Untrustworthiness in web-site offerings is what I made the Scam-O-Meter to detect.
Here’s a detailed explanation as of 4/24/17, including some minor revisions. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about illegal advertising; I’m talking about signs that a seller is a scammer (someone who takes your money by trickery or theft). If this all seems too complicated, here’s how to safely ignore it; shop on Amazon!
In the following list of scam-site attributes, -1 means true, +1 means false, and 0 means undetermined. These scores total to between -10 (deep mistrust) and +10 (highly trusted). I show a site’s total score by the position of the needle on the Scam-O-Meter scale.
Ridiculous claims: Extreme stuff that common sense tells you can’t be true — that, to be honest, you want to believe. If the product is going to revolutionize your whole life at hardly any cost or risk, that’s ridiculous.
- If the claim is made in a phony review (see “Phony reviews” below) I credit it against the seller who’s paying the reviewer.
Suspicious location: Scammers are shy about revealing their location. (Previously named “Post Office box.”) What triggers a negative score here:
- Post Office / UPS box
- Same address as a known scammer
- No physical address (includes vacant lots, abandoned buildings, etc.)
Onerous terms: Evil lurks in many Terms and Conditions documents. If the T&C is just too hard to read, that’s “Obfuscation;” see below.
- Unreasonable obstacles to returning a defective or unsatisfactory product for a refund.
- Terms that undermine or contradict advertised terms (or reasonable customer expectations).
- Terms that diminish your legal rights.
Ads, spam, robocalls: Aggressive advertising; sharing your data with other companies.
Lying and deception: If I find that a seller lies about anything, I ding them a point whether or not it seems important. (I overlook severe ignorance here, but laugh at it elsewhere.).
Obfuscation: A website that’s designed to distract you, confuse you or hide important information.
- Reviews featured on-site. If the reviewers don’t have full names, or their photos turn out to be clip-art, they’re phony. Otherwise they’re only probably phony, so I’ll let it slide.
- Reviews by paid shills; these are just a complicated form of advertising.
Crummy product: Nobody wants one of these. But keep in mind that a scam can involve a good product. Sometimes it’s the way the product is sold that’s evil.
Overpriced: I don’t insist on the cheapest price. But a price that’s two or three times the going rate on Amazon gets a -1 from me.
75% discount: Scammers are so habituated to advertising this specific percentage that I consider it a good indicator. (This is a new criteria.)
Unauthorized charges: If I find that a seller is stealing from credit card accounts, then I absolutely mistrust them. I show this result with a red stop-light labelled “CREDIT CARD RISK ALERT” on the Scam-O-Meter.
- If the seller’s address is the same as that of a known scammer who’s stealing from credit card accounts, I consider him the same person and turn on the red light.