Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel Email Scam Update

Last year, I wrote about a suspicious email I received that was supposedly from the AC Nielsen company asking me to sign up for their Homescan Consumer Panel. I never heard back from the Nielsen company after contacting them, so I decided to do some follow-up research.

One of the first places I went was the AC Nielsen Homescan homepage. This page says that in order to join the Homescan Consumer Panel, you can register through their website to be put on a "Reserve Status Waiting List" from which households are randomly selected to join the consumer research panel.

This self-registration aspect makes me think that the email I received asking me to sign up was probably not legitimate. The website makes it sound like they have more than enough applicants to choose from and wouldn't need to go out of their way to solicit applicants. One poster on an online forum thought that perhaps AC Nielsen was contacting them via email because they were a member of the Pinecone research panel (I was, too). But I still don't think we live in an age where solicitations by email can be trusted.

The way the program works is they send you a handheld scanner. You use it to scan the bar codes on all of your purchases. Once a week, you submit this information to AC Nielsen. In exchange for their time, participants earn points that can be redeemed for merchandise and entries into sweepstakes. But according to the website, the biggest reward is "making your opinions count." There doesn't seem to be much more information than this available from the official website, so I poked around online to see what other consumers have to say about the program and whether they have received any emails purpoting to be from AC Nielsen.

If you do want to participate in this program, I recommend signing up directly through their website and not through a link in any email you might receive, which could be a phishing scam. But before you sign up, consider the pros and cons of participating in this program.

According to online accounts from various people who have participated in the program, here are some of the cons:
-Scanner sometimes freezes up; have to call customer service to learn how to fix frozen scanner; calling customer service may be a hassle.
-Inputting purchase data is time consuming
-You have to earn too many points to redeem for a priz
-Prizes are not useful
-Depending on where you shop, sometimes you have to not just scan items, but also input the price you paid for it (obviously a lot more time consuming than just scanning)
-The system also asks you if you used a coupon and if you used a loyalty card for each item. This makes inputting grocery purchases very time consuming.
-If you forget to submit your data for the week by the deadline, you don't get credit for all the data you already entered.
-Unlike credit card rewards programs, Homescan points cannot be redeemed for gift cards.
-Technical problems where the scanner and the participant's computer won't communicate
-It is tedious to input every single purchase you make
-It takes a long time to accumulate points, especially at the beginning of the program when you earn points at a slower rate than you do as a long-term member
-Credit card rewards programs are better
-Not a lot of options in the rewards catalog
-Prizes are probably things that were unpopular and retailers couldn't sell (one panelist's opinion)

And here are some of the pros:
-Scanning items is easy and not time consuming
-Easy to accumulate extra points by completing email surveys and earning bonus points
-You can quit at any time, and it's free to return the scanner by mail
-The rewards catalog includes nice items like a flatscreen television and iPod Nano

Finally, here are some of the gifts people have reported actually earning/receiving from participating in the Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel:
-nice, expanding bag that starts out the size of a wallet
-cheap dry erase board
-kitchen appliances
-Little Tykes toys
-cheap reading light
-thin blanket

Based on what I've read, participating in the panel doesn't sound like a good use of time. If you need a way to make a few extra bucks, there are easier, faster ways to earn money (besides, the Nielsen panel doesn't pay out in cash or even in gift cards). If you like earning prizes, you're better off signing up for a credit card that offers rewards. Some people seem to think participating in this program is fun, but for me I think it would just be a very time-consuming chore that would take away from more productive uses of my time (like exercising, gardening, reading, and working, to name a few).

If you've been on Nielsen's Homescan Consumer Panel, what was your experience like?

Digg! * Stumble Upon Toolbar
Subscribe in a reader * Share on Facebook

Related posts:

Nielsen Email Scam?
How Frugal Purchasing Habits Add Up
Letter Writing Works
Ask and You Shall Receive: My Consumer Victory with The Gap
How Lifestyle Inflation Can Sneak Up On You

Photo by

Valerie Everett

Post by Amy Fontinelle