Swagbucks: Scam or Legitimate Rewards Program?

Shopping online can be slowly rewarding

If an online shopping site says it will pay you to shop, answer surveys, and watch videos, conventional wisdom says to skip the site and move on to one that's not such an obvious scam. But in the case of Swagbucks, too good to be true is actually...true.

Shopping online can be done safely; plenty of sites exist that actively protect consumers. Swagbucks is one of those sites, but the way it offers points you can exchange for cash or gift cards in return for various activities is what has people wondering just how safe it really is.

Is Swagbucks a Scam?

Swagbucks is not a scam; it does reward and pay members according to the terms and conditions of the site.

Founded in 2008, Swagbucks is a membership-based online rewards portal. It partners with various retailers and service providers to give good deals on products and services to its members. In turn, the members tend to shop more with Swagbucks partners. As part of the incentive, Swagbucks lets members earn points they can exchange for gift cards of different denominations.

Membership is free.

How Does Swagbucks Work?

Swagbucks works by rewarding consumers for the shopping related actions they take on or through the site. It gives points in return for various activities, which can then be exchanged for gift cards to legitimate retailers.

Here's an example: A retailer wants consumers to learn more about a particular product it sells. It creates an explanatory video about the product, the consumer watches it by clicking a link from the Swagbucks site, and Swagbucks rewards the customer with a point or two for watching what is, essentially, a commercial for the retailer and product. Everyone is used to watching commercials on television; this one just happens to be on your computer screen and you specifically agree to watch it.

Swagbucks video watching screen

Another example: You can also shop at partner sites to earn Swagbucks; simply access them through the Swagbucks portal to activate the rewards system and, when you purchase something, your account will add the appropriate number of points offered for the retailer. That's a pretty standard process; Rakuten (formerly eBates) runs a similar setup except that you receive cash back in the form of a check instead of points to redeem for gift cards.

Swagbucks partners

The scam question becomes obvious when you realize that Swagbucks wants you to download a specific toolbar for your browser so you can use the site all the time. That's a major no-no for computer security, as many computer viruses install these kinds of toolbars and wreak havoc on your computer. Swagbucks also offers surveys for its partners, another standard no-no in from a security perspective.

The difference here is you're signing up with a site that's built a solid reputation since 2008, not just randomly completing surveys or installing toolbars from a pop up ad that randomly appeared on your screen. (You can block those pop up ads, by the way.)

Should You Use Swagbucks?

If you like to shop or have time to watch videos and take surveys, Swagbucks might be something to try. It's not a scam, so you're safe enough from that perspective.

On the other hand, you're not going to earn much spendable cash very quickly. The surveys and videos tend to give very small point rewards; it typically takes at least 100 points to receive $1 in spendable rewards. A $3 Amazon gift card, for instance, can be obtained once you have 300 Swagbucks. A $1 Amazon gift card, however, can only be redeemed for 160 Swagbucks. The math is a little strange in some places but the more you participate, the more points you earn toward larger rewards.

If you shop online much, however, it might be worth it to you to do your shopping through a portal like this one. You're spending money anyway; why not get a little back from your purchases? Whether or not it's a better deal than, say, Rakuten or a another online shopping site is for you to decide.