Wondering what's involved in those "Free Macbook" deals? I was too...

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Moof1904, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. Moof1904 macrumors 65816

    May 20, 2004
    I don't want to this to sound like a spam post, so I'll be careful and not mention any vendor names.

    If any of you have ever seen those banner ads to "get a free macbook" or "get a free laptop" or something and wondered what it was all about, last April, the spouse and I decided "WTF?!" We'll try it!" and clicked on one of the ads and jumped through all the hoops to try and get a "free mac book (black)". (Alcohol may or may not have been involved in our decision.)

    Read on if you're interested in a fairly detailed description of what it entailed and what the result was...

    I won't tell the name of the web site, but there are a bunch of them out there that seem to operate in the same way. Upon clicking that I wanted to take advantage of the "free macbook" offer, I had to create an account on the site. I did a little homework beforehand and based upon the guidance that I read elsewhere on the web, I first created an email account on gmail just for this purpose. I also owned a small business that had a phone in use only for a small warehouse's alarm system, so I used that phone number. I have a mailing address that's not my house, so i used that for all the correspondence, too. I was determined not to end up being crushed by spammers (email, phone, or snail mail spam).

    Having all that, I proceeded. The way this site was set up is that there were four pages of "offers," with each page having a selection of 10 or so offers. The requirements were that we choose "X number of offers" from each page. All total, we had to complete 12 offers. Now, I've seen some (and I think this site may have been one of them) that also had a way to complete the deal by getting "referrals" wherein I entice others to sign up for stuff. In doing so, i could reduce the number of offers I had to complete. The spouse and i decided that we wanted no part of referrals: this was our foolish undertaking and we didn't want to annoy anyone else with it. So, we decided to pick 12 offers and do them ourselves...

    It was rather tedious signing up for all 12 offers. We were determined to do all 12 offers in one evening so that we didn't do a few, promise that we'd finish another night, lose interest in the process, and end up wasting our money on the offers we _did_ sign up for. All in all, it took about 5 hours to sign up for them all. We were careful to take detailed notes along the way for every offer we entered. Examples of some of the offers were Blockbuster online, some mail order frozen entrees, acne medicine, web hosting, psychic readings, and other such stuff.

    We obviously tried to be as frugal as we could while still honoring the requirements of the free macbook deal. We kept a spreadsheet on everything we spent, all the fees, the value of what we got (the frozen meals were pretty good and the Blockbuster membership, which we kept for 30 days, allowed us to put our Netflix on hold), and the cost associated with returning product that we didn't want to keep. (One of the things was a coffee club and we stayed in that for a couple of months because some of us here drink coffee). The psychic reading was about as useless as one would expect.

    Some of the offers had very strict rules about canceling the product or service and we were very careful to obey those rules carefully. Some companies, like Blockbuster, were just fine to deal with and when we were ready to cancel, it was trivial to do so. Some companies were a bit slimier and made it very difficult to cancel their service. One web hosting company, for example, required that we send a notarized letter via snail mail declaring that we wanted to cancel and they were about the rudest people on the planet.

    It's a tedious process. Each vendor has to report to the prize agency that the participants completed the offers. After a few months, only a couple of them had done so. We asked the prize company to give us credit for completing the 12 offers and they required us to provide proof to them that we had done so. We had to send them three months of credit card statement, copies of receipts, and a ton of confirming information to convince them that we had complied with all 12 offers.

    All in all, I'd say we spent about 20 hours on the administrative duties associated with the record keeping during the six months from the time we started this crazy venture until we got the check today. (I've heard that sometimes they send the actual product and sometimes they send a check for what they deem is an equivalent value.)

    It's obvious that the process is designed to wear people down so that they blow it off and give up. We didn't. We sent them everything we were asked to send. Certified mail. We followed up with emails. We stayed on top of it every step of the way. Fortunately, all of this administrative stuff was something we could to on our spare time while watching tv or relaxing.

    Finally, they updated our account page to show that we had completed all 12 offers. Now, we had to print a "certificate" for each of the 12 offers and then mail the certificates to them. (Nobody could explain why I had to print certificates that were generated by the awards company, bundle them up, and mail them right back to the awards company, except to make the process more tedious in the hope that we'd blow it off). After sending the certificates we received an affidavit and a W4 form that we had to fill out affirming that we hadn't received any prizes from this company in the past and the W4 was for reporting the income to the IRS.

    After sending everything in, we waited for six weeks and there was no change on our status page, so I emailed them. Within 24 hour our status had been updated to "awarded" and we received an email saying that a check would be mailed within 10 business days.

    In complying with all 12 offers, we spent $400 out of pocket for all the various deals, products, return fees, postage, etc.

    The value of the product we got (and actually used) was about $140 (savings from suspending Netflix, value of the coffee, frozen dinners, and such.)

    Our net out of pocket to fulfill the requirements, less the value of the goods we got, was $260. The fine print on the offer said that they could adjust the amount of the reward to compensate for the changing market value of the prize. Because the macbook in the offer was a 2.1 ghz, hardly a new model, and six months had gone by since we started this process, I was worried that we'd get a pretty small check. Quite frankly I was just hoping for a check for $300 or more to cover our expenses so that all that would have lost was our time.

    The check arrived today and to my great surprise, it was for $1499.00!:eek::D

    I ran to the bank and deposited it. And now, we have $1499 to buy my spouse a laptop that she desperately needs, having been limping along with just a 1.25 GHz Mini for quite a while. We're going to wait until after 10/14 and see what we might put the money towards.

    It was frustrating, it took a lot longer than i thought, I've learned a lot about these things if I ever do it again, and it was a lot of work, but I'm very happy with the outcome. Obviously, I'm not advocating this for everyone and I'm sure there are some horror stories out there surrounding this sort of "free" offer, but I feel that it turned out okay in this case.

    (Btw, the spam on my free email account was enormous. Within a day I was getting nearly 100 spams a day. They gradually tapered off and now it's just a few a week that are getting past gmail's spam filters. We've never gotten any snail mail spam, and I don't know about the phone. It was at an unattended warehouse without an answering machine, so for all i know it rang every day all day or it never rang at all.)
  2. Beric macrumors 68020


    Jan 22, 2008
    Bay Area
    Not bad. I've wondered about those deals. Sounds like you got lucky. It does seem like a narrow maze to follow though, and one mistake and you lose everything. I myself wouldn't risk it, but glad it worked for you.
  3. MattZani macrumors 68030


    Apr 20, 2008
    Wow, 20 Hours for $1500, seems like a pretty good deal, and you could basically set one up once a month.
  4. sjjordan macrumors 6502

    Jun 10, 2003
    United States
    I've done a few of those too.

    Got a Macbook Pro for free, a $1000 apple gift card for free and a few other things (airport extreme, express, Parallels for Mac etc.). The free offer sites are a lot of fun!
  5. nidserz macrumors 6502a


    Mar 28, 2008
    Dubai x Toronto
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/525.18.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.1 Mobile/5F136 Safari/525.20)

    Nice! I too wondered about these free things. I thought they were gonna send you a blackbook? None the less cash is good.
  6. Desamell Guest

    Aug 24, 2008
    email me a link would you at tophes60@gmail.com
  7. Chris Rogers macrumors 6502a

    Chris Rogers

    Jul 8, 2008
    my house
    Theoretically, one could just pocket the $

    Great story :)
  8. theLimit macrumors 6502a


    Jan 30, 2007
    up tha holler, acrost tha crick
    I got a PS3 that way last year. I'm amazed that I actually got through the ordeal. I saved a few hundred dollars, but I sure wouldn't put myself through that again.
  9. longwood macrumors regular

    May 10, 2005
    I participated in one these sites when they were first gaining their popularity. At that time, the prizes were small and so were the requirements. I believe I was required to complete 3 offers. Fairly simple process but I definitely needed to stay on top of certain fees and making sure that I cancel it time. I ended up not spending money on any of the offers and got a free 512mb iPod shuffle (this is when they first came out). Haven't done anything since then, too much effort it seems at time.

    Congratulations on your success.
  10. kockgunner macrumors 68000


    Sep 24, 2007
    Vancouver, Canada
    isn't the 2.1 ghz macbook the penryn one? or do you mean the 2.16 merom one?
  11. allmIne macrumors 6502a


    Sep 17, 2008
    United Kingdom
    Very cool - congratulations!

    A lot of work, but you definitely came out ok in the end; I wonder what percentage of people get the cheque, if they've completed everything as they should?

    Can't believe the amount of spam you got on your free e-mail account!

