The ugly truth about some affiliate programs

Online scam signs library

While using the Internet and mobile devices, we are exposed to roughly to 50 – 100 advertising message per day. That includes regular ad banners, textual ads, native ads (ads disguised as content) and emailing.

Our incredible human brain did adapt to this avalanche of ads by developing what is called now banner blindness. We, as web users or visitors, our consciously and subconsciously ignore banner-like information. We still click on ads 2% of the time, though.

When you click on an ad or a link in an email there are two possible outcomes. It’s either:

  • A legit business with a product you might need or not.
  • A scam offer.

So, you are probably asking yourself, how can you differentiate both?

Well, luckily, there are signs that can help you stop a scam miles away. Knowing them will spare you falling for it 🙂

But first, let’s get you familiar with online scams before diving in.

The nasty thing about scams

Scams are built to deceive you and unfortunately, they excel on that from all sides.

Properly developed scams will somehow give you the impression that you need a particular product or service, but the real intention is to:

  • Sell you an overpriced, low quality, unnecessary, fictive, fake product and most likely a nightmare to quit payment system.
  • Upsell you with additional products and services.
  • Get your personal and financial information to sell it or reuse it later.
  • Hook you up with a good looking business opportunity so you can spread the word yourself and scam other people.

Luckily, most scams follow the same system and use the same elements and tools all the time. And that makes them easy to spot.

The payment gateway complicity

To help others uncovers scams, I do engage and buy scammy offers to test how the seller will try to convince me, how the refund policy will go through and if the payment gateway will ultimately flag the scam artist as so and stop them once and for all.

You will be shocked if I told you that most of the payment processing companies, like Paypal, will give them a pass.

In countless times, I got the refund, but the seller didn’t refund the amount or got penalized. They got to keep whatever amount they managed to get from their victims and continue their activity without any problem.

They get a pass because they make millions of dollars turnaround per year. No payment processing company can afford to let that go.

The typical scam

A scam uses one or all of the elements I’m about to reveal to you. If you encounter:

  • At least one item: start suspecting that it is a scam.
  • Two items: raise your guard because it is probably a scam.
  • More than two items: it is a scam.

I will list here all scam signs that we know about. And give you real world illustration of each element, detail, and part that will help you stop nearly any type of online scams using sales pages.

Why are we releasing this scam signs library?

To serve as a database of scammy practices. It will help us refer to these practices in our articles instead of having to rewrite the whole thing on each uncovered scam.

We also hope that our effort will help keep up with how scams evolved drastically compared to a decade ago. We rarely see old fashion blank pages with badly written copies:

  • The process in professionalized, highly adapted to the targeted country, culture, gender, age.
  • The tactics grew to be way more effective.
  • Even scam artists changed their mindset and now provide consequent help to train their affiliate to reach the scam’s target and close a sale.

We hope that our effort will help fight scams and protect you all.

We beg you to take the time to check out the scam signs and keep up with the updated.

Design and structural elements

Page design and structure

One of the easiest ways to recognize a scam. By the design of its landing page.

Scam typical layout

Flat design with the following parts showing right away:

  • A catchy big title with high impact, selling words, highlighted, bolder or with another color.
  • A video section set to autoplay.
  • A call to action mentioning that it’s a special, discounted, time sensitive offer with an add to cart/order button.

Lengthy uncontrollable videos

One of the most used scam tools and most dangerous part of any fraud. A Lengthy video of ten minutes to an hour that you can’t control most of the time. The sweet spot of this particular component seems to be 30mn.

We are talking about a very simple video, usually slideshow, with a voice-over narrative. It contains:

  • A clear voice, starting with a presentation and following up with a story.
  • Texts to help you read and follow.
  • Pictures and short video footage to make you illustrate the concepts related to the pitch.
  • Sometimes a presenter or testimonials videos are included too.

The video appears at the center of the sales page without any content surrounding it. It will usually play automatically.

On affiliates pages, it will be part of the content.

Videos of this kind are dangerous tools because it’s built to befriend you and make you relate to a particular case and convince you that whatever they sell is the answer.

What makes it a killer tool is it’s highly targeted. It’s like using the right sauce with the right dish. It’s most likely to be eaten when served.

