How to Avoid Affiliate Marketing Scams (and Get-rich-quick schemes)

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Many of us would like to run our own businesses but we usually don't have the capital required to start one.

Affiliate marketing is a great way around the risk and start-up costs.

It costs nothing to join and the risk is minimal. There are many lucrative affiliate programs for you to get involved with, however, as with anything you need to be cautious.


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You need to work very hard to build up your affiliate marketing business so you will want to be legitimate.

In this guide, I will teach you some of the signs to look for and tell you how to avoid affiliate marketing scams.

When joining an affiliate program, you usually sell a physical or digital product and you're paid on how much you produce. There are no costs and risk. You put in what you choose and are rewarded accordingly. How you decide to do this is mostly up to you.

However, many scammers out there are ready to take either your money or your work to use for their benefit. Countless people lose money on these online business scams.

While it is impossible to mention every precaution you should take, there are some signs that you can look for.

Obvious red flags that scream affiliate marketing scam

Earning promises

How many times have you seen an ad promising high earnings? Things like "Make $1000 a day" or Join our program now and become a millionaire. Ignore companies that promise huge salaries with little effort; it just won't happen.

Many people reach success with affiliate marketing programs. However, they do work incredibly hard. If you look up some of the most successful affiliate marketers, they made big bucks after failing with a few attempts or after a year or longer. 

Pat Flynn, for example, earned more than $50,000 5 years after he started with affiliate marketing. The same is true with Jeremy Schoemaker, except that he earned an estimated $2,000,000 to $4,000,000 in 5 years.


Get-rich-quick schemes

Any offer to earn you overflowing wealth in a matter of days or hours is rarely legitimate. 

Unfortunately, a lot of people still fall for it because of the need to make easy money. This is probably why get-rich-quick schemes remain prevalent and causing reputable affiliate marketing programs serious problems. 

If you were to choose between a strategy with long-term and short-term returns, you're likely to choose the latter. Why take the long road ahead when you can take a shortcut, right?

In the world of affiliate marketing, such scams are endless, from selling real estate and flipping houses to trading stocks and other ways to earn a lot of money with little effort. 

The real give-away is that you'll be asked to send money to receive a training kit or whatever you're supposed to use to get rich quickly. 

Remember, legitimate affiliate marketing programs are free to join.

Another red flag is the unrealistic returns. Think about; can you really earn a thousand dollars in just 3 hours after you signed up? Based on the experience of actual successful affiliates, the answer is no.

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is.

Alibi products or no products/services to sell

If you look closely at some companies, you realize they are not actually selling anything. However... In most cases, they have an everyday low-quality product.

Of course, the value of that products does not matter much in this case, just the reselling opportunity. A company that just sells the opportunity to make money is likely a scam.

When looking for information, you'll likely find a detailed description of what the company sells. They should also have a disclaimer and terms and conditions listed. So before joining, check to see what the company is selling.

Companies that sell the opportunity to make money are likely pyramid schemes. There is no income being created, no value added, just money being passed from one person to another. Not only are these scams and you might lose what you invested, but they are also illegal and you can face prosecution.

It is unfortunate that this type of internet marketing scam has evolved into fake products and services that are sold under the name of a well-established business. 

An unsuspecting marketer like you may believe that the deal is credible, considering how toro and professional the false programs are created. They even make product catalogs and write customer reviews. They even go as far as to hire phony spokespeople to show a legitimate front.

One way to spot this type of scam is to check reviews. If you see nothing but overly-positive praises, then be suspicious. Even the best brands have negative reviews or comments. 

You should also be wary of product images that seem unrealistic or taken from stock photos. Real merchants will always make an effort to glamorize the products they market. So anything blurry and with a poor resolution is likely to be fake. 

Fake training or online courses

This is one of the more popular affiliate marketing scams because a lot of people are looking to learn something new at their most convenient. Many newbie affiliates have fallen victim to training courses offered to get them started in the industry. 

There are e-books, courses, webinars and other training programs being offered that are nothing more than a rip-off.

income claim scam_earning promise scam

After you parted with your money and received what is supposedly your training materials, you won't actually learn anything useful. The e-book you get is likely to be full of fluff with lessons that are far from real or actionable. 

So make sure to research before you pick any training program. Read reviews and find out what other people are saying. If it's a fake training for affiliate marketing or something else, an unhappy client is sure to leave feedback or negative comments. So watch out for those. 

You should also check if an e-book is offered on Amazon. If it's a ripoff, you are sure to find lots of negative reviews.

In addition to scams, affiliate fraud can also happen. This is characterized by:

  • Stolen data that will be used to generate leads. In this case, your credit card is likely to be compromised.
  • Cookie stuffing is when a visitor's computer is loaded with cookies when they visit a fraudulent site. The affiliate then gets paid for future purchases, regardless if a user clicks the affiliate link or not. 
  • Adware or spyware that must be downloaded, so that a fraudulent affiliate marketer can automatically add in their affiliate code. 