  12. X3n0 AcId macrumors regular

    Sep 20, 2008
  13. Superman07 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 28, 2007
    Interesting write-up. Thanks for explaining how the process works and the legitimacy.
  14. chefhow macrumors newbie

    Sep 28, 2008
    My dad did that about 2 years ago and got an entire Nike set of clubs, wedges, putter, cart bag, case of balls, shoes and $500 in GC's thru Nike for clothes online. He signed up for 6 offers and it took about 4 months to do it but he still uses the clubs, bag and shoes to this day. I personally dont have the patience
  15. themanfromvlad macrumors 6502


    Mar 11, 2006
    If I was unemployed, this would sound like a plan. Good for you for being so dedicated.
  16. alphaod macrumors Core


    Feb 9, 2008
  17. Chris Rogers macrumors 6502a

    Chris Rogers

    Jul 8, 2008
    my house
    remember, you will have to pay income tax on that so save up about 20% (estimated) I think whatever tax bracket you're in will determine the exact $
  18. stellarceltic macrumors member

    Oct 25, 2007
    Any tips for those of us that might want to try this?

    Anything you wish you had done differently?

  19. Moof1904 thread starter macrumors 65816

    May 20, 2004
    0. Don't even think of this unless you're an organized, detailed, person with the patience to see it through. It's designed to frustrate you and make you want to forget about the finish line.
    1. Absolutely get a throwaway email address for this.
    2. Keep the most detailed records imaginable. You'll need to keep track of account numbers, passwords, deadlines, and such for a dozen or more different accounts, each with a different company.
    3. I didn't have a single fraudulent charge on any credit card throughout this entire process, but nonetheless, keep a very close eye on your credit card statements just to be sure.
    4. Be super meticulous in honoring the requirements that each vendor has for canceling your account, returning products, or what-have-you. Failing to cancel an account in the correct way can void that entire offer. An example is some acne medicine that I had to order. They required that I buy a one month supply. I was allowed to return it if I wanted, but I was not allowed to refuse delivery on it. I had to accept the package, get an RMA number, then return it unopened, in order to get credit for the return.
    5. Send everything Delivery Confirmation or some other method by which you can prove you sent something.
    6. Don't miss a single deadline for any of these things.
    7. This is vital: the offers get more expensive on each subsequent page and many are repeated throughout the pages. Look at all the pages and map out on paper which offers you want to do from each page, START YOUR PLANNING BY LOOKING AT THE LAST PAGE AND WORK BACKWARDS. This will help you satisfy the tougher pages with the most attractive offers. Here's an example of how I messed this tip up: on page 1 one of the offers was for "X." There was something "Y" that would have cost about the same as "X" but it wasn't as appealing, so I choose "X" and signed up for it. Then, when I looked at page 4, "X" was an option, but I couldn't do it because I had already signed up for "X" on page 1. As as result, I had to choose something much more expensive and less useful on page than if I had planned them all out ahead.
    8. Stay on top of the prize company. If they say "allow 60 days for your certificates to be posted" start emailing them or calling them on day 61 if they're not appearing on your account.
    9. Keep copies of absolutely everything. I screen captured every signup screen and put them in a folder on my hard drive. (In fact, each offer had its own folder, as did I have a folder for the offer company itself to keep track of what I sent them.) Print to PDF or screen capture everything that shows any action on your part. You never know what you may end up sending to the prize company as proof that you fulfulled one of the offers. For example, Blockbuster never reported to them that I had fulfilled a month of Blockbuster online so I had to send proof. I sent screen captures from my online Blockbuster account showing every movie I rented during the 30 days, in addition to copies of my credit card statements that showed I was billed.
    10. One mistake I made happened when I signed up for the psychic reading. The company had an offer for a free five-minute reading, which I did. Then a month later, I canceled my account. Unfortunately, because I didn't pay anything for the psychic reading, there was no charge on my charge card and I couldn't prove to the prize company that I had fulfilled that offer. I had to reopen my psychic hotline account, pay for a reading ($5) and then wait long enough for those charges to appear on my statement. It added a month to the process, I think. I should have just gone beyond the free 5 minutes by a few minutes to ensure that there was some small charge on my credit card statement right away.
    11. I believe that you'll end up needing to prove to the prize company that you fulfilled your orders, as opposed to the vendors reporting to the prize company as they should. The vendors just don't seem to care about it and you're not allowed to nag the vendors to report to the prize company as they should. So, expect that you'll have to prove everything yourself and keep records. For any offer that you need to prove, the prize company will require three months of credit card statements to show that you were charged for the offer and that you didn't receive a refund or dispute the charges.
    12. Expect that the process will take four to six months.
    13. Be thorough, patient, and accurate.
    14. When signing up for offers, make sure you click-through from the prize site, as opposed to switching browsers and such. This is how the prize company builds a list of what offers you are doing.

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