Order button

Expect a nice, big button. Sometimes surrounded by a red, pen-like, mark or a check sign.

The button has an action order like:

  • Order now.
  • Buy now.
  • Pay now.
  • Get instant access now.
  • Download now.
  • Add to your cart.

And similar.

Here is a sample.

Order now sample

It is also regularly presented with payment means icons and a 100% money-back guaranteed icon.

Fake testimonials

It is, unfortunately, an extremely misleading practice. People trust other people’s judgment. But they don’t bother to verify if these testimonials they decide to believe, blindly, are from real buyers and users.

Here’s an example:

Sample testimocial

The above testimonials are part of a scam for “Natural healing secrets” selling for $40.

All those pictures are stock images for models. You can find them on the following marketplaces:

Stock pictures are the easiest sign to spot scams. It can be challenging for unfamiliar users to identify a real picture from a stock one.

As a tip, not all testimonials pictures can be bright, in a good stance, and featuring individuals with a broad smile decorating their faces . And not all testimonials can be positive. You can’t have five stars all the time! No product or service is that perfect.

A second tip while I’m on it. If you can’t verify the authenticity of the testimonial, don’t trust it.  Amazon is an example of trustworthy testimonials. The platform adds Verified Purchase mention on the reviewer who effectively purchased the product from Amazon.

Real testimonial sample

The score can be positive or negative. It’s a fair assessment of the customer’s satisfaction, and it shows up no matter what the score is. The product’s owner can’t remove it.

Offer related elements

Unbelievable promises

A bit difficult to guess. You need to have some life experience that will help you dissociate the fake from the real thing.

Hopes and desperation fuel scams. They are pretty good at building the right story, reasons, false proofs and whatever will make you say yes in a snap.

Here are few examples of obvious scams hitting your particular desire:

  • Wish to get a smooth and effortless income?

Make $10k a month by working only 2 hours a day! 

  • Hope to find a cure a pain or discomfort that conventional medicine couldn’t relieve or heal?

Master the ancient art of healing and relief any pain using the miracle touch.

  • Want something extremely expensive at a very affordable price tag?

Get 16000 woodwork plans and build any furniture yourself! 

Don’t let your desire blind you from devious and unreal promises.

Instant discount and freebies

Anytime somebody gives you something for FREE for the same, double or triple the product’s price; there are 99.99% chances that it is a scam.

  • Considerable instant discounts. Most likely half the price and even beyond.
  • Any additional FREE item linked to the purchase. With a claimed to be higher price, probably the same, double, triple the main product’s price tag.

It’s 99.99% a scam.

Here is an example:


The instant discounts are legitimate marketing incentives when they are reasonable. Scams push that boundaries to the extreme and will give considerable discounts EVERY SINGLE TIME.

The freebie can be a free add-on, gift, bonus, giveaway. The additional free items are meant to:

  • Make you feel you own them something in return.
  • Convince you that it’s a good deal.
  • Make the primary product a must-have-item to unlock the rest.
  • Help giving a higher value to the primary product.

An example that I covered recently. The free item was about how to create a business from the skill that you will acquire from the primary product. The victim can’t help but see it as an opportunity to build a healthy business from home.

Scarcity, time sensitive offer, limited quantity

A scam tries to create the sense of urgency because they need to lock the sale as soon as possible.

Time limited offer

  • Offer ends in the next hour, 12 hours or 24 hours. Sometimes with a quick countdown to stress the prospect even more.
  • Allegations that the offer, discount, special is time sensitive. And there is no guarantee that they will redo the same offer sometime in the future.
  • Very limited quantity, spots, places that can run out anytime.

These are all stimulus to make you buy the product promptly without overthinking it or asking around before resolving to buy it or not.

30 days, 60 days, 90 days money back, no question asked refund

Any honest business offers a grace period to make sure you are fully satisfied with your purchase. Scams mimic that but with a twist.

Money back guaranteed

Sometimes, the refund will go through with no issue.

But almost always, the return policy is so complicated and so twisted that it’s a real achievement to initiate the refund process and finish it in time successfully.

