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One of many shopping apps. (WSET)

The tricks and risks of earning money while you shop



LYNCHBURG, Va (WSET) - How would you like to go on a shopping spree and end up with more money than you started with? Anita Villareal has multiple cabinets full of items she got for free, or pretty darned close.

On any given day, she's stocked up with multiple tubes of toothpaste, bottles of mouthwash, jars of spaghetti sauce -- just about anything you can name, she has. For many of these items, she even made money by buying them!

She runs through one of her receipts: "I bought several things. I bought some detergent, some Dial soap, some toothpaste, some makeup, I bought some shampoo and I only paid 89 cents, which was the tax." After submitting the shampoo to a shopping app, Villareal earned $ 2. So, she got $45.46 worth of items for free, and a net gain of $1.11.

But is she buying more things than she needs? "I think sometimes I do, but then I don't have to buy them because I get them for free," Villareal explains.

So, how does she do it? A lot of homework. Every week she spends about three hours doing research. She checks store ads, collects coupons and searches online for others to print. Plus, she uses at least three shopping apps including <b>Checkout 51</b>, <b>Fetch Rewards</b> and <b>Ibotta</b>. Some work like coupons, where instead of the discount at the register, it gets banked into an account. Others give points that you can redeem for items or e-cards. Some specify the store where you need to buy the items. They also provide specific items for you to buy. Villareal submits the same item to multiple apps to maximize her earning potential.

But at what price? Elmer Hoeksema, co-director of Lynchburg College's cybersecurity program, says there could be several downsides to using the apps. "They don't do it for your benefit. These coupons and apps are not for your benefit. That doesn't mean they can't be beneficial to you, but that's how you use them," he said.

Hoeksema says every receipt you upload is a piece of the puzzle the app is collecting about you. "Not only when you're actually uploading your receipt or actually using a coupon, but as long as the app is installed on your phone, it may collect data about your whereabouts and your activities," he explained.

He also says they may try to influence your behavior. "It's almost psychological warfare where they try to manipulate you most of the time to spending more money or spending money on their product instead of the competition," said Hoeksema.

Villareal says she knows that might be happening, but it doesn't bother her. "They probably sell your name, your info, but I'm not going to buy anything I don't use and if I get junk mail through the email, I just ignore them," she explained.

Villareal says it's all about self-discipline, common sense and maximizing all your resources, because one app alone might have you buying more and spending more than you need to. "I think you have to do multiple apps, double couponing and the things that are on sale. I think you have to do multiple things in order for you to get the most from your shopping," she advised.

One other resource she recommends is the Krazy Coupon Lady website. She gets a lot of coupons and tips from there.

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