Companies such as Uber and Airbnb offer promo codes so that you and your friends can get credits, discounts, and freebies.
But a new Fusion report says users have started to exploit these codes to hoard a ton of money in credits for these services.
In April, Business Insider’s Jim Edwards reported on an Uber user named Blake Jareds, who signed up thousands of people for Uber and garnered $US50,000 in Uber credit.
Here’s how he did it:
- Step 1: Jareds changed his Uber promo code from a random string of letters code to “uber$20FreeRide.”
- Step 2: He sent out a mass email via MailChimp to about 700 people from his email contact lists. It had a 40% open rate and about 5% click rate, the former finance student tells us.
- Step 3: Jareds posted a link to a subreddit where users submit deals for free stuff. “This is where I believe Uber claims I breached their guidelines,” Jareds tells us.
- Step 4: The combination of the “uber$20freeride” promo code and Reddit earned Jareds’ link a high level of search-engine optimization. It “propelled my referral link to one of the top links on Google if a person searched for ‘Uber promotion code’ or a variant of such. This is where I would say 90% of the 2,000+ people who signed up came from.”
After Jareds gave one of his drivers a one-star review, Uber canceled his account, telling him Uber’s system flagged him for taking advantage of the company’s referral program to earn Uber credit inappropriately.
His credit was canceled, but Uber later reinstated his account and credited him $US500.
The Fusion report says Jareds continued to gain credit on his account because people were still using his promo code.
After too many $US200-plus rides from New York City to Montauk, Jareds’ account was flagged again, and, this summer, Uber took away his promo code and made him create a new account.
Jareds told Fusion he wishes he had changed his account details and promo code to be able to “hide out” from Uber and still keep all his credits.
“I was lucky,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. I would try again with a younger type company that’s not a household name yet, like Uber was when I first started this. But I would approach the company first and make sure they’re ok with what I’m doing.”
Other users take advantage of promo codes by posting them to coupon websites or using Google AdWords, according to Fusion. When you search for phrases like “Uber deal,” ads linking to these users’ promo codes come up.
Other users use Burner, an app that gives you temporary phone numbers, to sign up for Uber with a bunch of fake “first-time user” accounts, or use multiple real email addresses and phone numbers to sign up. The cost of Burner phone numbers and Google AdWords is negligible compared to the number of credits a user receives.
Uber has added a section on “Promotional Codes” to its terms of service, saying users should avoid making promo codes “available to the general public.” Airbnb and Lyft have similar terms.
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