Identifying Online Money-Making Scams

This post won’t help identifying all scams but it should help re-calibrate your is-this-a-scam-dar. A few months ago a close family member asked if a certain site was legitimate, which reminded me that people do fall for these scams and are unable to read the telltale signs of a scam offer.

The example I’ll be looking at throughout this post is from http://www.careerjournalonline.org/newsupdate/workfromhome/vc/0a34jkm/za/

1. Sensationalist Headlines

workathome

Here’s your first clue. Look out for clickbait headlines like this one. If it’s got a Buzzfeed-like headline, then it’s probably bullshit. Clickbait (or linkbait) headlines are headlines designed to get a lot of clicks (or links to it).

“These DIY Water Tricks Will Absolutely Melt Your Mind”
“This Video Of A Dog Walking On His Hands Will Brighten Your Monday”

Clickbait headlines try to be sensationalist and hyperbolic, and typically don’t describe the article’s content very well.

clickbaittweet

 

For more examples, take a look at this clickbait generator and play around with it a bit.

 2. Different fonts

fonts

This format screams “scam”, even if you don’t read the text. Multiple colours, different font sizes, highlighted text. All of this makes the page look tacky and this isn’t just bad web design: it’s a scam.

3. Expiry Date

When there’s an “Offer Expires” warning and it happens to show the date for the day you’re on, then that’s probably nonsense.

To prove my point, I just took a look at the code behind the date text and I can see a script written to show the day that the viewer is visiting the page on. This is pretty much what the getDate() function does. This is a copy of the code from the webpage.

<SCRIPT type=text/javascript>
var month = new Array();
month[0] = “January”;month[1] = “February”;month[2] = “March”;month[3] = “April”;month[4] = “May”;
month[5] = “June”;month[6] = “July”;month[7] = “August”;month[8] = “September”;month[9] = “October”;month[10] = “November”;
month[11] = “December”;
//Array starting at 0 since javascript dates start at 0 instead of 1
var mydate= new Date()
mydate.setDate(mydate.getDate()-6)
document.write(“”+mydate.getDate()+” “+month[mydate.getMonth()]+” “+mydate.getFullYear());
</SCRIPT>

What it does is define an array by assigning a number to each month, then it calls that month based on the current date, displaying it in the format we see when we visit the site. The entire purpose of this is to create a sense of urgency in the reader to encourage them to think less and pay faster.

 4. The URL

Take a look at the root of the URL. http://www.careerjournalonline.org/ leads to a blank page but the name has been specifically chosen to make the /workfromhome/page look legitimate. The user sees the words Career Journal dot Org and they immediately believe the article is from a reputable authority. This is a difficult part of these scams to identify if you’re not used to the patterns scamsters employ because this is a bit of a double bluff, but click around to the rest of the site if you’re unsure. Start by visiting the root of the URL and go from there.

Also, google the URL. Follow this link to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/1hxHaFo

Look at the results you get on the first page of Google. Are any of them saying that this site may be a scam? Does this site seem to have any content not related to working from home and getting rich quick?

5. Reverse image search the pictures

melissajohnson

This woman with her baby has been the face of a myriad online scams. To see where else this picture has been used, follow these steps:

1. Right click on the image and click Copy Image URL
2. Browse to images.google.com
3. Click the camera icon in the Google search bar (see pic below)
googleimage

4. Paste the URL of the image you copied in step 1 and hit Search By Image

The results show where the picture was stolen from, who the site is ripping off, and the thousands of other scams similar to this one that have used this image for the same purpose. Browse the results and familiarise yourself with this format of scams.

 6. Picture of a Check

This has become such a ubiquitous sign of a scam that it’s hard to explain exactly why it shows that this is a scam. It just does. Maybe it’s because legitimate companies don’t advertise grainy photos of checks they’ve written online to attract more clients into their pyramid scheme. It’s a bizarre, unrealistic way of doing business. They’re trying to catch people who are only have dollar signs in their eyes and are desperately wanting to believe in the get-rich-quick solution.

Which leads me to my next point.

7. Does it sound too good to be true?

Whatever you think “it” is (this vagueness is elaborated on in a later point), if it sounds too good to be true, it unfortunately probably is. If it was this easy to make a lot of money online then more people would be doing it. In fact, everyone would.

As far as committing your time and money goes you should focus on a specific industry, skilling up through available resources (there’s plenty of free online study material such as on edx and coursera), join internships, training programs, job shadowing and apprenticeships wherever possible, and just work hard. It doesn’t always work, but it’s what has the highest chance of leading to success.

8. Search for a string on the page

Copy a sentence from the article and Google it. Take a look at this link to see what I mean: http://bit.ly/1qfExiT

Make sure you put the sentence in inverted commas when you search for it to get the most accurate results. You can see this has been used multiple times in several “special reports” and that there have also been a few questions asked about its legitimacy.

9. Search for the Heading

Now do the same for the heading. As a tip, only search for parts of the heading that can’t be variable text. We know that they tailor these scams based on your location and currency, so, in the case of this article, instead of searching for the entire heading only search for the generic section: “Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How She Does It!”

See the results you get?

EXPOSED: London Mum Makes £5,000/Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How she Does It!
Single Mom from Kitwe Makes $7,397/Month From Home And You Won’t Believe How She Does It!

10. Confirm Navigation

When you try to leave the page a pop-up will appear asking you to confirm that you actually want to leave the page, along with a warning that this offer expires tomorrow. No matter when you visit the page, this exit pop-up will always say “tomorrow”, creating a sense of urgency in the reader the same way the customised date does.

11. It’s not clear what you will be doing

After reading through the entire article, if it’s still not 100% clear exactly what work you will be doing, what the pay will be, how you will make the money, what your job description will be etc, then it’s most likely a scam. Real job offers come in the form of very clearly written descriptions outlining requirements for the job, the pay expectation (in a reasonable, non-sensationalist way), and job responsibilities. They do not leave you wondering what you will actually be doing at the end of the day.

12. Upfront Payment

This is probably one of the most important points of this entire post. No real job offer will require an upfront payment (or activation fee, as many scamsters call it) in order to secure training material, an interview, or the offer itself. This is nonsense. They are trying to rip you off. A real job at a real company will pay you to go on training. Never ever put your credit card details into a site like this if you think it might not be legitimate. If they want upfront payment, it is a scam. That’s a good rule of thumb to go by.

To be clear, not all sites that require payment for training materials are scams. There are plenty of sites where you pay for training courses and activation fees are required for many educational sites. Just do your research first. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. If the training material is related to a job you’re applying for, then you shouldn’t be required to pay for it.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the things to look for when exploring online scams, but it’s a start. Not all of these are hard-and-fast rules but use them as starting points to investigate dodgy-looking sites for yourself and you’ll be a lot better off.

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