Internet users will have at some point or another come across an advert promising earnings of “up to R5,000 a month” doing surveys for companies online.
The claim is always clouded by doubts of “too good to be true” – batting against someone’s “mother’s aunt’s friend’s brother who totally did it and made over R6,000, I swear”.
The survey groups operate simply enough: they purport to represent “global companies” who are desperate for market research, and are willing to pay real money for you to take part in their surveys.
It’s easy to separate the scams from the rest – as any survey group that requires you to pay them to sign up is just looking to prey on your naivety.
The free platforms are a bit trickier to suss out – so I signed up to see if I could get my hands on any of this “free” money, myself.
Giving it a go
At first glance, it’s no surprise that many people consider these kinds of websites scams – outdated design and constant notices that “this is not a scam” and “this is totally FREE” sets alarm bells ringing.
The first group I signed up to – SurveyCompare – linked me to about seven or so other survey platforms, each of which required the same registration process.
Notably, all of these platforms could have been accessed without SurveyCompare, so at this point it’s not clear what function the site has other than to collect my personal data and point me to other places to collect my personal data within its network.
But it did promise I could earn up to R65 per survey, so I soldiered on, and signed up to two survey companies – SurveyWell (which led me to two other sites), and GlobalTestMarket – which seemed to want the input of a 28 year old white male from South Africa.
Once in their hands, I took on some surveys (ones which promised cash rewards, of course) – and after spending the better part of 3 hours answering questions about my health, career, thoughts on environmental issues and my political leaning, I sat back and waited for the money to start rolling in.
I’m still waiting.
Here’s the catch
While the sites say that you could earn up to R65 a survey, there’s a big catch.
Firstly, most surveys offer you “rewards” like gift certificates, vouchers or coupons in lieu of any hard money. Others will simply offer you an entry for a “chance” to win some cash.
All of this works on a point system unique to each platform, with different conversion rates and rewards systems – meaning that, to get a cheque at the end of the day, you have to navigate multiple systems to squeeze out what you want.
The next catch is that you may not qualify for most surveys – significantly decreasing the pool of potential rewards you can get.
In fact, SurveyCompare says up-front that the best way to “maximise earnings” is to sign up to as many survey companies as you can.
So can you make money?
In theory, you can make some money doing this – but in reality, not really.
It goes without saying that doing online surveys for cash is not a viable source of sustainable income, and the sites specifically target housewives, students or anyone with a lot of free time.
While the companies that host these surveys don’t outright lie about the cash benefits involved, they’re advertised in such a way that makes it seem easier than it is.
If you want to reap any real rewards, it’s not going to be a quick, easy thing to do – and you may not get anything at all. You need time – lots of time – and the mettle to sit and answer questions to the point of nausea.
As an example, iPanelOnline, has a point-based system where 1000 points equals $1. To earn R5,000 ($315), you would need to take 160 surveys which pay out 2000 points each time (the minimum payout is 1 point, so good luck).
Another group, Toluna surveys’ point-based system has 400 points is worth R1 – to earn R5,000 you would have to take 800 surveys which reward 2,500 points – the maximum payout.
That’s 800 thirty minute surveys – or 16 and a half straight days of survey taking, assuming maximum rewards throughout.
Simply put, you’re unlikely to get paid, “as advertised” – and feedback on social networks of survey groups back that up.
At the end of my brief journey, I did not make a cent – nor did I score any vouchers or coupons or anything – all I was left with was a few hundred entries into “sweepstakes” to win $3,000, my personal data in the hands of about three or four companies, and an inbox full of emails inviting me to answer some more random questions.
The verdict? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.