I recently came across an article about “government grant guru” Matthew Lesko. If you watch TV late at night, you’ve seen him before — the purple suit with big yellow question marks all over it? Yeah, that’s the guy. He claims to know how the average person can access more than $350 billion in government-grant money, and he sells this information through e-mail spam and infomercials.

Basically, he’s lying. Not technically, but it’s close enough to lying for me. He’s misleading, we’ll say. (He clues his lucky buyers in to a little-known program called Medicaid, for example.) The truth of the matter is that regular people can’t really get the government to foot their credit card bills. (I know, big surprise.) But even though the information he sells is technically valid, his over-the-top marketing has given rise to actual scammers who capitalize on Lesko’s notoriety. They mention “government grants,” and people immediately picture that stupid purple suit — and lo, half the work is done. The scammer doesn’t even need a sales pitch.

First off, Matthew Lesko is a sort of marketer I can’t stand. Sure, he’s not scamming people, but it’s close enough. He preys on those willing to suspend disbelief in exchange for a little hope (e.g., the unemployed, hence all the late-night infomercials). But that’s one thing — ethically questionable, but he’s just taking people for $37.95 a pop, and it’s not like his books are full of blank pages.

The scammers are something else entirely, and they have more to do with you than you might think. Even if you’re not a scammer, even if you’ve never been scammed, even if you’ve taken an active stance against scammers, they affect you in a big way. Because they exist, you now have to show that you’re not one of them. I’ve seen it happen in dozens of industries. The moving and storage industry, for example, is teeming with scammers, to the point where an honest mover’s hardest job isn’t loading up furniture or driving cross-country — it’s convincing people he won’t hold their belongings hostage for jacked-up fees. It’s even worse on the Internet, where all it takes to become a scammer are a web page and a weak conscience.

Knowing how to spot a scam is a good way to know how not to appear as a scammer. Do some reading at scambusters or snopes if you’re really dedicated, but you can follow this simple rule and eliminate most of the suspicion right off the bat: don’t make claims that seem too good to be true.

Don’t sound like a “know-nothing, do-nothing” scam, in other words. Unless you are a scammer, you don’t want to say, ”Make thousands of dollars a day doing nothing, no knowledge of anything at all required!” Not only is this closer to an outright lie than just being misleading, but why would you want someone who knows nothing about your niche browsing your site? Not only would you not want them there — they probably aren’t there. You spend all that time working to get targeted traffic, so don’t forget that it is targeted. Your market knows a lot of the same stuff you know, so say to it what you’d have anyone else say to you.

With this blog, I sometimes talk about e-books or products people are selling, and the links I include are my affiliate links. I stand to make money by convincing others to buy this stuff, but I don’t actually promote that many of them on this site. So why don’t I just grab every affiliate link I can get my hands on and quote straight from the sales letter? The simple answer is, I want you to know that I’m not bullshitting you. If I take the time to write about something, you can believe it’s something I found worthwhile. I don’t know how much my recommendation is really worth, but it is a recommendation. I don’t recommend things I don’t like, much less things I haven’t even tried. If it’s something I haven’t tried, I’ll admit it, even if that means you won’t click my link and buy the product. I probably lose money that way, but at least I can sleep at night.

And that’s something a scammer would never do — something that could end up costing him money.

Well, it’s late and I’m not really sure where to go with this, so I’ll end with an invitation. This was more of a rant than an article, so I invite everyone to post his or her own rant right here. Talk about scams you’ve fallen for, suggest more ways honest marketers can avoid being taken for scammers, or comment on anything else I mentioned in this post. I look forward to hearing from you.

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