Here’s a detailed explanation of my Scam-O-Meter web offer scoring system as of March 20, 2018, including some minor revisions. If this all seems too complicated, just shop on Amazon!
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 an unreliable business.
A scammer is someone who steals your money by trickery or theft. A product is not a scam. Altho it’s common for scammers to hype mediocre products, I’ve seen scams that involve good products sold in an evil way. So only one element of this scoring system is about the quality of the product.
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 some Terms and Conditions documents. If the T&C is 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: Revised: If I find that a seller lies about anything, including making up testimonials, that costs them a point. I don’t care whether what they lie about is important; I don’t trust liars. (I overlook severe ignorance here, but laugh at it elsewhere.).
Obfuscation: A website that’s designed to confuse you, make you decide in a hurry, or hide important information.
- Testimonials. Revised: If I see more than three on-site testimonials, that’s suspicious. Social media identities are sometimes stolen and used to create this sort of fake content. I have no practical way to check them. So, more than three testimonials will cost the seller a point whether or not the writers are actual persons.
- If I find that testimonial writers are made-up persons, that falls under “Lying And Deception” above. So, a long list of fake testimonials will cost the seller two points.
- Reviews by shills; masquerading as impartial advice, these are just a complicated form of advertising. Any “review” with a prominent graphical link to the seller’s web page is a shill.
Crummy product: It’s typical for scammers to exaggerate a mediocre product’s quality. But keep in mind that a good product is no assurance that the offer is not a scam.
Overpriced: I don’t insist on the cheapest price. But a price that’s over two 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 fast customer service and easy refunds are empty.
Unauthorized charges: If I find that a seller is stealing from credit card accounts, then their score no longer matters, because I just don’t trust 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 hidden monthly membership fee for a newsletter or “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.