Disclaimer: I make a few tongue-in-cheek references to communism and related topics in this Instructable. I don't endorse it as a way to run a country, I'm not getting into a political discussion but where I make these references they are merely meant to amuse. inb4 "pinko".
DIsclaimer 2: it is entirely possible that some of these reward schemes will be scam and no-one gets any free shinies. In this case my method won't help, but I will leave it to your discretion to find a scheme that seems genuine. Bear in mind you are giving away personal details on the internet in exchange for the promise of free stuff, and act accordingly. If you are at all unsure about the trustworthiness of a scheme, don't give them your credit card number, home address or a valued email account. It goes without saying that details like your social security number etc. shouldn't even cross your mind to divulge under these circumstances.
Step 1: How They Work
If you get a certain number of your own referrals, ie. you get people to join the scheme, as a reward for providing the scheme with 9 fresh new consumers you are eligible for a free gift. Usually between around 8 and 25 referrals are required, for gifts of varying values from mobile phones to flatscreen TVs, games console packages or gift vouchers. If the people who you referred get their own referrals, then they too get free gifts and so on ad infinitum.
In these examples I will assume you require eight referrals to get an unspecified "shiny gift".
EDIT: the editor seems to be persistently losing my comment boxes. "Diddly squat" means "nothing".
Step 2: Why They Will Only Ever Benefit a Minority
If you require N referrals to get a gift, that means for every gift given out there are N people without one, who have already signed up for some referral scheme. In the case of large trees this means that approximately (N-1)/N of the people involved lose out because they don't get a gift but have already signed up, and 1/N of the people get gifts so benefit.
The way that these schemes differ from traditional pyramid schemes, however, is that the reward for people on higher levels is of greater value than the sum of the contributions that led to it being given out. You might get a moderate value free gift with just nine people signing up for a scheme and not necessarily paying any money- perhaps 20 minutes work each. Unless you are in a hideously well-paid job and twenty minutes of your time is worth a lot of money, in which case you can buy your own dang console.
This is the fact that we will exploit in the next step. The gifts that work for my method are consoles and to a lesser extent other similar items- huge TVs, mobile phones, etc. don't work so well. The gifts on the site pictured in the intro step wouldn't be great as they are hard to share.
Step 3: How to Beat the System
YOU WILL NEED:
- an internet connection
- a number of friends, equal to the number of referrals required for your chosen gift, who live locally to you
- trust and common sense
- A large piece of paper and a pen
Firstly, you need to choose a gift that can be shared. Obviously mobile phones don't work too well in this- a console such as a Wii would work well, that was what I chose for my (sadly failed) attempt at this. If your scheme doesn't have any suitable gifts, ditch it and find another.
Secondly, make sure that the scheme you have chosen has a non-onerous option you can sign up for. Ideally it should not involve spending any money, or signing up for excessive spam. We found one that just involved signing up for a trial video rental scheme, and rent one video that could be cancelled before it was shipped and your money would be refunded. If the scheme doesn't have a quick and cheap or free referral option, ditch it and find another. There are plenty around.
Thirdly, you need to write up an agreement. This should be something along the lines of
"We, the undersigned, agree to partake in the below mentioned free gift referral scheme in order to get one _(gift). _ (organiser) will keep said gift but it will be made available to any member of this agreement on request.
We agree to partake in _(easy referral option). In the event that any members of the group do not fulfil their referral requirements, they shall be liable for the cost of buying an equivalent _(gift) to be split equally between them."
This means that if only one or two people don't bother to do the referral, they are required to split the cost of buying the item between themselves, and the more people who sign up, the more it would cost them not to sign up. If the terms are made clear at the start, this isn't an onerous requirement, and surely they would rather spend 20 minutes filling in an online registration form and maybe registering a free email address than paying for half of a PS3?
Missing out this step was the crucial part I missed when I tried this. I got five people to refer, but three lamed out and said they couldn't be bothered to spend ten minutes filling in a form for a part share in a Wii, then the rest got disillusioned and I was left with a shattered dream and an inbox full of marketing spam about video rental. (sniff)
Moral of the story is, have a firm agreement to all sign up for the scheme, don't just say "hey you guys, wouldn't it be cool if we did this and got a Wii for the house?"
If you write up this contract, and everyone goes away and does their referral, and the scheme you chose was genuine, the scheme organiser should receive one shiny gift in the mail. Take the money you saved on not buying the item new, get some beers and have your friends over to enjoy your new shiny consumer electronics.