Avoiding the Appearance of Evil: You Don’t Want to Look Like a Scam

There were snake oil sellers in the wild west, phone calls claiming they were selling copies of Reader’s Digest, Nigerian princes emailing anybody they could for a chance at their fortune, and people pretending to be your friend on social media claiming they are in trouble in Mexico and needing some cash.

Scammers, hustlers, tricksters, liars — they’ve all been around since the beginning of business. There will always be people who try to look like a reputable business and take people’s money while giving nothing in return. Some are just looking for a quick buck, while others are trying to make their fortune scamming the naive and gullible.

Yet, like every other part of the world, scammers are evolving. People catch on to what they are doing, and they have to innovate. Now, scammers are looking a lot like real businesses, including fully built websites, products they “sell,” and active social media accounts.

It’s important to know how scams are now looking, so your business can stay as far away from them as possible. As people grow more aware of newer online scams, they will scrutinize every other site as if they too are a scam. One hint of sketchy behavior, and people will bail on your site. Here’s some common elements of newer online scams you need to avoid.

Making Way Too Large of a Promise

Scams live and die on making promises just the right amount of believable. If it’s too small, nobody will really care, and too big nobody will believe it. A typical scam has a promise of a big payoff, but you have to deal with a small negative part. The Nigerian prince scam had the promise of a chunk of their fortune but you had to send a money order first.

When it comes to incentivizing visitors to become leads, or leads into customers, you have to make a promise of some sort. That promise might be “Give us some personal information and we’ll give you access to this checklist that will help fix a problem you have” or something similar in order to get more leads. Or the promise might come in the product you sell. “Give us money, and we’ll give you a product that accomplishes a specific task.”

Over promising on results can raise red flags for consumers. If your product or promise can ever be described as “too good to be true,” then people might think you are a scam. Promises need to be grounded and realistic. Convey real benefits your product will give them and if they want those benefits, they’ll buy your product. Overselling won’t just make you look like a scam, if a customer buys into it and then is disappointed, you likely will have a negative review heading your way.

Avoiding “Free” Promotions

People love getting things for free. It’s why everybody has a swag bag full of goodies when they go to conventions, and are willing to jump through ridiculous hoops to get something like a free candy bar at a store. But when it comes to the online business world, the word free is never really free.

One very popular “free” scam includes giving away “free” products like a wireless mouse or a hat, but then you actually get charged a ridiculous amount for shipping, costing more than the original product. Other scams offer a free product in exchange for information, which they then use to steal an identity or sell to telemarketers.

So many scams rely on the word free to work that it’s a good idea to avoid the word in general with your business. Instead, use synonyms to convey your meaning, especially connected to what you are offering. For example, instead of offering a free consultation, offer a complimentary consultation.

Asking for Too Much Information

Whether it’s to create a login account, gain access to a lead magnet, buy a product, or add a comment on a blog, people have to give up some sort of information. In many scenarios, that’s their email address, and possibly their name or credit card info.

But that isn’t what scammers want. They want tons of information that they can then use to steal your identity, sell to other companies, or just create problems in your life.

A popular online scam is to present an offer, usually financial in nature, in exchange for a mountain of info. A common version of this online is “Learn how to earn X amount of dollars a week doing this random activity” with a form to fill out asking way too many questions. Questions like: address, social security number, full legal name, yearly income, and more.

Be cautious about what you ask on lead magnet sign up forms. Ask for too much information, and you risk pushing people away or being labeled as a scam. Find the right balance in each scenario and avoid getting super personal on what you ask.

Knowing Which Scams Target Your Target Market

The world of scams is wide and varied. Some scammers throw a wide net, hoping to catch anybody and everybody, but many are very targeted. They pick demographics more susceptible to their scam, and go after them. An elderly retired woman at home is going to get very different scams than the young, poor college student. The elderly are often the target of scams, meaning some are overly cautious of everything.

You need to understand what kind of scams your target market deals with, and find a way to communicate with your audience while distancing yourself from scam tactics. If your audience deals with spam calls all day, calling your leads might not be a great choice. Similarly, if there inbox is full of spam messages, all with ridiculous headlines, you need to take a new approach to catch their attention.

Looking Professional and Clean of Scam Clues

People are always on the look out for scams, and over the ages, we’ve all picked up on a few things. Grammar mistakes, wacky email addresses, strange URLs, and more are all little clues we rely on to detect a scam.

Make sure your website, emails, and everything customers can see are perfect grammatically and not weird. Avoid setting up weird URLs or short links that might come across as suspicious. Make sure any emails your company sends to customers come from a company email address and not something that ends in gmail, yahoo, or a weird third-party company.

Scammers are always going to be a part of the business world, and you need to stay ahead of them. As they evolve, you need to evolve too. Do all you can to show your target market you aren’t a scam, but a trustworthy business.

Ben is a freelance content creator and digital marketer who believes in helping small businesses succeed. He also specializes in writing about tech, education, and video games.