10 Tricks Online Marketers (and Other Scammers) Use to Extract Your Money

It’s pretty hard to spend much time online without seeing some pitch or another for some product that you just can’t live without. Maybe it’s a weight-loss kit or perhaps it’s a tool for cleaning your living room, or even something as simple as software for managing professional contacts or a special course to help you get better at a particular game.

I’ve seen more of these types of marketing pitches than I could ever count. They often pop up on websites that I read, sometimes in the form of advertisements, but sometimes directly in the content. I’ve seen friends share them on Facebook, even.

A person out there is selling something that they claim is life-changing, that you must buy if you want a certain kind of success. They sell it hard.

Regardless of the item that’s being sold, the people trying to sell you things always try to play on the same angles and tug the same emotional strings. Sure, they try doing so in different ways, but at the end of the day, there’s a handful of strategies that they keep coming back to.

Why? It’s because those strategies work.

What follows are 10 of the most powerful strategies that online and offline marketers like to use to convince you to buy something now before you have the time to forget about it or do some additional research. They want your money and they want it yesterday!

Be smart about what you buy. If you see these tricks, head in the other direction.

1. Only 20 Slots Left!

They use a fake impression of scarcity.

People naturally want to be a part of exclusive things. They want to have a leg up on the people around them by having access to something that those other people do not have. It is that natural sense of human envy that drives a lot of behavior in this world, from outright jealousy toward the rich to wanting to have an advantage in any type of competition with someone else.

Marketers know this. They know that exclusivity – that a little something extra that others don’t have – is a real draw. So they use it.

They create the appearance of scarcity, whether it’s real or not. They limit a class to a certain number of slots (or at least claim that they do). Rather than making a production run of 10,000 of an item, they’ll make 100 variations so that each is a “limited edition.” Maybe they’ll release only a small percentage of what they make at a time, so that “only two are left!” is technically true – for this wave.

The goal is to make you feel as though you have a rare chance to get into something exclusive, even though the chance isn’t rare at all and the item usually isn’t very exclusive.

This is particularly true with non-physical goods. Sure, if you’re receiving a physical item, they may have to manufacture more at some point – and they usually will. For non-physical items, such as online videos, e-books, course materials, and so on, it’s easy for them to be duplicated as many times as necessary, so the scarcity idea is complete nonsense. Even things like direct tutoring or face-to-face sessions can easily be expanded, provided that the time spent tutoring is worth the tutor’s time.

If someone tries to tell you that there’s only a certain number left of an item that isn’t genuinely rare, it’s probably not worth the price they’re charging for it. If it is truly a good item, it will be available again, and likely at a better price.

2. Only People Seriously Interested in Success Need Apply!

They try to make you feel as though you’re part of a more exclusive and successful group.

In addition to simply making something seem rare in terms of having a small number of them available, marketers also like to make something seem special by making it appear as if the item is really only available to a select and special group. This is only for people who want “success.” This is only for people truly “committed” to losing weight.

It’s all nonsense. They will happily sell their product to anyone who is buying, whether you are “seriously interested in success” or “committed to dramatic weight loss” or anything else.

What those phrases are actually doing is trying to increase their product’s appeal to people who want those things. Someone who genuinely is seriously interested in “success” is very likely to be excited by the phrase “only for those seriously interested in success.” “That’s me!” such a person would think to themselves. The same thing is true for products for people who are “committed to dramatic weight loss.” “That’s me!” someone might say.

The thing is, it’s not just going to appeal to people who really are seriously interested in weight loss or committed to dramatic success or whatever, but to those people who want to be or aspire to be in that category. “Sure, I’m seriously interested in dramatic success!” you might say, and with that statement, you feel immediately included in that category whether or not that’s something you’re genuinely striving for in your life.

The truth is that there is no special group of people who this product is specially made for. If it’s a product for building “success,” then anyone who might be interested in that is a reasonable customer. All that is really happening is that the marketers are trying to make you feel “special” because you’re buying the product. They want to cultivate a sense that because you bought this product, you really are one of those who are truly committed to dramatic success or whatever it is they’re trying to make you believe. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

3. John M. from Florida Says…

They use “testimonials” with no evidence whatsoever that the testimonials are real.

John M. from Florida could be the person’s old pal from college. It could be their uncle who’s happy to provide a positive “testimonial” to help their favorite nephew. It could even be completely fictional. There’s a chance, I suppose, that it could really be authentic. You have no way of knowing for sure.

Even photographs of these testimonials can be fake. “You can’t fake a picture,” perhaps, but you can certainly buy them from stock photography services.

