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does it work and can you get penalized for it?
Yes and yes.
have you used such techniques and are they worth it?
Yes in the past and sometimes.
However, don't take my word on this. Do some research by analyzing some competitive keywords.
On the other hand ogletree and larryhatch say:
It can't hurt you at all. If it could then everybody would be doing it to their competiters. All they can do is make it not help you they can't hurt you for it.
How would the Big G know that you're cheating? Do they spider for standard blogs/guestbooks and designate them as "bad linking zones"... and when you get too many of these "bad backlinks" they would drain your PR? That's the only way I see how they could monitor for this. And would they remember you WhoIs info and kill other sites that you may own?
The impression that they work is perhaps because any site that has huge numbers of these links are obviously running an aggresive link gathering campaign so will pick up more acceptable links than those just waiting for them to come naturally
Considering Google always says that "buying links" could hurt you, its easy to infer that some sorts of inbound links could have penalties.
Also, Yahoo and Disney rank highly for term "exit"... how come? Because porn sites have enter/exit page that link to these types of sites. If these aren't a "bad neighborhood", I don't know what is.
Of course, you're always better off with relevant inbound links from related sites...