Complaining Just to Get Free Stuff

free stuff

We all want to be treated fairly and receive the products and services that we pay for. We want things to match our expectations and the manufacturer’s promises. When things fail to live up to those promises or expectations, it’s up to us to complain, to let the companies know that we won’t be messed with. However, there is a special type of person who has elevated complaining to the level of sport. This is person who complains just to get free stuff. The question is: Is this a wise, frugal move, or bad behavior?

I know quite a few people, both in real life and online, who complain to manufacturers and service providers when there is no legitimate complaint. Why? To get freebies and comps. These people think that they’re being financially smart. After all, why pay for something when you can get it for free? But if the complaint is faked, it’s closer to fraud than effective complaining.

Take for example the person and situation I read about on a money-saving forum (not Saving Advice). Best Buy had intended to issue coupons to a select subset of their Reward Zone program members, but something went awry and not only was the coupon posted online for all to use, the terms were incorrect. Once Best Buy stopped honoring the fraudulent and misprinted coupons, the predictable outrage ensued online about how Best Buy wasn’t being fair by not honoring the deals.

Whether it was fair or not, this person that I saw gleefully posted about writing to Best Buy’s corporate office to complain about the situation. Two things about this person’s complaints rankled me. First, he or she was not a member of the Reward Zone program, so would never have been eligible for the coupon in the first place. The deal was never intended for this person. Second, they complained only after the outrage had reached full force online and he/she saw that Best Buy was giving some people (who were legitimately entitled to use the deal that went awry) gift cards for their trouble.

After raising a big stink to the corporate offices, this person was given a gift card for troubles that he/she had never experienced, since they were never the target of the original deal and were never “cheated” out of using the coupon. Now, I realize that Best Buy didn’t have to give this person anything and that it’s up to them what they want to do for customer service. But this person complaining about being shut out of a deal to which they were never entitled seems wrong.

I see this happen in other areas, too. I go to Disney World a lot and Disney is famous for giving customers freebies and compensation to make up for bad experiences. They’re so famous for this that some people write to the corporate offices or talk to managers in the parks and report fake dissatisfaction with meals, interactions with employees, theft, and issues of every other kind you can imagine. People also complain to food manufacturers to get coupons, and they complain to retail stores to get gift cards or free merchandise. Again, it’s up to Disney and other retailers what they give out and to whom, but people creating complaints just to try for freebies is unethical.

Over the years, companies have doled out so many freebies to stave off negative publicity that some financial sites support this behavior by encouraging people to complain to get the freebies. This tip appears online and even in books. But it’s just wrong. Aside from the bad karma points that you’re sure to get (if you believe in karma or cosmic retribution), it may eventually backfire on you. Many companies keep lists of people who have complained. Chronic, aggressive complainers are likely to be blacklisted eventually to the point that when the day comes that you have a legitimate complaint, no one will listen to you.

It also makes you a terrible example for others. Is this the sort of behavior that you want to teach your kids? That you want your friends and family to see? Sure, you may, like one woman I saw, get free park passes for you and your family off of a faked complaint, but was it really worth it? Is saving money worth compromising your values? Just because the company gave it to you doesn’t make it right that you faked a complaint. Bragging about how you got those tickets to anyone who will listen doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a jerk.

You’re also raising prices for legitimate customers. Those freebies cost the company money and they’re going to make it up somewhere. If they’re doling out lots of comps and freebies on fake complaints, you can bet that the rest of us are going to see it in the prices we pay. You may not care right now, but one day you’re going to have to pay those higher prices, too.

And, worst case, you can cost someone their job. If you mention an employee’s name in your fake complaint, or give enough information that an employee could be potentially identified as having caused your “distress” (which you likely did if your complaint was at all believable), you can get a person fired or suspended. Was it worth it for a free meal or coupon?

