The internet be scammin’. It’s just the truth. Learning how to spot a scam is an essential tool for survival if you want to work and make money online. There are lots of websites that explore and list online scams (and many of them are themselves scams – by listing a bunch of scams, they build up your trust and credibility so they can scam you more easily), and Freesourcery doens’t intend to be one of them. However, they are an inevitable part of life online, so it’s worth discussing.

Make Money Online Scams

There are a few different types of these scams, so let’s look at them:

Fake Survey/GPT Sites and Apps

These are sites and apps that claim to pay you for completing surveys, responding to advertisements, or for doing small, repetitive tasks, but they are actually scams. They make money three ways:

  1. They show you advertising. Having a robust user base means that they can sell more ads and more ad space to other sites/apps and make money off of it.
  2. They sell your contact information. They encourage you to sign up for their site, and to sign up for other things (for example, “make $2 for signing up for a free trial of X”) and the more stuff you sign up for, the more spam you get.
  3. They encourage you to sign up your friends. The more people you recruit to the scam, the better the scam works, so there will be incentives to recruit other people.

There are a number of legitimate survey/small task/GPT sites and apps, but a lot of them are scams.

How to Spot a Fake Survey App Scam

Read reviews. The worse the scam, the greater the likelihood that there will be a bunch of people complaining about it. Don’t pay as much attention to lengthy, written blog reviews (for reasons explained below, these are themselves often scams), but look for lots of complaints on the app review pages, on social media pages, and other places where the general public can comment.

Be skeptical of positive reviews. A huge number of people make money online by affiliate marketing, so they are rewarded for recruiting other people to the scam. If you notice a blogger or reviewer who gives an overwhelming number of 5 star, all positive reviews of things, and asks you to use their link to sign up, be skeptical. Also be skeptical of positive reviews (like on the app store or Amazon or wherever) that are 5 stars but only one or two words, or vague and misspelled (“Great!” “I make money good!”). You can make money online writing these fake reviews that are intended to drive up the average star ratings, but don’t do that.

Do the math. For example, a lot of these sites/services pay you to watch videos and the like. It may seem like a decent deal to get paid a penny or two to watch a 30 second video, using the rationale that you’re not doing anything else at the moment anyway. But if you do the math, and it comes out to less than a dollar an hour AND you have to deal with a flood of spam, just skip it.

Affiliate Marketing Scams

Affiliate marketing is simply the practice of encouraging people to purchase something from someone else. Affiliate marketing itself is a fine way to make money online, and lots of people have blogs where they talk about their favorite products from Amazon and link to those products, and collect a commission. For the most part, where there is fair and open disclosure that this is what’s happening, and the reviews are meaningful, there’s nothing wrong with affiliate marketing and it’s a good way to make money online.

The problem is affiliate marketing scams, particularly “internet marketing” affiliate marketing scams.

Multi Level Marketing, closely related to a pyramid scheme: it’s one of those annoying things where people use recursive logic and tiny legal loopholes to justify participating in these toxic things. Examples are:

  • Pyramid schemes are illegal. This isn’t illegal, therefore it’s not a pyramid scheme.
  • In a pyramid scheme, it is mathematically impossible for everyone to make money. In an MLM scheme, it’s not mathematically impossible, just extremely improbable.
  • The newest one I’ve seen is “that this isn’t MLM because it’s only single level marketing”.

In any instance, what defines these schemes is that there are no actual goods or services being exchanged: people pay to join, and then try to recruit others to pay to join. The legal loophole for modern online MLM scams is that the service being exchanged is internet marketing training that is used to recruit others to pay to join. So there are literally hundreds of “internet/affiliate marketing training programs” that are actually MLM scams.

The dilemma is that these people use all the latest tools and tricks of internet marketing to:

  • Suppress the findability of negative information about the program and only promote positive information.
  • Create huge numbers of positive reviews, undermining the foundation of trust and credibility that allows people to rely on online reviews at all.
  • Reinvent the exact same scheme over and over and over again but change the name and domain in order to keep operating the same way.

How to Spot an Affiliate Marketing Scam

Outrageous claims. If it starts with “I’m just a guy who made a million dollars online and now I’m going to show you my tricks!”, it’s a scam. If it promises you big money with no training, no experience, and no work (“passive income streams!”), it’s a scam.

Lack of disclosure. Beware of any site that demands your contact information before it discloses information about the program. If you are directed to fill out some kind of online form in order to “learn more about this great opportunity”, then prepare yourself for a barrage of spam as people try to sell you this scam.

Too many positive reviews. If you search for it, and get result after result of overwhelmingly positive reviews, particularly if they all use the same language and make the same claims, it’s a scam.

“Done for you” online businesses. A lot of these scams work by selling you an easy, done-for-you online business with huge profits. The “done for you” part is the part where you simply turn around and sell the same product you just bought to other people. Instead of creating and marketing your own original idea, you’re just marketing their product the same way you bought it.

Bait-and-switch reviews. Wealthy Affiliate uses this strategy on thousands of websites. Every single post on these blogs, from hundreds of bloggers, goes something like this: “Is XYZ a scam? Read my review! Yes, XYZ is a terrible scam and you’ll never make money with it. If you want to know how I REALLY make money online, click my link for Wealthy Affiliate!” The initial content/headline is just to rank in Google and get your attention, and then they try to redirect you to buy something else.

Internet marketing is a whole suite of skills that are difficult to learn, and if you want to start an online business (or profitable blog, or anything else), it’s crucial to learn it. But do not invest in these stupid scams. As with everything else, you can learn internet marketing two ways:

  1. For free. This takes a lot of time and a lot of reading and a lot of trial and error. You can read blogs, books, and forums and figure out how to choose an online business model, how to set up your website and ecommerce site, how to generate traffic, how to create content that converts, how to advertise, how to develop a brand, etc etc etc. It’s not easy, but all that information is out there for you for free, if you choose to look for it.
  2. Pay for classes. You can take real classes from real online education resources like Lynda or Udemy or even your local community college and learn this stuff in an academic setting. Yes, it costs money, but it’s faster than the hunt-and-try method.

As with everything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Never, ever give out your contact information, and never, ever pay for anything online without doing your homework and being wary of scams.

Featured photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash