Last Updated on August 31, 2021 by James McAllister

By: James McAllister

18 Comments

Note: Listen to this post instead using the audio player below, and consider subscribing on your favorite podcast player!

In all fields, there are good and bad people.

People that want what’s best for their customers, and those who can only look out for their own selfish interests.

Some say that the internet is like the wild west, where people can pop up, cause harm, and disappear without a trace. In many ways, this is unfortunately still true.

As the internet has evolved and consumers have become more aware, the scams and tricks shady marketers use to steal money from people have evolved as well. Some of these aren’t as obvious as the methods used in years past, and you may not even recognize them even though they’re wildly used.

I recently put together a mini course on identifying these scam tactics, and I’d love to share it with you here.

Let’s take a look at each one of the 10 tactics scammers use, and see how many you can recognize. You’re sure to spot these out there if you pay attention to them!

1. False Scarcity

One of the most common is false scarcity.

False scarcity is making it seem like an offer is going to end, and you’re going to miss out on it unless you take action right now.

The most common examples are saying that there’s only ‘x number of units left’ or those silly countdown timers you often see on sales pages.

Fake, artificial scarcity is so common because it works so well for marketers. People fall for it even if they know that the marketer is likely to be lying, especially if they are already heavily interested in the offer being proposed.

Nobody wants to take the risk of missing out.

Some of these timers are even quite smart, and will track your network’s IP address – meaning the time will sync up even if you view the page on a different device.

Be on the look out for this one, and be sure to watch the videos embedded in this article as they cover each topic in more detail.

2. Long-Term Contracts

Long-term contracts are not always a sign of a scam, but you have to ask yourself an important question:

If the service was really that good, why wouldn’t you want to keep paying for it every month? Surely there should be little risk in asking for a month-to-month contract instead, right?

Scammers utilizing this tactic want to hold you down under the threat of legal action. Be very careful before entering into a long-term contract unless this sort of thing makes sense!

3. Excessive Upsells

Have you ever purchased a product, only to be immediately pressured to buy an even more expensive related product?

This is an upsell, and it’s commonly used in the internet marketing world to extract more money from each person.

Like long-term contracts, these are not necessarily a scam on their own – but they’re commonly used by scammers.

In fact, some cheap products only exist for the sole purpose of pressuring people to buy the more expensive upsell shortly after. The cheap products do not actually solve the problem that you’re hoping to solve, but assure you that the most expensive version will.

It’s terrible. I have seen buyers be taken from a $7 purchase up to a multi-thousand dollar course in the heat of the moment.

Some upsells make sense and can compliment the product well – but not if it invalidates the promises you’ve been made when your purchase the initial product.

If the first purchase doesn’t deliver on its promises, what makes you think the more expensive purchases will?

4. No Contact Information

Legitimate businesses should always have contact information available.

The more options you find, the better.

Live chat, a phone number, and a physical address are better than just an email address (that may not ever actually get checked.)

Note that just because contact information is available however, doesn’t mean that it’s legitimate (or that you’ll receive a response.)

5. Deep Artificial Discounting

When consumers can’t easily establish a baseline price for a specific product, deep artificial discounting can be very powerful.

Artificial discounting is when a marketer claims a product regularly sells for $X amount of dollars, but you can get it now for a much lower price. This is very common with info products, events, and high-value purchases.

The reality is, those products have never sold at the higher price, and the fake, discounted price is actually the true price of the product.

I’m very happy to expose this one because it runs rampant in the industries that I work in.

But how can you tell?

For one, you can look up reviews online that may have been published at earlier dates.

You could also use a tool like the Wayback Machine to view old versions of the sales page.

6. Empty Unrealistic Promises

“Lose 20 pounds in 7 days!”

“Become a millionaire in the next 6 months”

Seems unrealistic, right?

In the heat of emotion though, these claims may just start to become believable. Scammers know just what strings to pull in order to get you to believe these claims, fueling your emotions and creating scenarios in your mind that justify purchasing the product.

As a matter of fact, some of these claims may be true – but not for the average person. Probably not for you either. The marketer technically isn’t lying if they say it’s possible to ‘become a millionaire in the next 6 months’ with their $20,000 program, if even one person actually accomplishes that.

But it completely ignores everybody else that lost their money, with nothing to show for it.

7. Authority

This one is most common with personal brands and people of influence.

They may use their authority and audience to mask any objections or problems with their products. The noise of their fans will bury any legitimate complaints and prevent people from speaking out further.

Analyze whether or not these people are willing to accept criticism, and draw public light to their issues – even if it costs them money. Marketers and entrepreneurs  that have your best interests at heart will appreciate hearing about any pain points, and taking steps to solve them.

At the same time, don’t let the mob mentality or cult following of influencers fool you. When people have superfans, they will hype the product up (and genuinely believe that it’s good) even if objectively speaking, the product is complete garbage.

8. Pyramid, Ponzi, and MLM Schemes

These three are quite similar, but operate a little bit differently. All of them require you to spend money with the promise of making more at some point, and none of them have any real foundation to stand on. There are a few MLMs that are an exception to this, but not many.

I cover a few important questions to ask yourself in the video, but one of the most important is this – where is the outside money coming from? How is everything being funded? If it’s all coming from people within the scheme, and the focus is recruiting even more people into it, chances are you’re partaking in a scam operation.

9. Big Ticket Purchases

Not all big ticket purchases are scams, but many scammers utilize big ticket purchases.

The model suits them very well. It maximizes the amount of money they get from each person, and there are fewer people to cry out when they’ve been scammed.

After all, a scammer would much rather get $1,000 from 10 people than $10 from 1,000 people. Using a lower-priced model, it’s far more likely they’ll be exposed before they make any real money.

10. Fake Reviews And Testimonials

The internet is facing an epidemic of fake reviews and fake testimonials – even on legitimate marketplace websites like Amazon.

Marketers may write these reviews themselves, or pay other people to write the reviews for them.

It’s not always easy to identify fake reviews, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The more similar reviews are in term of tone, length, word choice, phrasing etc, the more likely they’re written by the same person.
  2. Vague reviews (i.e ‘meets expectations’, ‘my husband loves it’) may be a sign of fake reviews. Look for specifics. Specific details indicate the person is actually using that specific product, and also isn’t incentivized to crank out as many reviews as they can (which is the case for review farms.)
  3. Names and photos should be unique – no ‘John Smiths’ and no stock photos
  4. Reviews should be spread out and not posted in batches.

Don’t take reviews at face value – question them and analyze them, keeping the above points in mind!

Conclusion

If you enjoyed this mini-series, I’d really love it if you’d take the time to subscribe to me on YouTube, as I plan to publish a lot more business and entrepreneurial content in the near future.

Additionally, if you’ve ever purchased any one of my products, I’ve added this mini series to your account along with a few bonuses as well, so be sure to check that out!

Finally, if you’ve ever been scammed or you have other points you’d like to add to this list, I’d love to hear from you. Like all of my products, I never consider them to be fully complete. I will continue adding to this over time as I find other useful information to include.

Thank you and here’s to your success,

– James McAllister

About the author 

James McAllister

James is the owner of JamesMcAllisterOnline.com. He started his first blog at the age of 11, and has since gone on to start several successful businesses. In total, these businesses have sold hundreds of thousands of units and have touched millions of lives. Here on JamesMcAllisterOnline.com, he shares his knowledge that brought him to where he is today. If you want to connect with James, follow him on your favorite social networks!

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  1. Great post and thanks for sharing such valuable information with us all. Online marketing scammers are the persons to watch out for as they can’t be easily identified and many people. Your post with this much detailed description and video guides will definitely guide a lot of people in avoiding these scams. Nice work keep posting such tips from time to time.

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    1. Thanks so much! When you aren’t familiar with the scams they can be difficult to spot. Once you’re conscious of them though, they become pretty easy to recognize. It’s just a matter of watching out for them.

      As I discover more tactics I’ll be sure to update the mini course with those also.

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…Entrepreneurs – It’s Okay To Hate Your Own Company (But Here’s How To Fix It)My Profile

  2. Hello James McAllister,
    I just wanna say you that you are really a great person. You explained step by step regarding market scams which is very helpful to us. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable and informative article. Keep doing on such a great things.

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  3. Hi James,

    You’re so right, and I’m glad I found this ost. In fact, I fell into the exact scam of false scarcity and paid $397 for a digital product that didn’t deliver. It was a wake-up call for me. Even though there was a 100% money back, but still I didn’t get my money.
    Thank you for your insights.

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    1. Hey Moss, sorry to hear that that happened to you. That’s incredibly frustrating and it’s unfortunate that you had to go through that.

      You actually brought up another important thing I forgot to mention – deceptive refund policies. Many scammers will also claim to have a generous refund policy, but make it incredibly difficult to actually get one when you decide that you want one. I will have to talk about that in a future addition at some point!

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      James McAllister recently posted…7 Tactics To Foster More Engagement On Social MediaMy Profile

  4. Good job James. This is why it is SO important to follow top bloggers like yourself, who blog from the heart, compassionately, with the intent to serve versus the shady folks who try to squeeze money out of folks. Hey, I promote the heck out of my 124 eBooks and 2 courses but I also have created tens of thousands of pieces of free content over the past 10 years and 30,000 hours of my life, to show folks that I want to serve and help generously. Plus, my premium offerings serve and help generously, too.

    Ryan

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    1. Thanks Ryan! It’s fortunate that there are lots of legitimate bloggers and marketers like ourselves that actually have people’s best interests at heart, and deliver on all of the promises we make on our paid products.

      Fortunately, the more people that know about how scammers and deceptive marketers work, the more it benefits the legitimate people like us!

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…This Long-Term Content Strategy Offers An Unbeatable ROIMy Profile

  5. Hi James,

    Is been a while. Good to be here reading your work once again.

    I think #1 on your list is a bit controversy.

    This is it.

    While I do agree there are many marketers using these “fake scarcity” to lure customers into urgent buying, there are instances where there is a true scarcity for real.

    Like the summer sale, Xmax sale, black Friday/Cyber Monday sale, etc.

    These special events often cause merchants to launch “true scarcity” or count down timer sale of their products and services. I’m an affiliate marketer, I promote products and services of many merchants so I’m writing from experience.

    Currently, this week, there are many counts down timer sale going on that will in all honesty, sincerely, are going to close as soon as the timers shout down and the price of the product/service will be back to regular prices after that.

    I agree with you on that point too, as many dishonest marketers have taken advantage of the situation or even to rub customers of their hard-earned money.

    One just needs to be careful who you deal with and people you trust.

    Thanks, James, nice reading from your blog today.

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    1. Hi Shamsudeen! It’s great to see you again.

      I agree and it’s important to make the distinction between authentic marketing of scarcity, and creating artificial scarcity for the sake of manipulating people.

      I don’t think there’s a lot wrong with making people aware when a product is truly scarce, or a promotion actually is about to end. The problem is when this scarcity is completely made up, a flat out lie. It’s most common with products that intend to have a really short sales cycle. Of course, that same timer will be there for every person, regardless of when they actually view the page.

      Believe it or not, I actually bought a product because of this when I was a teenager, believing that the course was going to close that day. I had found it on a Facebook ad I believe. A few years later I got an ad for that same product, and that same countdown timer was still on the page, which I thought was hilarious!

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…Starting An Online Business – What To Buy, Broken Down By BudgetMy Profile

  6. Hi James

    Most of what you talk about here, like “artificial discounts,” “excessive upsells” etc., are actually taught as good marketing techniques.

    So I guess it depends on whether you are the Seller or the Buyer.

    All these things make sense to a Seller, but are scams to the Buyer if he/she depends solely on those “gimmicks” to make a purchase.

    However, I do think there are many good and valuable products and services that use these “hypey” methods to sell.

    So the real bottom line for a buyer is… “should I invest in the product.”

    To answer that I think you have to (1) do some research on the Seller beyond the sales page, and (2) don’t be shy to ask for your refund if the product does not live up to it’s promise… but don’t abuse the guarantee either.

    Hey, I love your video clips!

    Nice content variation 🙂

    -Donna

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    Donna Merrill recently posted…Can blogging replace your job?My Profile

    1. Hi Donna!

      I will be very surprised if those are still taught as good marketing techniques in 10 years. It’s taken some time, but people are starting to become quite privy to these tricks. This is great for all of the ethical and honest marketers in our space, as scammers certainly hurt the trust in all of us.

      As always there are exceptions and a scale of legitimacy when it comes to any one of these tactics – but claiming a product is on sale from $1,000 or whatever ridiculous price is listed on the sales page – when in fact, the product has NEVER sold for that price, isn’t clever marketing. It’s a flat out lie, deception, a scam.

      Upsells are often legitimate and compliment the product well. Other times, products exist only to upsell a more expensive version, which perhaps finally solves the problem the buyer was looking to solve.

      As Moss pointed out when it comes to pure scammers (not just hypey marketers) they often make it very difficult to get a refund, if they ever refund at all – something I should have included in this. This makes researching the seller even more important, as you mentioned.

      Glad you like the video clips! I’m going to do a lot more video this upcoming year – perhaps even more so than blogging here.

      Always nice to see you Donna!

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      James McAllister recently posted…This Long-Term Content Strategy Offers An Unbeatable ROIMy Profile

  7. James,

    Pumped up reading this. Videos are exciting too. I have also read other’s comments here. Even pro marketers have got preyed. As Donna said, there must be a proper reason and diligent research before making a purchase. Everywhere there are scammers. There are genuine marketers too – serious about bringing their best products & services to the users. Better be alert & help others alerting.

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    1. Hi Jessica,

      You’re absolutely right, it happens to everyone. I still remember the first time it happened to me and that was part of my inspiration for developing this mini series.

      I think overall we’re a lot safer than we used to be making online purchases, but scammers have continued to better mask their intentions. This only hurts all of the legitimate businesses out there selling truly valuable products and services. Research before hand is key!

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…This Long-Term Content Strategy Offers An Unbeatable ROIMy Profile

  8. Hey Admin!

    A friend of mine ask me to join with him on an online business. I do check for its details and had a doubt about that. The issue is they didn’t gave any contact details and we had no options to call or message with them. Then only, I confirmed my doubt and told him to not to follow them anymore. Hope, this page helps some people in clearing their doubts. Thank you for sharing!

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