If you have a legitimate gripe with a company, by all means complain. They may not know they’ve done anything wrong and may welcome the chance to make it better. If they send you something as a result of that, great. But creating complaints and “incidents” just to get free stuff isn’t being frugal, it’s stealing.

(Photo courtesy of khawkins04)

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17 Responses to Complaining Just to Get Free Stuff

  1. I only complain when it is warranted. I do strive to receive comps, but I don’t do it just because.

  2. Boy,I can surely relate to this article. It happens to online small businesses constantly.

  3. This happens all the time and for the most part I think mfg and companies know when it’s a legitimate complaint. I’ve made complaints before and offered to send the product back for their review. I have better things to do with my time than waste it on the phone trying to get an FPC. Any time the word FREE or Discount is listed they already know what will happen. Some people simply don’t care about anyone or anything else all they think is “FREE STUFF” which is a shame especially if someone loses a job over it.One day all good things will come to an end. The benefit to legitimate customer complaints obviously outweigh the complaints that are fake as word of mouth spreads fast. Great post, shared on FB!

  4. scfr says:

    You are correct – It is unethical, fraudulent theft … and maybe much worse. Here is my problem with the jackals who would file false complaints.

    Companies have Quality Control departments. They only have so many staff & hours in the day. They need to be allowed to focus on LEGITIMATE quality concerns so that they can be fixed and implement procedures so that they do not happen again.

    Imagine that many people file false complaints against a food company ….. The company’s QC department is investigating the false complaints …. In the meantime, a legitimate & very serious quality issue has popped up …. If the QC department has been stretched too thin, people could become ill or perhaps even die because the QC department hasn’t been able to jump on the legitimate issue quickly enough.

    It’s like calling in a false report of a fire or crime in progress. Firefighters or police are dispatched to the fake report. If a real fire breaks out or a real crime is being committed, help may be delayed. Property could be destroyed. People could be seriously injured or die.

    Really … People need to stop & think. It’s not ALL about “ME ME ME.”

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I actually refuse comps when I complain. If a product is defective I will accept a new and working one but that’s different. If I call with a customer service or quality complaint I want the company to know that I have a legitimate complaint and that my goal is to have them correct a problem. By accepting a comp I think they then question my complaint and may not take steps to correct the problem.

  6. KLM says:

    See this all the time where I work…even on the company’s Facebook pages, I can see where people are just complaining in order to get free stuff (when one is posting on there, and their spelling is atrocious, they appear to be rambling like they are making a story up, you have to reread the post a couple times to get the drift of what the person is trying to say, to me, those people are either making up a complaint, or are embellishing on something that happened and making it appear worse than it was). Ticks me off when the company caters to these people to “save face” as all that does it open it up to that same person keeping at it, or telling their friends/relatives or anyone who will listen about what they did, then you get those people pulling the same thing. And throwing hissy fits — very childish. There is a right and wrong way to lodge a complaint, and the complaint should be true and legitimate. Those out to get something and making up a story are just jerks. And in the end, we all pay for their false complaints. And I’ve seen employees ripped up one side and down the other for something that didn’t happen or didn’t happen the way the customer says it happened.

  7. Diane says:

    You are right~ I rarely complain about things, unless I have a really legitimate problem. I purchased a shovel with a lifetime guarantee, and the handle broke within 2 years of very light use. I called and they sent me a new one, which I greatly appreciated. They’d obviously had problems with that model, because they knew before I told them which model I was talking about. I also called about some fire logs I purchased, which did not burn (the basic function of fire logs!) and the company sent a coupon for 2 free boxes. I like to do business with companies that make good on their products. But I’m not going to make false claims!

  8. Katie says:

    Boy does this hit home with me. I *used* to have a friend who was a real nice person in many ways, but her obsession with getting things for free drove me nuts. She treated it like a game or scavenger hunt and was after even the smallest freebie she could find. Her ethics about this got to me after a while.

