Affiliate Marketing Scams & How to Avoid Them in 2023

If you know anything about us, you’ll know we basically eat, sleep, and breath affiliate marketing. But as much as we love this crazy industry, there’s no getting away from the fact that affiliate marketing scams exist.

They’re nasty and predatory, and they do untold damage to every fantastic, legitimate, high-quality affiliate program out there.

In short, we wish we could banish all those false programs to the deepest, darkest corners of the internet.

Unfortunately, we can’t make that happen, so we’ve done the next best thing — rounded up the most common affiliate scams so you can steer well clear.

Is Affiliate Marketing Legit?

Is affiliate marketing a scam, or a source of low-quality traffic? Absolutely not. In reality, affiliate programs can be an extremely effective way for brands to boost sales and affiliate marketers to earn a commission.

That’s why 81% of advertisers and 84% of publishers “do” affiliate marketing.

We’re one of those publishers. At Authority Hacker, we’ve built a well-established business out of affiliate marketing.

Not only do we give affiliate marketers the knowledge and tools to make money online, but we also do affiliate marketing ourselves across our website network — and we’ve earned plenty of commission along the way:

So obviously we’re going to tell you affiliate marketing is 100% legitimate. It’s an extremely impactful online marketing channel used by hundreds of thousands of brands and millions of affiliates worldwide.

There’s nothing sketchy about it. As an affiliate marketer, you earn commission from brands for promoting products. When a user hits your affiliate link and makes a purchase, you get a cut of the sale.

It’s a super simple business model (but if you want to learn more about it, check out our guide Is affiliate marketing worth it?).

4 Biggest Affiliate Marketing Scams to Avoid

However, as we’ve already freely admitted, while the overwhelming majority of the affiliate industry is totally bona fide, not every affiliate marketing program is legit. 

Sadly, just like with every type of online business (and plenty of offline ones, too) there are a handful of bad apples. Dodgy pop ups, fake products, lots of negative comments, and false promises to make you a millionaire overnight.

As with every industry, anything that sounds too good to be true should be a big red flag. But to be more specific, if you want to avoid affiliate marketing scams, steer clear of any of these:

1. Get Rich Quick Schemes

Okay, so get rich quick schemes aren’t exclusively an affiliate scam. I’m sure back in the Paleolithic era, some enterprising neanderthal in a shiny suit was promising his fellow prehistoric humans they could earn a fast buck by selling mammoth tusks that were really just big sticks painted white (N.B. this might not be true, I’m not a historian).

But “get rich quick” scams are definitely an issue in the affiliate world. New affiliate marketers are actively looking for ways to make lots of money online, so if someone tells them they can earn thousands of dollars with minimal time and effort, some of them are going to listen.

And while Shopify accurately notes that affiliate programs can be “as high value as those running the affiliate program make it”, there’s a big difference between paying generous commissions and promising to make you a millionaire overnight.

Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to spot affiliate scams like this, because they typically ask you to fork over a substantial sum — often hundreds of dollars — in exchange for teaching you their “guaranteed, 100% effective money-making scheme”.

Virtually every affiliate program is completely free to join. So if you’re being asked for an upfront fee, that’s a big red flag.

2. Fake Products or Services

Another common affiliate marketing scam involves touting fake products or services.

This whole thing is effectively a pyramid scheme. The scammer in question will ask you to pay a fee to register for the program, with the promise that you’ll soon see incredible returns.

Obviously, what actually happens next is… nothing. They pocket your money and vanish in a puff of smoke, never to be seen again. Alternatively, they’ll ask you to recruit a bunch of other people to the scheme before performing their disappearing act.

This scam can actually be pretty difficult to spot, because the scammers are often relatively sophisticated. They build a legit-looking website full of glowing affiliate marketing reviews, and they might reference real product catalogs. They may even enlist paid phony spokespeople to hype up their credentials. So be alert! 

A useful tip here: if the products look more like stock photos than an actual, real product catalog, steer clear.

3. Pay-to-Join Programs

You can likely see a pattern emerging by this point.

To reiterate, the overwhelming majority of affiliate programs are completely free to join. Most companies actively want to recruit new affiliate marketers, so why would they ask you to pay for the privilege? A handful might ask for a small deposit to weed out spammy applicants, but even then it’ll rarely be more than a nominal sum.

Any time you come across an affiliate program that demands a fee to join, your guard should automatically go up. Do your due diligence before entering your credit card or PayPal details by:

  • Googling the company in question
  • Asking around in forums like AffiliateFix and affLIFT
  • Looking out for negative comments in reviews

4. Low-Quality Training Courses

This one’s a bit awkward.

As you know, our whole way of making money is through helping other people earn money from affiliate marketing. We sell courses; people buy them; they build better websites and improve as marketers; they tell their friends; we make more money.

We definitely aren’t a scam. I’ve already shown you a screenshot of our own affiliate earnings. If you want more convincing, check out this thread from r/juststart

Reddit Ah Course Review

It’s not 100% positive — sadly, not everyone loves us — but it should give you a pretty clear idea that we know what we’re doing, and we do it well.

However, low-quality training courses are one of the more common affiliate marketing scams. They promise the earth, often for a compellingly low price (compared to legit options), but in reality all you get is a branded T-shirt and a bunch of advice rehashed from free blogs.

And, of course, there are no refunds once you actually get your hands on the course material.

Again, the best thing you can do here is to ask around, check out reviews, and remember that if it’s the cheapest option on the market, there’s probably a good reason.

How to Recognize Affiliate Marketing Scams

If you’re going to avoid affiliate marketing scams like the ones we’ve referenced above, you need to know how to spot them.

Without wishing to repeat myself, as a general rule, you should always swerve anything that sounds too good to be true. If it’s promising to make you rich overnight, avoid it like Matthew McConaughey avoids deodorant.

But that’s not the only way to tell a scam from a legit affiliate program. In our experience, these are some typical red flags:

  • Poor-quality stock imagery
  • Sites packed with dozens of ads
  • Thousands and thousands of words of copy
  • Constant references to making huge amounts of money
  • Low-quality page copy
  • Endless redirects

Finally, bear in mind where you found out about the potential scam. 

Traffic source is important here. By which I mean: if you’re Googling for the best affiliate programs to join in a given niche, anything on page one should be just fine — Google has pretty solid quality controls.

But the deeper into the bowels of the search engine results pages you head, the more likely you are to unturn dodgy businesses and disreputable websites.

YouTube can also be a fertile plain for scammers, so be on your guard there. And generally be wary when it comes to clicking pop ups and display ads.


Hopefully, by this point I’ve convinced you that affiliate marketing is totally legit, and also given you all the ammo you need to avoid common affiliate scams.

The next step is to get your affiliate site up and running so you can start cashing in on all the high-quality, high-paying affiliate programs out there!

We can help you with that, too. Get all the quality free tips you need by signing up for our free training — all we need is your email address.