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!
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.
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 address
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.
- 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.”
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.