Scam-O-Meter scoring system (2017)

Here’s a detailed explanation of my Scam-O-Meter web offer scoring system as of 9/717, including some minor revisions.  Rather than condemning all sellers who generate any complaints as scammers, I assign each seller a score that lies somewhere between “honest” and “criminal.”  If a seller is just overwhelmed or a bit careless, that doesn’t make him a bad person; still, you may want to think twice before dealing with him.

If this all seems too complicated, here’s how to safely ignore it; shop on Amazon!


Scored attributes

In the following list of scam-site attributes, -1 means true (bad), +1 means false (good), 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.

scamometer -7r

In this example, the seller has a total score of -7 and is a credit-card risk.

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.

Suspicious location: Scammers are shy about revealing their location.  What triggers a negative score here:

  • Post Office / UPS mailbox
  • Same address as a known scammer
  • Vacant lot, abandoned building, etc.
  • No resolvable physical addressfalcon

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; lying doesn’t make for trustworthiness.  (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.

Phony reviews: 

  • Testimonials.  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 shills; these are just a complicated form of advertising.

Crummy product: It’s typical for scammers to exaggerate a mediocre product’s quality.  But keep in mind that even if you like and want the product, that’s no reason to trust the seller.

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.

Bad service: The seller ignores emails and doesn’t answer their phone.  So, their assurances of customer help and easy refunds are empty promises.  (This is a new criteria.)

A 75% discount is no longer a criteria.  But I’ll mention any supposed huge discounts under “Lying and Deception.”

Unscored attribute

Unauthorized charges:  If I find that a seller is stealing from credit card accounts, then their score no longer matters, because I absolutely mistrust them.  I show this result with a red stop-light labelled “CREDIT CARD RISK ALERT” on the Scam-O-Meter.  Unauthorized charges include:

  • Charging a higher price than advertised
  • Charging more than once for the same item
  • An unannounced automatic subscription to an auto-ship service (typical follow-up to a “free trial”)
  • A monthly membership fee for a phony “discount club”
  • Failure to use HTTPS (encrypted) protocol to protect your credit-card data from snoopers
  • 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.



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