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Freebies 101: Protecting Your Personal Information

by Tara Kuczykowski on August 20, 2008 · 29 comments

One of my readers wrote to me the other day mentioning how she had noticed a significant increase in her spam emails, as well as telemarketing calls since she started signing up for freebies and surveys. This led me to the realization that I haven't addressed this serious issue on my blog, and I wanted to make sure that everyone is fully informed on this important matter.

If you've been on the Internet for a while, it's easy to fall under the mistaken impression that your personal information is secure. Companies generally post their privacy policies on their websites,and will tell you that your information is safe; however, in reality this is still not always the case.

For this very reason, it's important to be very selective about what personal information you divulge when signing up for freebies and surveys. I would recommend having a "junk" email address that is used only for this purpose. Signing up for a free Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! email address takes just a few minutes and will protect your personal email address from being bombarded with spam.

Also, I never give out my real home phone number unless I am absolutely sure that it is necessary, which in most cases it is not. Furthermore, if you haven't registered for the National Do Not Call Registry, now would be an excellent time to do so! In case you didn't know, you can register cell phones as well.

Some people go so far as to open a PO Box at the Post Office just for freebie purposes, but I haven't gone to that length yet. Other areas to be selective about are birth date fields, as well as giving out information about your children. And please, never ever give out your Social Security Number on a form or by email.

As always, use your best judgment. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. I try to only post legitimate freebies that are not trying to harvest your information, but you just never know what even large corporations are doing with it. And we've all heard the horror stories about databases being hacked.

You're your own best defense against misuse of your personal information, so empower yourself with these tips!

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 cy August 20, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Great tips. It is important to be careful with your information.

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2 cy August 20, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Great tips. It is important to be careful with your information.

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3 Penny Pinching Parent August 21, 2008 at 1:34 am

Great tips. I wanted to let you know that I nomintated you for an award. I just posted the details on PPP. You have a great site, thank you for sharing such great tips! :o)

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4 Penny Pinching Parent August 21, 2008 at 1:34 am

Great tips. I wanted to let you know that I nomintated you for an award. I just posted the details on PPP. You have a great site, thank you for sharing such great tips! :o)

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5 hlth4life January 14, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Thanks for the tips! I am new to this whole on-line coupon thing and trying to get some good deals, but at the same time not get tons of spam or worse. I noticed when signing up for shortcuts, they asked for date of birth. What is the purpose of this and has anyone had trouble? I also requested the free tote from a link I saw here, but they asked for phone # and email? Weird, my husband hates me doing all this stuff because he thinks its more trouble than its worth. I don't want to prove him right. Has anyone noticed any problems after signing up on mulitple sites?

Thanks!

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6 hlth4life January 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Thanks for the tips! I am new to this whole on-line coupon thing and trying to get some good deals, but at the same time not get tons of spam or worse. I noticed when signing up for shortcuts, they asked for date of birth. What is the purpose of this and has anyone had trouble? I also requested the free tote from a link I saw here, but they asked for phone # and email? Weird, my husband hates me doing all this stuff because he thinks its more trouble than its worth. I don't want to prove him right. Has anyone noticed any problems after signing up on mulitple sites?

Thanks!

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7 Rachel April 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm

I pay close attention to what fields are REQUIRED and which aren't. If it's not required, I don't put any information in there.

If it is required, I 99.5% of the time put in a fake phone number and use my back up e-mail address.

I don't care so much about my DOB, what are they going to do with it?

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8 Rachel April 30, 2009 at 2:30 pm

I pay close attention to what fields are REQUIRED and which aren't. If it's not required, I don't put any information in there.

If it is required, I 99.5% of the time put in a fake phone number and use my back up e-mail address.

I don't care so much about my DOB, what are they going to do with it?

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9 Denise June 14, 2009 at 3:51 am

I usually give my real info and have not had any problems. My husband appreciated the value more after I took him coupon shopping and we only got things for him! ;)

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10 Denise June 13, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I usually give my real info and have not had any problems. My husband appreciated the value more after I took him coupon shopping and we only got things for him! ;)

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11 Dana October 12, 2009 at 3:05 am

All great advice, but additionally, when a lot of these places ask for birthdate information and you try to leve it blank, they won't let you continue. So, I have created a birthdate I use that is literally, the day, month, and year before my actual birthdate. I won't forget it that way, but don't have to give out my actual info.

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12 Dana October 11, 2009 at 11:05 pm

All great advice, but additionally, when a lot of these places ask for birthdate information and you try to leve it blank, they won't let you continue. So, I have created a birthdate I use that is literally, the day, month, and year before my actual birthdate. I won't forget it that way, but don't have to give out my actual info.

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13 Shay March 2, 2010 at 6:51 pm

These a great tips. I NEVER give my real age, D.O.B. or telephone number. Most companies would contact you by email before phoning you, so I don't thing it's necessary to give out your real number or information for that matter, unless it is for a BIG time contest for some major legit company.

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14 Shay March 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm

These a great tips. I NEVER give my real age, D.O.B. or telephone number. Most companies would contact you by email before phoning you, so I don't thing it's necessary to give out your real number or information for that matter, unless it is for a BIG time contest for some major legit company.

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15 caroline March 15, 2010 at 6:22 pm

even with a "major" company, your info may not be safe. I only give out info that i would not have a problem with the world knowing. I just don't enter any contest that requires a phone number. I can get a new email pretty easily but changing phone numbers would be too much of a hassle. My husband applied for a car loan at one of the big dealerships around here and a couple of years later they closed down. (We didn't get a car from there). A year ago we started getting phone calls from "Mainland Marketing", a fake payday loan company that said my husband had taken out a loan and owed them money. Neither of us had ever taken out a payday loan but they had all of my husband's info- SSN, bank acct #, address, phone, employer (old employer thankfully bc when i researched them i found that they go to your work and harrass your coworkers, boss, and you until you give them money to make them stop)... All the info that he put on the loan app for the car co. My point is, you never know where your info is going when you give it out, even when it seems to be going to a big company. We are still getting harassing phone calls saying things like- if we dont pay them "only god can help you"...