The challenge is to reach out to the return email within the grace period. The main issue here is to get them to respond and follow up with their refund procedure.

Intentional delay of responses in a standard practice to make you neglect to answer to all their emails in time or to lose your cool. Once you reach the set deadline or start a fight with them, you are ineligible for the refund under any circumstance.

It’s an endurance game where scam victims need to keep their temper incredibly cool and their attention and compliance to whatever the scammer asks for at the highest levels.

Any respected scam artist includes a close to reserve the right to grant the refund at their discretion. This detail overrules any sales promises they make, such as returns are guaranteed no questions asked. So, legally speaking, there is no guarantee you will get a refund. At least, not the easy way.


Lucrative affiliate program

Another undeniable sign.

All respected brands, marketplaces and any company evaluating their products and services can afford a limited commission level for affiliates.

I will cite Amazon as an example once again. They have a commission rate going from 4% (for up to 6 sales) to 8.5% (for at least 3000+ items sold). And the progressive commission rate if subject to a month of activity period.

90% commission payout

Scam based products give away the most of the product’s income to their affiliates since they are the most important marketing component of any scam artist. All scammers not only want to fool people buying their goods and services, but they ALWAYS try to automate the process and get others to bring an ads & investment free traffic, prospects, and victims.

Expect at least 50%, even for one sale, up to 90% in some highly aggressive scams like the one in the above screenshot.

Price related elements

Price tag

Scam always overprice their product or service before and after discount.

Hundreds of dollars regular price will sell for a half, one-third or a quarter or even less of the claimed regular price.

Drastic price drop

Prices ending with 7 seem to be a widely used practice for the pricing protocol in scams.

If you find one of those price tags $97, $67, $47, $57, $37, $27, then it’s highly likely a scam.

Quick price change depending on your intention

Scams want your money, and they want it bad.

Adapting the offer’s price depending on your reaction is an efficient way to target any customers as follow:

  • If you go through without a fuss, they will try to make up-sells (selling you more quantities or other products).
  • If you don’t seem like an easy prey, they will offer down-sells in forms of discounts. The most used technique is the one monitoring your exit intent (getting away from the sales page). They can provide up to 3 discounts to get your money. You can quickly drop prices like $97 to $27. Or $47 to $9.
  • Some will attempt to get at least a $1 price tag as a last resort + $9 automatic payment after a week that you can presumably cancel if you’re not satisfied with the product.

Always try to close the sales page or hit the back button on your browser to see what will happen. Getting one discount at a reasonable rate (up to 10%) on exit intent is a common sales practice. Scams are the only business on Earth that can only afford to give away large and multiple discounts.

Other elements

Fake personas, owners, authors

Nowadays, owners’ identify is one of the easiest details to unveil. Serious professionals always make their profiles public and easily findable using a simple research.

A known person could easily be checked and identified as a scammer. That’s why on all scams you will never find who is really behind it. The scam artist uses a common name with stock pictures as cover.

As part of my Waging war against CPA Network & Scams initiative, I regularly unveil scams and fake identities. And I must say, it’s very challenging to do so.

Fake references

Another detail to look for is if the businesses and references mentioned are real.

Fake association

Beware of fake companies, associations, organizations and state departments. For example, “The International Council of Truth in Medicine” is false. It is presented as an official, legit organization, ruled by known practitioners and medicine professors.

The lie goes beyond a simple use on the scams sales page. “The Internation Council of Truth in Medicine” is backed by its fake website without any terms of use, privacy policy or contact information.

Looking for the legitimacy of linked entities is mandatory.

Marketplaces to avoid at any cost

Many affiliate marketing platforms allow scammy products and service. They don’t bother verifying every single product added to their folio.

Like payment processing companies, they can’t afford to let high revenue streams offers go away.

I’m sharing for the sake of raising awareness and nothing more. When you see one of those websites at some point in the checkout process, and you see one of the other scam signs, consider it as a red flag.

Last words

I hope I’ve covered enough signs to make honest people spot any scams lurking in the dark. You have no excuse now to give your money away for individuals who don’t deserve it.

I will update the list whenever I got something new.

Don’t forget to share to warn your loved ones .

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