Are you looking for a way to earn some extra cash? While most side gigs can’t replace the steady cash flow of a regular job, they can supplement a stagnant paycheck.
Paid surveys are one way to earn a few extra dollars fast. But are paid surveys a legitimate way to make money—or are they scams? The answer is that it depends on the survey and the company conducting it.
Getting Paid for Taking Surveys
Marketing research firms do pay consumers to take in-person surveys and participate in focus groups. There are firms that conduct legitimate online paid surveys, virtual paid focus groups, and various other forms of online marketing research.
However, in many cases, you'll be paid with points, gift cards, or discounts rather than with cash.
How to Avoid Survey Scams
There are also questionable "middleman" third-party paid survey sites that hype "easy" money for participating in online surveys from home. As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. These scammers fight hard to compete for your attention, and exaggeration is one of their tactics.
You want to avoid the iffy sites and stick with the legitimate ones. The best way to make sure you are working with a legitimate company is to take surveys directly on a site that is seeking feedback, and skip the middlemen.
Don’t Pay to Take Surveys
Avoid Sites With Membership Fees
There are sites that charge "membership" fees to access lists of online paid survey opportunities, despite the fact that you can find many of these surveys for free by searching online yourself.
These services compile lists of surveys that anyone could find using search engines (like Google), and then try to manipulate you into believing that their lists are special.
Don't Pay to Access Lists of Survey Sites
Some services also list other membership sites. In other words, you might pay to access a list of other middlemen sites that will also make you pay again. Middlemen sites do this in order to earn referral fees, effectively double-dipping into your pocket for mere duplicate lists.
Of course, scammers and middlemen sites will not be transparent about this. Rather, they will dangle the carrot of easy money and convenience while simultaneously making you feel that you should pay more in order to find more exclusive opportunities.
What You Can (and Can’t) Earn
If anybody is making big money from online paid surveys, it's probably the middleman-site owners, not those actually taking the surveys. Most surveys "pay" only token rewards in the form of goods, services, coupons, or samples.
One legitimate survey opportunity pays those survey-takers drawn from cash sweepstakes. Even if you're lucky enough to win a few sweepstakes, it likely won't lead to early retirement. Prizes range from $5 - $200 at most in cash or goods.
For many better-paying sites, you must be invited to complete online surveys. To be invited, you must first fit the targeted demographics. In other words, it may feel like a sweepstakes before you are able to take surveys for pay.
Subsequently, despite what middleman sites imply in their "dream job" hype, it's unlikely that you'll earn a living from paid surveys and other marketing research. You will, however, likely earn or win some extra spending money, or free or discounted goods and services.
How You Get Paid for Taking Surveys
Points or Rewards: Some surveys pay with points that are redeemable for cash or goods, very similar to arcades that reward you with tickets. Typically, you take surveys to rack up a bunch of points before you are able to trade them for anything of significance.
Gift Cards or Discounts: Still others may give you a gift card, discount, or another token of appreciation for participating in their survey.
Cash: A few survey sites do pay relatively well in cash. However, many sites advertise hypothetical, best-case scenarios that can't possibly apply to each and every person. In the real world, the likelihood that you'll earn notable income from taking these surveys is slim. But you can earn a little extra cash on the side.
Sweepstakes Entries: Some firms pay nothing or merely offer non-cash sweepstake entries for completing screening surveys to determine your eligibility for other paid surveys. Perhaps the most disappointing survey sites only reward you when you recruit other survey-takers (in the form of a pyramid scheme).
Paid Surveys and Your Privacy
Most paid survey sites promise to not share personally identifiable information, or at the very least, not to share it without your consent. It's an industry standard by which legitimate marketing research firms are bound. But many middlemen and membership sites won’t make either promise (or if they do, they do so only in a limited way). Unauthorized go-betweens simply don’t care about research privacy standards.
By joining a scamming membership site, you more than likely allowed it or its "marketing partners" to solicit you by hiding terms that you unwittingly agreed to accept.
Your personally identifiable information is worth a small fortune to direct marketers, especially since the U.S. Federal Trade Commission limits unsolicited telemarketing calls, and consumers can sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry.
Avoiding Identity Theft
One of the dangers of using survey sites is providing personal information to a potential scammer. It's important to be very careful what information you share online.
USA.gov recommends not sharing personal information (birth date, Social Security number, or bank account number) that could be used to steal your identity just because someone asks for it. It's important to be very careful how and when you share your personal information to avoid being scammed.
Check out survey sites before you use them by searching for the name of the site and terms like "scam" and "review" to learn as much as you can about the site before you try them.
If you've been a victim of identity theft, here's how to report it and what to do if your identity has been stolen.
Online Survey Sites That Pay
Ultimately, it is very unlikely that participating in online surveys will provide you with a steady, livable income. However, if you enjoy participating in online surveys (especially if you like the prizes, coupons, rewards, and other more typical non-monetary earnings), be sure to avoid questionable third-party sites.
Look for paid surveys online that don’t require you to invest money. They are most likely to be legitimate.
Here are some paid survey sites to check out:
- Branded Surveys
- Harris Poll Online
- Inbox Dollars
- i-Say Panel
- Opinion Outpost
- Pinecone Research
- Prize Rebel
- Vindale Research
- Panel Pay Day
- Survey Junkie
- Survey Club
- Survey Junkie
- Toluna Influencers
- VIP Voice
- Pinecone Research
The Bottom Line
- Paid surveys are a way to earn a few dollars or gift cards fast, but not to earn a living.
- Carefully check out the survey sites you use before you sign up to make sure the site isn’t a scam.
- Don’t pay a fee to complete surveys. Sites that charge membership (or other fees) may be scams.