlements or solicit mystery shoppers [*].

      Legitimate Walmart surveys are conducted over the phone or through certified mail. The company also explicitly states that it does not use mystery shoppers.

      Walmart suggests consumers not respond to secret shopper solicitations that they may receive via mail, email, or any other public means [*].


      3. Lowe’s scam survey

      Lately, scammers have posed as the Lowe’s marketing team, offering a “free” Kobalt tool set to people who fill out a 30-second questionnaire. These emails come from a legitimate-looking email address ( and convincingly replicate Lowe’s branding [*].

      To curb the damage to their customers, the Lowe’s team put together a guide to consumer fraud protection [*]. This resource outlines how common scams work and how Lowe’s handles consumer communications.

      For example, Lowe’s only invites customers to provide feedback through an online survey at the bottom of a sales receipt. And no one from Lowe’s — not even a customer care representative — will ask for credit card numbers, gift card numbers, bank account details, or any other personal information over email.

      4. Post-vaccine survey scams

      In February 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned the public about new telemarketing, SMS, social media, and in-person fraud schemes related to coronavirus [*]. Many of these scams seem like government-sponsored surveys, offering gift cards or cash for participation.

      The first few questions may appear legitimate, asking about the COVID-19 precautions that you’ve taken, such as wearing a mask or getting a booster shot. 

      Eventually, questions become more invasive, requesting personal, medical, and financial information. Scammers use this data to pose as you online, drain your bank accounts, or steal your identity. HHS urges consumers not to open or respond to texts or emails about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.

      5. Fake job surveys

      Scammers capitalize on fluctuating labor markets, sending fraudulent email blasts claiming that candidates need to provide more information for their applications.

      Emails appear to be from “an official partner” of a specific employer conducting a survey to assess the applicant’s skills and abilities [*]. Other similar scams advertise work from home jobs, promising that it takes “just a few minutes” to apply.

      But these surveys root out personal information used to steal your money and your identity. Before you ever respond to one of these text messages or emails, do a Google search of the survey company and employer. Chances are, you’ll come across negative reviews or fraud warnings on legitimate company websites.

      6. Publishers Clearing House using “dark patterns”

      Over the past few years, Publishers Clearing House (PCH) has been under scrutiny for using deceptive practices called “dark patterns” to increase revenue.

      The PCH sweepstakes website took consumers through a maze of advertisements before they could enter the contest. The misleading and confusing series of pop-ups caused consumers to think that they had to make a purchase as part of their entry.

      They were then forced to pay surprise shipping and handling fees. PCH also made consumers answer questions beyond the standard entry form, and sold that data to other third parties.

      This summer, the FTC ordered PCH to overhaul its sweepstakes processes and pay $18.5 million in damages [*].

      7. Phony Amazon loyalty program pop-up survey

      In this browser-based scam, fraudsters program pop-ups to appear on redirected websites. These pop-ups offer smartphones and other expensive gadgets as rewards for completing what looks like an Amazon Loyalty Program survey. On the backend, scammers steal names, emails, and banking information [*].

      • Regular antivirus scans can help you determine whether cybercriminals have hijacked your browser.
      • Steer clear of suspicious websites that could infect your computer.
      • Never download email attachments from unknown senders.
      • And avoid buying software bundles from pop-up ads — scammers can secrete adware inside of them.

      8. Ace Hardware survey scam

      The Ace Hardware survey scam plays out like the Lowe’s scam. Swindlers send phishing emails and dangle free power drills or space heaters in exchange for a completed survey [*].

      Victims are asked to provide their address and pay $6.99 for shipping. Ace Hardware will never ask customers for payment information as part of any survey or promotion [*]. Consumers should send any suspected phishing emails to 

      9. Dick’s Sporting Goods scam survey

      In this scam, thieves use a coveted item — a Yeti cooler — to drive traffic to a sham survey site [*]. To get past email spam blockers, scammers use real Microsoft Outlook addresses. As with other survey scams, victims must provide payment information and their address to claim the cooler.

      Upon closer examination, these emails contain odd punctuation and don’t quite match Dick’s Sporting Goods’ logo or branding. Similar emails are also sprinkled with language like “hurry up,” “get it now,” and “limited prizes” — pushing people to act.