  9. Lisa says:

    Katie, so is that the reason you no longer are her friend? Over that? If she is a real nice person – maybe she could be having a little financial difficulties. If the company is willing to give her something, that doesn’t make it her fault! Its up to the company to or not, companies give away free bee’s all the time, go watch ellen, oprah, or any other talk show, they give out IPADS, COMPUTERS, CARS, ETC.. things that are more of value for free for nothing at all. In these difficult times people try their best to eat food cost 30% higher in the last 3 years, cost of living has gone up too, some people can’t pay the rent…so don’t blame her for it. She is only human – its not stealing if they give it to you, they probably know its a false complaint and don’t care…its great you all have a secure future and well i know someone that does this because a girl i know both her parents died when she was 18 and now she’s 20 and lives on her own has no one and does this at least 1 time a year it helps her out alot…who am i to judge? I’ll be honest i like free bees, i don’t do things like that all the time, but my ethics are good because i don’t steal from stores, friends, families nor have i ever been in jail…and the same thing goes for the girl that i know and i’m sure for the friend you “used” to have!

  10. Dianne says:

    I have a friend that when she and her husband come out to dinner with my family do this every time – and very loudly and rudely as well. After about the fourth time they got their dinner for free and embarassed my family I stopped inviting them to join us. It was not a lesson I want my young children to learn.

  11. Steven says:

    What kind of capitalistic wet dream do we live in when people are so severely brainwashed to believe that it is unethical to rip off corporate evils that are predicated purely upon ripping people off?

    The person that wrote this article actually HAS SYMPATHY for corporate interests and feels it’s morally wrong to defraud them! Jesus. I am surrounded by idiots. The person that wrote this is an idiot.

    Complaining at a mom and pop shop for no reason to get free stuff?? Yeah, that’s wrong. Getting a free gift card from Best Buy??? Please tell me how. Stores like that are pure evil. And I will steal every cent available to me. Guilt free.

  12. Cookie says:

    I totally have to agree with you, Steven. I myself love a freebie and look forward to mail time everyday. Would I steal from a person or a store never, but big companies are expecting it 😉

  13. Kray says:

    I’m with you. This rewards program Best Buy fiasco he described makes me wonder how many people got screwed and didn’t complain therefore leaving extra money for all the illegitimate claims. Who cares if Best Buy and Wal-Mart loses money? When I used to work at McDonald’s I would give free things for any complaint (assuming they weren’t too dicky) not because the claims were warranted or unwarranted but because McDonald’s can afford it. It costs McDonald’s less than 3 cents to make a Large soda. They charge a dollar when they’re running sales. Even if you factor in the cost of rent, employees, and utilities literally everything in the store two to three times the price it needs to be to still be profitable. Big companies don’t give a shit about bad experiences by their customers. They care about profits. If they think a bad experience is going to cut into their profits and they are willing to give free stuff to accommodate the complainers then where’s the victim? I don’t personally complain much without reason. However, I think for all the truly bad experiences people have less than half are ever complained about. The people who didn’t really have a bad experience are just making these companies pay for all the truly bad experiences they’ve put people through.

  14. Nick says:

    The family of the mom and pop shop that I worked for lost their business and their home because of these types of people.

    The family wouldn’t bend over and give free stuff out to every person that threatened to defame their business.

    These people would come on a weekly bases and the first time you refuse service to them, they will defame the business.

    This is just a cost of doing business. If this becomes a trend in your area, give handouts until it’s no longer worth doing business or just close the doors. If you don’t, then you will be destroyed.


  15. Tina says:

    I work at a hotel while some complaints are warrented there are the selected few who only complain for free or discounted stays. I now kick them out on the 2nd or 3rd crazy complaint. The way I feel is if you think the place is so bad why do you want to be here for another night. I don’t charge them for that night if they leave. They pay full price for the other nights stayed.

  16. gesus says:


    what a bunch of wingey cretins you all are

  17. Anon says:

    Wow…aren’t you special? You “actually refuse comps when [you] complain…”

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