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Spotting Online Income Scams

Updated on December 14, 2013

Although there are numerous ways of making additional income online, millions of people each year are taken in by scams, often robbing them of their time and money or in more severe cases even putting them at risk of arrest.

Fortunately if you know what to look out for when looking for income opportunities online, avoiding most types of scams isn't too difficult.

Nigerian Scams

The so called Nigerian scam is perhaps one of the most widespread, obvious and oldest of the common online scams. The process usually involves an email claiming to be from someone representing either a company, institution or a deceased but very wealthy figure.

The recipient is then told that they are entitled to a large amount of money for some reason, but that to get it they must first pay some kind of processing or transfer fee.

Nigerian scams are so called because a large percentage of them emanate from Nigeria and can usually be distinguished as fake from their overall poor presentation and lack of basic English. Emails also won't be from anything resembling the company of institution that they are supposedly representing and will rarely have any of the logos or graphics that genuine emails of this kind usually have.

Occasional these emails can look almost genuine, although there is always one big telltale sign that they aren't. That being that there aren't any banks, institutions, lawyers or companies that will merely send an email telling you that you are entitled to any large sum of money. The most that banks might send are online statements or junk trying to sell you something, never will they actually send you anything resembling a transaction.

Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are basically a means of gaining information from a user, usually for the purposes of identity theft.

They usually take the form of emails from a bank or similar institution claiming that your account has been compromised and that you need to provide personal information and or passwords etc in order to make it secure again.

Unlike the more basic Nigerian scams they often appear for all intents and purposes to be genuine, usually looking well designed and featuring the relevant graphics and logos etc of the company they are impersonating.

Basic phishing scams will sometimes they will direct you to a different website to the company that they are claiming to be, or a similar looking site with a different address, which should of course instantly raise red flags. More elaborate scammers will send you to the right website and then direct you to enter your details into a pop up that has nothing to do with the original website.

The best way to stop yourself falling for this type of scam is simply to delete the email without clicking on any of the links contained within and then logging onto the site of the company they are claiming to be. At which time you will find out whether or not any account alerts that you have been sent are genuine.

Reshipping/Forwarding scams

These kinds of scam basically involve either handling stolen goods or money laundering.

Reshipping for example might involve receiving goods purchased with stolen credit cards which the victim is then told to send on, usually paying for the shipping themselves and then supposedly receiving a commission. Not only are the commissions rarely received, but when the authorities become involved the paper trail leads only back to the victim, who has no idea where the goods originally came from.

Forwarding payments is similar in that the victim either has money wired to them or is given checks to pay into their own bank account. They are then instructed to send the money on, usually via Moneygram or Western Union. At this stage the money essentially disappears and once again the authorities tracing the money, which has originally been stolen from hijacked accounts, are lead only to the victim.


Up-selling is a process whereby a scam revolves around continually selling you more products that on the surface appear as if they might work, although never to to the extent that they are advertised.

After scams of this type are entered into, the mark is usually instructed to liaise with another member (who is actually a salesperson) if they are having trouble achieving the amounts of income advertised on the promotional material. Upon contacting this person when the sales or returns are nowhere near as high as advertised however, the mark is advised to buy another product which they will be ensured will help them to make more money.

This is usually done several times after which the salesperson will become unreachable and the company will refuse to refund the mark for any of the unnecessary products that they have purchased.

Many of the late night infomercial get rich quick schemes are good examples of this type of scam, and they are just as prevalent online as on television.

Initial Payment Scams

Similar to the upselling scams, these operate on the basis of selling the user a product with the promise of making them money.

They usually operate on the basis of joining either a website or club of some kind which supposedly allows access to lists of potential clients, high paying jobs and the like.

As per usual, once the payment has been made the user is either left with nothing or finds themselves unable to make even a fraction of the income that the site claimed that they could.

High Payout Scams

This type of scam, which are frequently things such as being paid to read junk emails or to background surf on advertising pages, work on the basis of never being able to reach the payout threshold.

Upon joining a site that operates in this way, the victim will be informed that they minimum that they have to reach before they are paid will be abnormally high. For example a site offering 1 cent for each email read might have a payout minimum of $150.

In most cases, victims will tend to give up long before thy reach anything like this, essentially working for the site for free. On the rare occasion that someone actually reaches the payout level, either the site disappears and reappears with a different name, or the user is barred from the site under false pretenses such as having broken the terms and conditions when of course they haven't.

Since some of these sites aren't actually doing anything illegal except for the fact that it would take many years for anyone to actually be paid, they are something of a grey area legally. If the thresholds are made clear and there aren't any false promises that members will be able to make enough to be paid in a short space of time, they aren't technically breaking the law.


Generally speaking a good rule of thumb is to always remember that if something online seems to good to be true, then it usually is. If a site makes big promises as to the amount of money that you can make with them always ask yourself why there aren't more people doing it already, and why the company isn't well known.

A poorly made website that claims its members are making six figure incomes should always raise a red flag. Similarly money or goods being transferred from one individual to another should never need a middleman, unless of course the money in question is being laundered.

There are of course ways of making large sums of money online although they usually require specialist knowledge and are generally kept under wraps rather than being advertised for anyone to try.


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