Affiliate Marketing Scams

23 February 2022
Reading: 6 min

If you look at something and think “This is too good to be true” — this is your first red flag. There are dozens of schemes designed to part you with your money, it’s not necessary to know them all, but you should simply be aware and double-check suspicious offers and individuals. In this article, we will arm you with some universal tips and practical solutions from Sveta — our business development manager at ZM TEAM.


This is mostly about useless or outright fake education courses/classes/webinars, etc. This scheme is often used to deceive newbies who don’t have enough connections in the industry and lack experience. There are variations of this scam: all of them will cost you time, some — money as well.

Imagine an established marketer who wants to become more popular and better recognized within the community. He launches a free online marathon to “share the nuggets of wisdom”. Usually, it’s only about establishing a personal brand and getting more influence. You won’t get any tips or advice that you can’t find online. Just a waste of time.

Other case — free courses with paid supplies or additional lessons. Or you may have to pay for the “advanced” course that is “worth its weight in gold”. Or it may be necessary to procure a proxy/account/access that will make your success rock-solid. And to make things easier for you there is a trusted supplier you can go to. You pay — the coach disappears.

How can you vet a course if you see nothing in Google?

If you have any doubts about a course or a person, try searching in Telegram. If it’s a scam, you will see multiple mentions in affiliate marketing chats. Subscribe to specialized groups to get the relevant information.


Fake media buying teams

This scam also works well on newcomers to the industry and it also involves paying for supplies. You receive an invitation to a “cool team”, accept it, and get a test-drive assignment to find, say, a particular account with a $250 ad spend. It’s difficult to find rare assets by simply Googling and checking Facebook groups, it is especially difficult for a newbie. Of course, you fail the task, and the generous “cool team” says: Don’t worry, we have some accounts, only they are expensive. And you accept this too because you want to prove your worth and to become a part of this team. And they disappear with your money. 

How can you check a media buying team’s reputation?

Once again, Telegram channels are your go-to solution. It’s also a good idea to ask around and try to get some information out of your fellow affiliates, affiliate managers, etc. At least somebody would know about this team if it’s a real media buying unit and not a fake.


Affiliate shaving

Shaving is a case when an affiliate network/program credits less leads to your account than you actually drive. They can claim that your traffic is of lower quality than they want, that you drive bot traffic, etc. It doesn’t really matter what they say, it’s important to stay alert and pay attention to your statistics. Here are some tips on how to spot affiliate shaving:

  • If you see your CR drop dramatically towards the end of the month, it’s likely that the advertiser has run out of budget. When the new month starts — your CR is good as new. That was shaving.
  • If you notice a drop in CR and come to the advertiser to know if anything is wrong with the payment systems, accounts, proxies, etc. — and they say it’s alright but then you see your CR miraculously stabilize. This is suspicious, right? If there were no issues to begin with, why has the situation just fixed itself? Most likely, you have been shaved.
  • When you see that your conversion has hit the ceiling even though you drive more and more traffic — check the stats in your tracker. If you see a sudden drop in conversions while the traffic flow is stable — it’s shaving. 
  • A sudden decrease in the approval rate is also a red flag. This may be caused by technical issues on the side of the advertiser, but it can also be shaving. Check the approval rate before activating an offer — ideally it would be around 90%.

Be cautious and pay attention to the stats. It’s a good idea to run a split-test: launch one campaign and split the traffic evenly between the same offer taken from 4 different affiliate networks. Four networks, 25% of traffic on each of the offers. All of them should show even results. 


Don’t talk to strangers

You may be approached by an “affiliate manager” who would propose that you drive traffic to a private offer bypassing the affiliate network. Such private offers are most likely somebody’s referrals: imagine an affiliate who has bitten more than he can chew and can’t drive the leads he had promised. He looks for a referral to fill the void, but we doubt that you will get a share of his profit in return.

Pay attention to the managers’ contact details. In any network’s dashboard, you will have a manager’s business card with their name, nicknames, phone number, social networks, etc. Check the nickname because it’s easy to fake (capital I that looks like lowercase l, that kind of thing). Don’t be quick to trust strangers you meet online. 


Cookie stuffing

Cookie stuffing or cookie dropping involves substituting cookie files of website visitors to attribute them as your leads even if their target action happens much later and for unrelated reasons. Thus, you as an affiliate lose the hard-earned lead to someone else, because the user’s browser has automatically exchanged a bunch of third-party cookies with a “stuffed” website. It’s hard to spot as cookie stuffing involves multiple iFrame windows 1×1 pixel in size.

Cookie stuffing happens most often in the nutra and e-commerce verticals. Blog authors and webmasters who run sites that allow for posting any kind of picture are the most vulnerable. Cookie stuffing is also harmful to the advertisers, as they pay for the same lead 3–4 times. 



The best advice anyone can give you — be attentive and don’t accept suspicious offers. If you feel that something’s off, talk to your friends (or to your dedicated manager with a network), log into an affiliate forum, ask around in Telegram chats and find the truth. Check out affiliate marketing media — we at ZorbasMedia cover all sorts of topics and cases and will be happy to lend a hand.

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