But a more sinister form of affiliate fraud is when a website copies the content of the original affiliate website to divert traffic away from it. Not only are they hurting you but also the actual affiliate program.

Imagine if affiliate marketing scams and fraud come from a single source. You'll be facing twice the trouble.

So the best course of action is to protect yourself against such scams. You already know the red flags. Now, it's time to beat the system, so to speak.

If you are looking for ways to make money online or as a side hustle, check out the top businesses for teens. This is a great resource by iAmAttila that outlines legitimate ways someone can make money on the side without a lot of (or any) up front investment.

How to avoid affiliate marketing scams: bogus affiliate programs

how to avoid affiliate marketing scams


You definitely have to ask the company for testimonials. You shouldn't rely on those that they post on their website. Anyone might have written those. Ask for addresses and names of people that you can contact to find out how the program worked for them. Try searching on your favorite search engine, too. By checking under scams or the company name, you have a great chance of digging up any dirt that is out there.

Study the testimonials carefully. If you find some bad reviews, this shouldn't put you off. People are just sometimes not cut out for certain programs. With more good than bad out there, things will likely be okay. You might also use these testimonials for advice on what to do and what not to do.

Free participation

Another sign to watch out for is no free participation. In case you have to pay to join, then you may have stumbled upon an internet marketing scam or a multi-level marketing program. MLM programs are completely legal and some people make good livings out of them. I have no problem with MLM's if they offer high-quality products and not just so-called alibi products.

A true and legitimate affiliate program is free. That is part of its attraction. There are no costs to you and it should also be risk-free. Any affiliate marketing program that demands your money might not be a legitimate one.

You should ask yourself why they are presenting themselves this way if they are legitimate. If you find a company you are interested in then check the start-up costs. These should be minimal or completely free.

However, if they want you to invest a lot of initial money, then find something else. The chances are high that they will take your money and run, leaving you with a worthless product.

Company's track record

Check the company's track record. If you don't find the proper information, then this should be a warning.

Beware of new companies.

Good affiliate programs have been around for a while and have a track record. Resist the temptation to join up while the offer is still hot.

If it is a great program, it will still be there in a few months.

Support, website, physical address

An affiliate marketing program should also provide you with some kind of support. This can include someone that you can contact with questions or problems.

They should also give you advice on how to market their products. A true company always want you to do well. The better you perform, the better they do. It should at very least contain a toll-free phone number, fixed street address and email address.

getresponse affiliate program

For an online affiliate marketing company, the lack of a website or email address is definitely a red flag. Other things, such as no phone number or address do not mean necessarily that they want to scam you. However, you need to investigate them further.

A good test is to send the company an email with some basic questions. If it takes them weeks to get back to you, then you need to give this venture careful consideration. If they are poor at communication, this could be a sign of other internal problems.

If the company has no website, then you should consider something else. Legitimate affiliate marketing programs generally have a detailed website with all the information you need. You should be suspicious of companies that operate only by email.

These factors do not always mean that the affiliate program is a scam but it should be looked at carefully.

Search results

The quickest way to check any affiliate program's legitimacy is to run a search online. A well-known scam will always have reports and reviews made by frustrated victims. Even when complaints don't run a mile long, 5 or so negative comments should be reason enough to steer clear of it. 

You can even ask Google if a particular affiliate program is fake. 

  • Is the “affiliate program name” a scam?
  • Is the “affiliate program name” a ripoff? 
  • Is the “affiliate program name” legitimate?

For testing purposes, I ran a search using the phrase “Is Bluehost affiliate program a scam?”

There's no search result that directly answers the question. What I did find is a review about Bluehost that lists some of its downsides. See? No such thing as the perfect affiliate program. 

There's something else interesting I found - a YouTube video of someone who lost money from HostGator affiliate and dished out his frustration through a rap song. 

That's one program you should tick off your list.

Commission percentage

Similar to get rich quick schemes, an affiliate program that pays unrealistic commissions may be a scam. It is true that there are legitimate affiliate programs with high payouts.

  • Bluehost affiliate program offers affiliates with a one-time payout starting at $65+.
  • Hostinger pays up to $150 per sale using a tiered pricing structure.
  • Bigcommerce has a bounty payment of 200% to 500%, which starts at $60 and go as high as $1,500.
  • Wix pays affiliates with $100 for every sale made.

As you can see, payouts are high but there are conditions that need to be met. If an affiliate program pays a commission with no barrier, think twice before becoming a partner. 

A smart business will also ensure its profit before anything else. Why would they pay anyone more than what they earn from a sale? It doesn't make sense if you think about it. 


Affiliate marketing is an awesome way to start working for yourself. With lots of hard work and creativity, you could be well on your way to great earnings doing something that you enjoy.

Click here to read my complete list about the best affiliate programs with recurring commissions.

There are many great affiliate marketing programs out there and choosing the right one may seem like a daunting task. I hope this guide will help you regarding how to avoid affiliate marketing scams and choose the right ones for you.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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