This weekend the Better Business Bureau sent out a scam alert warning about a new version of what it calls a “survey scam” that's been cluttering people's email in-boxes: phishing bait disguised as a chance to win free reward points.
“You receive an email with a version of this subject line: "Your Reward Points are Expiring. Claim Now!" or "Your eBalance Points are Expiring Soon!" The email uses the name of a well-known store. Many brands, from Macy's to Walgreens, have been impersonated.
You are a frequent shopper at the store, so you click to open the message. The email says that you've been selected to complete a survey about your recent customer experience. Finish the questionnaire, says the email, and you will receive $100 or more in "bonus-points."
If you click on the link, the best-case scenario is that it will lead to an actual survey, followed by ads urging you to hand over your credit card information in exchange for scammy products ranging from wrinkle cream to diet pills.
It's also possible that the “survey” will ask for your bank account or credit card numbers, passwords and other information identity thieves find useful. And, of course, anytime you click on a strange link, there's the ever-present threat of malware installing itself on your device.
Remember the rules
In most cases, you can protect yourself from such scams by remembering the “standard” anti-scam rules: If a message is addressed generically, rather than addressed to you by name, it's always a scam. (However, the reverse is not necessarily true: if a message does mention you by name, that alone does not guarantee its legitimacy.)
You should also assume a scam anytime an email or any other unsolicited message threatens dire consequences (such as losing all of your accumulated reward points) on a short deadline: the scammers are trying to press your panic buttons in hope of overriding your common sense just long enough for you to fall into their trap. As the Better Business Bureau says, you should distrust any message that “pushes you to act immediately.... before you have had time to think.”
Anytime you get an email purporting to be from a business or organization, you should also remember to check the sender's address: if it is from a free webmail account, such as @yahoo.com, it's a scam.
And you should also remember the cynical saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” A hundred dollars' worth of reward points, in exchange for a mere few minutes filling out a questionnaire? It sounds too good to be true — and that's because it is.