Is the ‘free goodie bags’ scam really a scam or just a very good sales pitch?

By February 13, 2018Current

TL;DR – No such thing as free lunch in this world. 

Image via WB News

If you haven’t heard of this “goodie bag scam”, here’s a quick scam-mary:

  • ‘Free’ ad-hoc stores are usually spotted at heartland area in front of shops targeting the elderly.
  • Promoters will first give away some free items to get the public’s attention.
  • Promoters will start breaking the ice with some little jokes made in Cantonese.
  • Promoters will then start “giving” away free goodie bags that they claim have contents of more than $400 each.
  • In order to ace one of these goodie bags, the “customers” are then suppose to “pay” $100 to show their sincerity.
  • As it turns out, the items in the bags are just household items which do not add up to $400. In fact some claim that the items are worth less than $50.
  • The promoters are wearing polo tees stating 28hom.com.hk

If you are interested in more details, you can check out the following posts:

This ‘scam’ has been spotted at different parts of Singapore, and as early as November 2017 according to Lianhe Wanbao.

It sure doesn’t sound ethical to be selling things that are worth less than $50 while claiming it to be over $400, but should this really be considered a scam?

As cliché as I can get, this is the meaning of scam based on Google:

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not defending these sellers but let’s see…

Some common scams in Singapore 

We’ve probably all encountered other scams in Singapore, such as:

  • The iTune Card scam where scammers pretend to be your friend and message you via multiple messaging platforms such as line, WeChat, Facebook, to get you to purchase some top up cards and transfer the value over thinking you are helping a friend.
  • The “you-show-me-yours-and-I-will-show-you-mine” online sex chat scam which ultimately resorts in blackmail.
  • The “your-son-is-with-me” phone scam where they will ask you to transfer a sum of money to save your imaginary unborn, unconceived child.
  • The most popular “your-dead-long-lost-uncle-from-Nigeria-left-you-a-large-sum-of-money” scam where it involves you sending a sum of money to open a bank account to claim your inheritance only to find out later that the large sum of money was actually from you to him instead.
  • The classic online dating scam where a charming person will talk to you online for a period of time to earn your trust and tell you that he is in debt and needs to borrow some money from you. He then disappears along with the money you sent him.
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All these scams I’ve mentioned above has a common denominator which makes it different from the ‘free goodie bag’ scam. You are basically throwing your money to someone else for various reasons but never because you are buying something which is overvalued.

So let us look at this free goodie bag scam again, and ask ourselves this – what makes it a scam?

Is it the fact that the promoters are lying about their products?

Did they promise you any items that will work but didn’t?

Did they blackmail you?

Did they make one believe that by paying for a goodie bag you will have a boyfriend?

Well, we know the answer to all the above is no.

So why is this a scam? It is simply because you paid for something which is not what it’s worth? Or is it because you are paying for something which they mentioned it’s free? How can it be free and yet you still have to pay?

Once again, I need to stress that I’m not defending these guys and neither am I getting a commission cut from their profit.

My point is, is this really a scam or is it a marketing gimmick?


It might sound like a matter of technicality here but more often than not,  we are falling for some form of marketing gimmick willingly every time we make a purchase, right?

Some common retail promotions in Singapore 

“Buy 3 get 1 free” – Making you purchase the third item which you probably don’t need to get the fourth item which you think you might need it one day but end up chucking it somewhere in your house until the next year’s spring cleaning. Is the fourth item really free or is it a matter of retailers lowering their profit margin to get more sales? So technically the fourth product ain’t really free right? Does this make it a scam?

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“Spend over $100 to get a free goodie bag worth up to $300 dollars” – $300 value they say, but more often than not this $300 worth comes in the form of a voucher that allows you to save $100 after another purchase. Technically speaking, THAT piece of voucher is only worth $100 if you make the next purchase, else it’s just a piece of paper which probably cost them less than 10 cents to print. It’s not exactly what it is, isn’t it? Does this make it a scam?

“Original price $50 but for limited time only, enjoy 50% off – get this at $25” – Truth is, you see this sign up all year round at their shop. Whether you are/were part of the retail industry, we pretty much know how people jack up the price only to give a discount to make you believe that it is a good deal. It’s straight up lying in your face and being dishonest if you ask me but does this make it a scam?

Are these considered scams? Are these crimes?

If you ask me, I will say no, and you would probably agree. Don’t these sound borderline like what we are talking here about the free goodie bag ‘scam’?

These people basically listened to a very good sales pitch and want to get a very good deal, and paid for these items willingly. 

The sad truth is, they did get their products after making payment although the items are overvalued. There is a transaction and there is a legitimate trade, isn’t it? You weren’t blackmailed to do it, and neither were you made to pay believing that you are helping a friend. You paid for a bag, you got a bag, and you did get what you paid for right?

That aside, who is to judge what is the true value of a product? Can we get a t-shirt at Giodano for $10? Do people pay $380 for a t-shirt at Armani Exchange? Can I buy a pair of scissors at $2 at our favourite $2 shop? And yet there are people selling a pair of scissors for $15 because it’s imported from Japan, right?

So is there really anything wrong when they claim that their goodie bag is valued at $400 because they are the ones valuing it? Everyone’s yardstick is different.

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If you take a careful look at their website, they do have a chopper priced at almost $120 SGD and a pair of scissors priced over $50 SGD. They are pretty much covered if they can show you that the few items they have inside the goodie bag do add up to over $400 based on their rrp on their website despite you feeling like they probably only cost $50. I can’t say I am right for sure since I’ve no information of what’s really inside the bag but I’m saying this can be one of the ways they are covering their tush.

These guys are not just good, they are professionals.

Is it a lie? Is it dishonest? Is it unethical? – Yes, according to the Internet.

Is it some kind of hypnosis that the promoters pulled off as mentioned on several Facebook posts? – I doubt. Truth is, if I know hypnosis I will probably be asking for Jack Ma’s bank account number and passwords instead of standing under the sun screaming to earn $100 from old people. Especially when I can easily be tracked down with face and website fully visible for the world to see.

Is it a crime? – I’m no judge but I will say no. You paid for a goodie bag and you got a goodie bag.

BUT should we be aware of such gimmicks and avoid falling for one? – Of course. We should all be aware and not fall for such gimmicks.

It’s also especially sad to know that for some of these elderly, $100 might be their allowance for a week or even two.

The best way to stop such acts is simply to create awareness.

Nobody is going to run the same trick twice if the rabbit doesn’t fall into the trap.


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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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