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Question

Sometimes when I go to a site, such as "What Not To Wear" on TLC, I get a pop-up declaring I'm a winner of something really great. Today I "won" a laptop, free delivery included. Are these "prizes" real or just a way to get my info?

-Patricia

Answer

This question was answered on September 22, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

We have all grown up being told that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is; there is no free lunch, etc.

The Internet, however, has managed to cloud the judgment of many normally level headed people because of its seductive interactive and graphical properties.

Anytime you see an offer that you think is specifically geared to you, take a second to think, why just you? The next logical thought should be, if it isn’t just me, how could they afford to give away a laptop to everyone that visits this site?

With the proper perspective (and by pushing back that most powerful of human emotions – GREED!), it becomes obvious that these proclamations of your good fortune are nothing more than a scheme to get you to do something that you normally would not do.

In this case, you give up all your various methods of personal contact information (name, address, phone number, e-mail address, etc.) in the hopes that they will deliver on their promise.

If you actually take the time to fill out all of their forms, you will discover that it is impossible to actually redeem your “freebie” because the system just puts you in an infinite circle of offers with no way out or an eventual “link broken” error.

And now that you have given up all of your personal information (get ready for the avalanche of junk mail and spam!) you have no one to contact about your free laptop (or years worth of gas or that fabulous 42” Plasma TV you have coming).

Assuming that the website that you are visiting (TLC in this case) has any connection to the “pop-under” ad would likely be the wrong assumption.

Adware and spyware programs (nefarious software that hides in your system and generates ads) will deliver pop-up and pop-under ads based on what you are looking at and can make it look like part of the site that you are visiting.

Not everyone that visits the site will get the pop-under because not every system is infected with the actual program that is causing the ad In my tests, I was only able to get the pop-under on a couple of the systems that I accessed.

Upon further investigation, I was able to track down the company that is actually delivering the ads that you were seeing and how they may be doing it

Fastclick is one of the largest online advertising delivery systems and they use a combination of shared cookies and adware to deliver “content specific” ads based on the actual site or a portion of the content of the site that you are viewing.

If you go to their website and dig, you will find a tool that they claim will remove you from their system by blocking the cookie that they use They also go on to say that it may not block every ad attempt (read: USELESS!).

Your best bet is to continue to use anti-spyware programs that can check your system at least once a month to clean out the “road grime” of the Information Superhighway and stay away from those too-good-to-be-true offers!

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Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on September 22, 2005