The Great iPod Plot

I'm sure you all have seen those banner ads, or deleted pesky spam promising a free iPod, flat-screen, laptop or some other product. Well, I was so tempted by the thought of carrying my entire CD collection with me ensconced in a tiny stylish bit of technology that I thought I would at least check it out.

One of the companies who plaster those banners all over the web is FreeiPods.com. With just a small bit of research I learned that this is indeed a legit company. FreeiPods.com gives out 20GB iPods and iPod Minis. They way they are set up is a bit like a pyramid scheme. You complete one of their sponsor offers (such as joining Columbia House or something of that nature) and convince some of your friends to do the same. Once a certain number of your friends complete their offers you get your iPod. They in turn convince a new batch of friends to go along. I considered this, but I didn't feel right asking friends to sign up so I could get a free iPod.

Another company, that has many different names (it was called emarketresearchgroup.com when I started), takes a different approach. You are responsible for completing all of the offers yourself, and they offer the 40GB iPod. I was much more comfortable with this scenario, so I thought I would look a little deeper.

To gauge how likely it was that this place was legit I checked on who some of the sponsors were. Sponsors included the likes of Blockbuster and AOL. Evil? Yes. Associate with scammers in order to generate customers? Maybe, but not likely. Most of the offers they listed as examples also seemed to be free trial offers, so while not completely convinced, I decided the risk was worth the potential payoff.

Not wanting a deluge of spam in my nearly spam-free inbox, I set up a new e-mail account specifically for this experiment. For my free 40GB iPod ($399 retail) I would need to complete six sponsor offers. The offers were listed on three different pages, and I would have to complete two from each page. On the first page I chose two offers that would cost me a buck each. Each was a one-day trial that would renew at $40 a month if not cancelled. Since I was not interested in information on government auctions or how I could get a free car by having ads plastered all over it, I promptly cancelled when they showed up as completed about an hour after I signed up. On page two I signed up for a free two-week trial of Blockbuster Online, and a free month of Rhapsody music service. Now on to page three. Most of the offers cost quite a bit. "So that's how it works." I thought to myself. I scanned the offers looking for two that would keep my cost under the $60 limit I set for myself going in. I found one for a Discover Card, the only requirement was to activate the card and make one purchase. I could handle that. The only other offer that was remotely palatable was a free one-week trial to eharmony.com. So, with permission from Krista, I was back in the dating scene.

All of the offers soon showed up as completed on the emarketresearchgroup website except for Blockbuster and Rhapsody. I called Blockbuster, and soon had that taken care of, but with Rhapsody it appeared to be impossible to talk to an actual person. I cancelled Rhapsody and went back to the sponsor offers page two to find something else. I settled on the Entertainment Book of coupons to local merchants. The coupons to places we frequent will more than make up for the $30 I paid for the book.

My status was now updated to show that I had completed all of the required sponsor offers. I made screen shots of the web pages, just in case. My next step was to print my voucher, fill it out, and mail it in. Done, done and done. I even used certified mail just to be sure. According to the USPS website my voucher arrived on December 18. I gave it two weeks, but my status had not updated to show that they had received the voucher, so I gave them a call. There was no option to talk to someone, but I was able to leave a voicemail. My hopes were beginning to fade. Chin up! The next day I received a call back and was told that they are behind in processing the vouchers, so while mine may have arrived, it could take up to three weeks to process. One week later still no update on the website, so I placed another call. Again, my call was returned the next day and I was assured that they had indeed received my voucher and an order would soon be on its way to their fulfillment center.

I'm feeling good about my chances of getting the iPod, but time will tell. All said and done, I would estimate that I spent about three hours working for it, and about $25 (not including the Entertainment Book which will pay for itself).

A side note about the eharmony.com trial. While signing up I realized that I was actually giving thoughtful responses to the questions used to generate the matches. I decided that since I was signing up to get a free iPod, not dates, that I would speed up the process by clicking random radio buttons for my answers. Then I decided that I would have some fun and choose the least desirable answers. Such as answering "1" for "I think it is important to listen to my partner. 1 being not important, and 10 being very important." After answering many of these in this manner I was presented with five matches upon completing the process. Maybe there really is someone for everyone.

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