Scammers are everywhere even in markets you thought were safe. And scams are costly too. So far this year, Americans have lost at least $16 billion to scammers.

While you may not lose a billion dollars in an affiliate marketing scam, any money and time lost to scammers should infuriate you. But what can you do about it?

First, you must learn to recognize an affiliate marketing scam when you see one. The black hats in our midst need to be exposed for the safety of us all.

That’s why I’ve put a little bit of work into doing exactly that; exposing their methods. So if you would like to stay safe out there, check out my list below.

1. The Pay to Play Scheme

So, you wanna be an affiliate marketer, huh? Well, according to some…cough…scammers…cough, you must pay to become one.

These pay to play scammers hope you don’t understand how affiliate marketing works. The money is supposed to trickle downward, ya know, like water?

If it’s going upward, that some pretty nicked up magic if you ask me. Run away! Run away!

Affiliate marketing works like this: you put in the work to gain an audience. Each time someone buys something from your affiliate through your site or channel, you get a commission.

It’s cheap advertising for the company providing the affiliation. They are essentially “hiring” you to amplify their reach.

Do you have to pay your employer to be an employee? If you do, I’d seriously question why you’re at that job.

Your suspicions should be the same when approaching an affiliate program that charges you to be an affiliate. Charging to become an affiliate is double dipping. They’re making money off your work twice. Not cool.

2. The Promised Payment Scheme

As a freelance writer, I have to watch out for this one as well.

The promised payment scheme works like this: the affiliate promises to pay you commission….later. There is no contracted time period.

Sometimes, it’s not even a scam by the textbook definition. Some legitimate companies don’t even think about payment timelines and you have to hound them for the money.

Other times, a business legitimately goes out of business.

But other times, companies do this on purpose so they don’t have to pay. They’ll sell enough through you to make a profit, say some magic words, and disappear forever.

You can protect yourself from all of the above by demanding a pay period up front. Large affiliates like Amazon already have an automatic payment system. Others might send you a check monthly or biweekly.

Don’t let an affiliate program get away with not paying you. And protect yourself by checking a company’s track record. Make sure their business model is solid and they’re predicted to thrive.

3. The Phony Courses Scheme

Great advice doesn’t come cheap. And there are plenty of great sources out there (like this digital strategy blog) that practically give away valuable information.

And while there are some well done and useful courses and training materials out there for affiliate marketers, there are a small number of phony ones as well.

What do these phony courses look like? Very similar to legitimate ones, unfortunately.

But, they do have that phony smell.

Don’t believe anything that says you can become rich without putting any work in. Affiliate marketing takes effort and time.

Any eBook, video course, DVD course, webinar, or seminar that tries to sell you a get rich quick scheme is lying. Don’t feed them. They deserve to starve and shrivel and live in a van down by the riverside.

And if you do feed them, they will run away with your money. You’ll never see them or your money again.

4. Get My Book Free…Just Pay Shipping!

I tried to start a business once selling used books on Amazon. I sold most of my books for less than a dollar. Why? Because book rate shipping was less than Amazon gave me for shipping.

I made money on the shipping fee and not the book. Suffice it to say, I was young and stupid and that venture didn’t last.

But the lesson I learned helped me spot this scam from a mile away.

If you see a “Get this book free, just pay for the shipping” offer, don’t bite no matter how tempting. Not only are they actually charging you for the book through their outrageous shipping fee, you’re not gonna get what you paid for.

You’re most likely going to receive marketing materials rather than useful information. And even if they do send you something moderately useful, they’re using you to bolster their book sales numbers.

Why would they do that? Simple, they want top seller status with whatever publisher they use.

This is pretty much similar to the “pay to play” scheme. You shouldn’t have to pay to boost someone’s brand. And you certainly shouldn’t fall for the “free but with shipping” scam either.

5. Unknowingly Becoming the Scammer

Fake products are fascinating. Some of these scammers really do put a lot of work and imagination into their scams.

Take the Chinese traffic straddling bus for example. The whole Chinese government got jipped by these fools who sold an engineering impossibility as something plausible.

Sometimes I wonder what these people could do for the world if they put their imaginations to good use.

But affiliate marketing scams aren’t nearly as glaring as a traffic straddling bus. Sometimes an affiliate program might look legit and be completely fake.

Just like the guy on the street in D.C. selling Fauxkleys (fake Oakleys), some scammers will pretend to be big name affiliate programs and then steal from your audience.

Often, they will even be the “Pay to Play” types as well. But you will quickly see that nothing good comes of these estranged pyramid schemes. You’ll make very little money and have wasted all of your precious time and possibly lose your audience to boot.

Conclusion: Be Vigilant

Most of the time, common sense will protect you from these scammers. You just have to be vigilant and do your due diligence.

But even the best of us fall for scams sometimes (PM me if you want to hear about my experience with scammers at a carnival). But you’ll lessen your chances of getting dupped if you keep your eyes open and are wise.

Have you seen any atrocious affiliate marketing scams out there? Let me know in the comments below.

By Ben Mattice

Benjamin Mattice is a freelance writer/editor, horror and sci-fi writer, SEO and affiliate marketing newbie, dog wrestler, cat wrangler, capoeirista, and long distance runner. He lives in the Palouse with his wife, three dogs, two cats, and two rats. Yes, that would probably be considered a mini-zoo.