I’ve been noticing an increasing number of people sharing “free giveaway” offers on Facebook. Some are pretty banal, like starbucks vouchers. Hey, if you wanted drainwater for free, you can just take a cup to the nearest drain. You’re welcome.

Some others are really very attractive – promising the latest tech toys for a ludicrous number of lucky winners, even new gadgets that haven’t even been officially announced yet! All this ridiculously free newfangled tech goodness, dangled in front of peoples’ eyes, seemingly well within reach. Just a simple click, a “like”, “share”, or a few keystrokes to enter your email address for a chance to win that shiny new thing you’ve been lusting after. Seems too good to be true. And it probably isn’t.

That these scams exist is nothing new. “There’s a sucker born every minute”, so the saying goes. Scammers gonna scam, and you can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it, except ignore it. The problem is, we aren’t ignoring them. Despite having a ridiculous wealth of information available to us at the tips of our fingers via the Internet (and our mobile phones, laptops, free public Internet terminals etc), owe’ve let ourselves become seduced by the false promises of the latest, the shiniest, the newest, the non-existent, for the price of absolutely nothing!

Trouble is, you aren’t going to get that new MacBook Air, that new iPad mini, or that Samsung Galaxy S4 for free. Come on, Samsung haven’t even announced the damn thing yet, what makes you think some kuching kurap no-name Facebook Page has the right to give them away for free, let alone have the inside scoop on a hitherto-unseen device!

Let’s unpack this a bit.

When in doubt, follow the money

These things cost money. A lot of money, especially in the quantities that these giveaway sites are purportedly giving away. So the first question that should cross your mind when you see a giveaway like that is, “how much did it cost for the company to buy all that stuff just to give away for free?”. If we’re talking about SingTel or Starhub giving away free iPads or iPods with every new broadband subscriber, then yes – its probably legit. These are (debatably) reputable companies that have huge annual turnovers and can conceivably afford to give away large amounts of shiny new tech toys. That said, they don’t just give away all that swag for nothing – you have to sign up to be a customer. You give them money, and they give you extra stuff in return for your indentured patronage for the next 24 months. Some might argue that doing so would make you a different type of sucker, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Still not convinced? Let’s do some maths. This hitherto-unknown “company” is offering to give away 900 brand-shiny-as-new Samsung Galaxy S5 phones (because S4s are so 2013). Suppose that Samsung offers these phones at a cost price of US$300 per phone. US$300 x 900 phones will give you… US$270,000. Which small and unknown company has the kind of capital to essentially give away US$270,000 worth of tech hardware?

What’s in it… for them?

The next question to ask is, “what am I really giving away?”. The truth is that you never really get anything for free. In this case, you’re trading something for a chance to win some cool tech toys. Pretty much like the lottery, except with the lottery you might actually win something (not that I’m encouraging you to take part in the lottery, mind). What these deals do is leverage the intangibility of what you’re giving away to lull you into a false sense of security. After all, what harm could a “like”, or “share” do anyway? Probably not much. But you’re giving permission to an unknown third party of dubious intentions and origin to send you messages, possibly gain access to some of your personal information (depending on the action you’ve been required to do), or just make use of your action to claim something else to fraudulently advance business interests (“in our last campaign, we garnered 10,000 likes in an hour!”).

If you’re giving your email address, or (God forbid) phone number away though, good luck to you. Welcome to a few lifetimes worth of spam emails, unsolicited telemarketer calls and God knows what else.
Another good question to ask is, “have these guys actually made good on their promises?” Does their page show any indication of them actually giving out these hundreds and thousands of tech toys to their supposedly lucky winners? And even if they do claim to give away prizes to winners, do they share any information about those winners? A name? A place? Partial ID numbers? Or just a random assortment of grainy photos showing happy people holding boxes of that shiny tech thing. Think and investigate, before you click “like” and “share”. Because you really don’t know what you’re giving away, and who it is you’re giving it away to.

Enough is enough, is enough.

Come on folks. Come on, come on, come on. We should be smarter than this by now. Most of the people I’ve seen sharing these scam messages are educated, intelligent and savvy folk. Who know how to type. Who know how to use google and find useful articles like this, this, this, this and THIS. Don’t know how to search out all this wonderfully informative wonderfulness? Here, let me google that for you.

But there’s just something about the promise of a Free Shiny New Thing that causes even the most intelligent human beings to suspend all intelligence.

Folks, it’s time to start thinking again. Be critical. Ask questions. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask who the hell this company is and how they heck they made enough money to give tons of shiny new shit away for free.

Because modern life isn’t so straightforward.

Because we have the ability and power to stop this shit right now.

Because there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

(Breakfasts, however, are an entirely different thing).

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