      Dick’s displays examples of these sham surveys on its Security Alerts page. Only respond to emails from Dick’s family of businesses, and never share payment information outside of official websites. 

      10. Kohl’s survey scam

      Survey scams ramp up during the holiday season, and 2023 was no different. This time, Kohl’s was an impersonation target.

      To evade spam filters, grifters routed traffic through legitimate providers like Amazon Web Services. They also used URL fragments from real websites to redirect users to phishing surveys.

      These emails informed victims that they’d won Le Creuset cookware from Kohl’s. To claim their prize, they needed to answer a few questions [*]. The survey excised personal and financial information, putting the responders at risk of fraud.

      Survey Scams: Top Warning Signs

      If scammers used Photoshop in the past to replicate company branding, they now use AI. AI generates company logos and fonts to be nearly indistinguishable from the real ones [*].

      As a result, researchers suspect that AI played a significant role in the 1,265% uptick in phishing email scams last year [*]. But a discerning eye can still make out fake surveys. Here are some clues:

      • The sender uses a free email address. Messages coming from an unrecognized Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo! account are likely illegitimate. Look for email addresses with slight adjustments to a company name, like:,, or name@aú Sophisticated scammers may even use letters from foreign alphabets that closely resemble English letters.
      • A palpable sense of urgency. Scammers will tell you that you need to fill out a survey in order to enable a new security feature for your account or prevent your account from being closed. These are ploys to prompt a quick reaction.
      • Email tone, style, and vocabulary. 78% of respondents in a 2023 survey said that they have been targets of brand impersonation phone calls and messages [*]. Since language models seldom make typos, you may need to be on the lookout for other giveaways. If the email is unsolicited or uses unusual vocabulary compared to previous communications from the same company, it may be fraudulent.
      • Exclusive, time-limited rewards. To redeem your reward, scammers force you to give up sensitive information that they can use to carry out other cybercrimes.
      • Several redirects before you land on a page. Sophisticated scammers use a new phishing technique — URI fragment identifier redirection — to mask links to malicious websites. These emails contain a unique token that reconstructs a URL, sending victims to a scam site instead of a legitimate one [*]. This process takes time to load and may send you to multiple websites before it lands on a harmful one. Other scammers add redirection functionality to websites that market a “free offer” or “grand prize” [*]. These front-end ruses shepherd unsuspecting users to a phishing website.
      • Unsolicited requests for personal information. An honest survey will never ask you to share an account password, your bank account information, or your Social Security number (SSN).
      • Survey questions and rewards don’t match. Scammers copy and paste parts of real emails and surveys into their fake ones. This causes a mismatch between the survey topics and respondent compensation. For instance, a genuine clothing retailer might give you a coupon, not a free vacation to Mexico.
      • No official web page or link to privacy policies. Legitimate companies share why they are conducting a survey. They also provide ways to get in touch with the people running it. The lack of an “about” page, “legal” page, or “contact” page is a red flag. 
      • You are saddled with shipping charges or taxes. Or, you may be asked to pay advance fees to claim a larger prize.
      ⚠️ Could you be on a fake website? Aura’s digital security app can flag phony websites and phishing links. Try Aura for free

      “Free” Rewards Can Cost You. Aura Can Help.

      • If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam survey, report it to the FTC at
      • To report survey scams related to COVID-19, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud. Call 866-720-5721 or fill out a report online. Sharing your experience can help law enforcement to catch scammers faster.

      Email service providers are also taking steps to stop scammers. For example, Google has developed a multilingual text analyzer called RETVec to detect text manipulations like invisible characters and homoglyphs in Gmail messages [*].

      But that’s just one form of protection — scammers can still hound you over the phone. This is where a comprehensive digital security solution like Aura can help.

      Aura’s spam call and message protection blocks unwanted calls and texts automatically. An AI-powered call assistant screens all calls from unknown numbers, redirecting potential spam to your voicemail.

      Plus, all Aura plans come with 24/7/365 U.S.-based customer support and a $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy for every adult plan member. The best part? There are no strings attached — Aura has a 60-day money-back guarantee.

      Aura’s digital security app keeps you safe online. Start your free trial
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