Can we talk about the new type of online scams out there? I’ve seen it a few times already, and some people I know have fallen under the spell. It’s a scam targeting the young travel-hungry audience. The bait is juicy: an opportunity of a lifetime to travel a particular country/the world for free. Do pretty much nothing: maybe register, maybe write a few lines about yourself, definitely share the project on social media. Now that’s enough to get your head spinning, and no judgement – I’ve experienced that ping of excitement myself. However, there’s often a catch, sometimes more and sometimes less obvious. Let’s take this project, World Life Experience. After a quick look at their website, tell me: what’s NOT seedy about this?
The website is very new, all of their social networks are just a few months old. There even used to be a Reviews section on their Facebook page where people would give it 5 stars just because they were “excited about the project”. Most serious travel media had no mention of World Life Exp. You can see references to this project mainly on smaller blogging platforms, social media and non-English websites listing all kinds of scholarships. That adds them a little legitimacy, but still not enough for a trained eye. See, you don’t even have to dig deep: World Life Experience’s website alone proves its sketchiness.
This Portuguese project promises to select 12 people from a pool of applicants – 6 men and 6 women – who would then travel the world for a year exploring, blogging and doing voluntary work: a “journey to 40 countries, 5 continents, for a year”. Plus each traveler gets a salary of 2.500 EUR per month! Nice!
Now the selection process is like this: first you give them your email and some basic info about yourself. Then you’ve got to be “selected” to be able to fill some surveys and write some motivational stuff. Oh, and pay 9 euro, 2.5 of which, they say, would be donated to an NGO (a short list of them is on the website, but none of the names are clickable, or have any info attached). Of course you’re “selected” pretty soon, and they keep sending you follow-up emails so that you, poor thing, won’t miss that “opportunity of a lifetime”. Well, I wasn’t going to pay them a penny, but it was still interesting to examine. It’s quite a brilliant scheme, really – 9 euro is not something you would terribly miss. Also, 9, not 10, the golden rule of pricing applied.
So let’s do some simple maths. 2.500 euro in salary each month for each participant. That’s 30.000 euro per month, 360.000 euro per year just for the salaries. Where would the project get all this money from? “Pitcher Cocktails” (one of their 3 listed partners – also no info, no links, no website)?
On the website, they’re showing a sum of “donations” they’ve received – those 2.5 out of each 9 euros. 100.111 euros at the moment (I wonder how often they update the number and whether it’s even true). Let’s imagine it’s true. So over 40.000 people have paid them already. That leaves the project with 260.000 euro – not a bad catch! However, that money, can cover only 8.6 months of salary for the participants. But then there’s all the “superior lodging and food”, insurance, transportation and activities that they promise to cover. And the 24/7 team support. And how about the salaries for the 9 young Portuguese people (names only on the website) who run the project? It’s perfectly normal to make money when you do something this big. Obviously, that’s not enough money.
370.000 euro is a nice fat chunk of dough they got discreetly through PayPal in total. Maybe they will really donate that 100.111, like Robin Hood – stealing from the rich, giving to the poor. But even if they do, 30.000 euro isn’t a small sum in Portugal or anywhere. In fact, that could just provide for a year or two of happy budget travel for each of the 9 organizers. Or 41.000, if they don’t donate. I wish I had that much money on my hands! I guess I’m just not smart enough – those kids started the project in April and here they are… are they?
Thing is, they’ve extended the application deadline and keep extending it due to the problems people have with the surveys and payment. That can mean that, in fact, they got much less than they expected. That 100.111 can as well be a random number they came up with to add weight to the whole thing. The number, though, is pretty high and discouraging for new apllicants – who wants to compete with 40K other people?
In any case, unless somebody finds them and sues them after the project falls through, they’d still have made some money. As of now, they keep actively engaging with the audience on Facebook and posting about all things volunteering in the world. There’s much more to be fished out about this scam, but a fellow sceptic Olga did it wonderfully right here. Know your factchecking! Seems that these days everyone should be a bit of a journalist and much of a sceptic.
Now here’s another project that caught my attention – Off To Iceland. They don’t ask for money on their website, just for a like&share on Facebook. They’re not necessarily an outright scam. They look much more real than World Life Exp – only selecting one person (who can bring +1) to come to Iceland, and the trip is only a week long. But devil’s in the details. Something that inattentive freebies-seekers may miss – they say nothing about accommodation or insurance, and Iceland is a very expensive country. Also, the flights they’re pledging to provide are only “Direct flights with Icelandair from any of their destinations in Europe or north America”. Meaning, if Icelandair doesn’t fly to your home city, you’ll also have to buy a flight to the city it operates in.
So this Iceland campaign might be just an innocent trick to jumpstart the company’s website and social media, and then quickly find sponsors because of the solid audience (no sponsor logos on their website as of now) and the media coverage. Or, likely, the buzz about one such competition is well worth the money they’ll have to spend on the tourists. They promise to announce the winner on September 1st, so I’ll take a look then. In the meantime, they’ve launched a second competition, and this time the participants have to write something relatively meaningful on Facebook, and the company “will choose the person who wins by likes and/or comments (its better this way, believe us)”. Umm sure. Nope, it’s actually a really bad way to select a winner, but let’s see how it all goes in general.
Long story short – do your research, don’t pay money to enter shady travel competitions, and don’t be shy to call out on bullshit! As the old Russian proverb goes, “free cheese happens only in mousetraps”.