Finding Pop-Up Prizes on the Internet

Michael Levy, a Johns Hopkins neurology resident, reveals his strategy for mining Internet pop-up ads for valuable free stuff — a laptop computer, a portable GPS system, a vacuum cleaner and more.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Now, here's a story that may make you want to deactivate your pop-up blocker. Two years ago, Michael Levy, a neurology resident at Johns Hopkins, was surfing the Web when a pop-up ad appeared. Click here for a $50 gift certificate to Chili's. He clicked, and forgot about it. A few months later he received a Chili's gift card in the mail. Since that time, Dr. Levy has received thousands of dollars worth of stuff by responding to the pop-up ads that most of us dispatch: a laptop, a digital camera, a $500 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, a vacuum cleaner, and more.

He joins us in our studios.

Thanks very much for being with us, Dr. Levy.

Dr. MICHAEL LEVY (Johns Hopkins University): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Now, you, as we said, you're a neurology resident at Johns Hopkins. Where do you find the time for this?

Dr. LEVY: You know, there's always a few minutes after paging someone that I'm sitting at a computer and not doing anything. And I just - I keep a spreadsheet at home and all of the gift offers, and everything I have to do and who I talk to and what I have left to do. And it's just becomes so easy for now that it doesn't take as much time as it did at the beginning.

SIMON: What do you have in your closet in Baltimore that wasn't there until you started answering these things?

Dr. LEVY: Well, I think the vacuum cleaner, the GPS system - the portable GPS system in my car - and the Mac laptop are probably my three favorite gifts.

SIMON: Good Lord. So but I mean, do you get Barnes and Noble gift certificates?

Dr. LEVY: You do. And I have got several other gifts...

SIMON: TGIF restaurants or something?

Dr. LEVY: I don't bother with the little things anymore. I just kind of go for the sort three to $500 gifts because...

SIMON: Oh, because a mere $50 gift certificate isn't worth your time, yeah.

Dr. LEVY: Well (unintelligible) time and benefit ratio. So it has to be worthwhile enough for me to pursue it, but it can't take up too many resources of time or money.

SIMON: So now the Mac laptop, for example.

Dr. LEVY: Mm-hmm. That was just a Google search. Mac laptop free. One of the paid advertisements was offering the laptop for six of these sort of offers that you have to complete, including signing up for Netflix, which I actually enjoy. And after the six were done, about eight months later, after calling and canceling and pursuing, the Mac laptop finally came in the mail.

SIMON: Why do you think companies - what's their motive, as you been able to determine it, in giving all this stuff away?

Dr. LEVY: I think they make money. I think that most people don't follow through, or they don't cancel everything they're supposed to cancel, or they're not organized. And I think they want people like me to sort of spread the word so that people can try for these free offers and probably fail.

SIMON: Have you passed along some of your secrets to friends?

Dr. LEVY: I try to. I don't think most people believe me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. LEVY: I've had some people say, oh no, I don't believe that. Or you're dealing drugs on the side, or something like that.

SIMON: Dr. Levy, pleasure to talk to you.

Dr. LEVY: It's been a pleasure, thank you.

SIMON: Michael Levy is a neurology resident at Johns Hopkins University and a pop-up ad wiz in whatever he has for spare time.

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