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16 caroline March 15, 2010 at 2:22 pm

even with a "major" company, your info may not be safe. I only give out info that i would not have a problem with the world knowing. I just don't enter any contest that requires a phone number. I can get a new email pretty easily but changing phone numbers would be too much of a hassle. My husband applied for a car loan at one of the big dealerships around here and a couple of years later they closed down. (We didn't get a car from there). A year ago we started getting phone calls from "Mainland Marketing", a fake payday loan company that said my husband had taken out a loan and owed them money. Neither of us had ever taken out a payday loan but they had all of my husband's info- SSN, bank acct #, address, phone, employer (old employer thankfully bc when i researched them i found that they go to your work and harrass your coworkers, boss, and you until you give them money to make them stop)... All the info that he put on the loan app for the car co. My point is, you never know where your info is going when you give it out, even when it seems to be going to a big company. We are still getting harassing phone calls saying things like- if we dont pay them "only god can help you"...

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17 Katie March 18, 2010 at 2:19 am

wow Caroline, that's awful. I've seen things like on Inside Edition, where the callers make threats to get money. You should call your phone company and see if you can block them. We have privacy director, and if any marketing or unknown number calls, a recording comes on telling them they have to identify thier self and thier company before it will go through. They usually hang up and our phone never even rings. Every now and then though, one will come through and it's usually a political call.
I will definately start looking at when a phone number is required now though, and probably will make up a bday to use from now on.

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18 Katie March 17, 2010 at 10:19 pm

wow Caroline, that's awful. I've seen things like on Inside Edition, where the callers make threats to get money. You should call your phone company and see if you can block them. We have privacy director, and if any marketing or unknown number calls, a recording comes on telling them they have to identify thier self and thier company before it will go through. They usually hang up and our phone never even rings. Every now and then though, one will come through and it's usually a political call.
I will definately start looking at when a phone number is required now though, and probably will make up a bday to use from now on.

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19 caroline March 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

katie,
i've never looked into having unavailable numbers blocked before because my sons pediatricians office shows up as unavailable for some reason. And whoever the company is that's harrassing us uses disposable prepaid phones we think because they have different numbers or show up as unavailable or occasionally have numbers that are like 20 numbers long. I've even gone to the police and they said to change our number, bank acct... they said that even if they could track them down, they're not going to go to new york, L.A., florida.. to get them.

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20 caroline March 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

katie,
i've never looked into having unavailable numbers blocked before because my sons pediatricians office shows up as unavailable for some reason. And whoever the company is that's harrassing us uses disposable prepaid phones we think because they have different numbers or show up as unavailable or occasionally have numbers that are like 20 numbers long. I've even gone to the police and they said to change our number, bank acct... they said that even if they could track them down, they're not going to go to new york, L.A., florida.. to get them.

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21 Betty April 17, 2010 at 6:37 am

This is great tips, i got a lots of unknow call. It is great time for me to put my number on the do not call list. Thanks!!

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22 Betty April 17, 2010 at 2:37 am

This is great tips, i got a lots of unknow call. It is great time for me to put my number on the do not call list. Thanks!!

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23 Sarah June 5, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I send my freebies to my husband's work PO Box address (I wish I had my own, but it's too expensive)! My parents own the business, so it's obviously okay for me. Just another idea that "might" work for others.

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24 Sarah June 5, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I send my freebies to my husband's work PO Box address (I wish I had my own, but it's too expensive)! My parents own the business, so it's obviously okay for me. Just another idea that "might" work for others.

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25 Elizabeth July 8, 2010 at 6:52 pm

I use a fake phone number (like my area code, then 111-2222) and a fake bday (which is 2 yrs before my brothers) and rarely give out my first name, I often use a first initial.

Some won't shop to PO Boxes so I've never gone that route.

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26 Elizabeth July 8, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I use a fake phone number (like my area code, then 111-2222) and a fake bday (which is 2 yrs before my brothers) and rarely give out my first name, I often use a first initial.

Some won't shop to PO Boxes so I've never gone that route.

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27 Cindy July 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm

My concern is when they know your Soc. Sec. #. Having call blocking would not be my first concern. A person who knows your Soc. Sec. # can do alot of financial damage to your credit rating. Also racking up thousands of dollars or more under your name. I would go back to the police about them knowing your soc. # and if they can't help to ask who you should contact. It is one of the problems I have with some of the cigarette and alcohol freebies. They want a # as well as if this will tell them if this is your age.The freebies are never cigarettes or alcohol so there should not be a problem.

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28 Mike October 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm

And never pay shipping to have a sample sent to you - it's usually a scam of some sort. Learned the hard way. Also, read the terms of service before submitting. Most majors are OK but there are some that are not.

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29 Sheila February 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Dear hith4life
I just found this site today, There is some good info on this site. Reguarding your question when it comes to the sites offering freebies. When they ask for your phone number type 000-000-0000 it works most of the time. I have received tons of free things over 30 years of getting things for free. I have received for free every thing from as small as a sticker to my entire house furnished several times. I even had a store pay me $11.32 to take over $500.00 in groceries home.There is ways to get things for free without putting you at risk. I suggest getting a p.o. box and a email address for freebies use.
The Freebie Queen

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