Don’t believe a product is great just because the person selling you that product has provided you with a powerful testimonial from another customer. You have no way of verifying whether that testimonial is real or not.

That’s not to say that I don’t value testimonials and opinions on products from others, but I have to know who those people are first. They have to have done something to earn at least a little trust from me. A salesperson with a marketing pitch hasn’t done a thing to earn any trust. Why should I believe that testimonial?

If you see what appears to be a person in the ad telling you how great the product is, don’t believe a word of it. You have no idea who that person really is – or if that person even exists at all. That information is worthless and should be ignored.

4. Trust AnonymousSales.com For Your Needs!

They don’t actually put their reputation on the line.

Think about a normal shopping situation. When a name brand sells a product, they’re putting that brand’s name on the line. You’re going to come up with some associations with that brand based on the product’s quality and, if the product isn’t good, you’re going to have bad thoughts about that brand in the future. You’re less likely to buy that brand’s products. That brand is putting their name on the line with each sale.

With online marketing, there’s usually no reputation whatsoever that’s being put on the line. You don’t have a company or a brand name associated with this product other than perhaps some irrelevant URL. You don’t have a person associated with it either, other than a first name that could easily be faked.

In short, they’ve put nothing on the line here to vouch for the quality of the product. Nothing. If their product is junk, they’ll just rip off a few people, disappear, and reappear with a new version of their scam at a different URL.

Do you have any real reason – beyond what is posted on this site, of course – to trust the person selling this product? If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be buying. Everything within that site is controlled by them, and if they have no outside evidence of a good reputation, there’s no reason to think that they have a good reputation. In fact, I’d assume the opposite – their reputation is likely bad without those things.

5. This Product Is Revolutionary!

They hype fantastical, impossible results.

Whenever someone is advertising a solution that goes far beyond what I could achieve with other solutions, something’s up. There is no magic solution for building a business or losing weight or improving your finances. Those magic solutions don’t exist.

This strategy preys on people who don’t think critically about the problem at hand. They believe in shortcuts and tricks, and believe that those who have actually put in lots of hard work have actually just used shortcuts and tricks.

Here’s the truth: the great successes in life don’t come with shortcuts. Those things are great successes because the people that achieved them have put in a ton of work. They didn’t find some “secret” – they worked their tails off to achieve business success or lose weight or build a strong network of friends.

If a path to success seems substantially better than other paths and it’s not widely known and shared, you should be incredibly suspicious. Most likely, that path to success is nothing more than an illusion being used to sell you on something.

6. Doctors Don’t Want You To Know This Secret!

They prey on anti-intellectualism and mistrust of authority.

This trick is a little different than the previous one. Both tend to rely on the idea that there is some magic secret to your problems that you don’t know, but this one adds in a healthy dose of conspiracy and anti-science and anti-intellectual sentiment.

The vast majority of doctors wouldn’t want to keep some “miracle cure” from you. Even if you’re so jaded that you assume that doctors wouldn’t want to cure you for business reasons, doing so would be terrible for their business. Even a purely jaded doctor would want to cure you because then, in the future, you would come back to them if and when you have other ailments.

This is true for almost every professional. They’re far better off if they solve your problem rather than keeping you from the solution. It’s better for their reputation. It’s more likely to earn them repeat business. It’s also the right thing to do.

The reason that your doctor (or other professional) hasn’t shared this success secret with you is (a) you haven’t asked or (b) it doesn’t really work. In either case, why are you paying some conspiracy peddler for this information?

7. Look at This Amazing Transformation!

They use misleading examples of success.

We’ve all see images that indicate radical changes in a person’s situation. They show dramatic changes and improvements in a person and then promise to show you how to do this. They sure look real… but they can easily be faked, too.

Take, for example, those dramatic weight loss or muscle building videos. Those are easy to fake. All you have to do is reverse the process – take the “good shape” picture first, then take the “bad shape” picture later after pigging out and eating a bunch of salt and water. Here’s an exact example of this.

On top of that, there’s Photoshop. Someone skilled with Photoshop can make anything look real. The vast majority of magazines of all kinds have Photoshopped covers, for example, in order to make things look better than reality.

A side-by-side image is something that’s very easy to fake. It does not serve as evidence of anything other than a good marketer and a Photoshop artist.

8. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee!

They don’t care about your success, especially over the long term.

A “30 day money back guarantee” isn’t really a big benefit for you, the buyer. It’s merely a trick that salespeople use to close the sale.

Here’s why: usually, you’re not going to know during that timeframe whether you should get a refund. Many times, people haven’t even begun using the product, or have used it only once or twice. At other times, you’re knee-deep in using the system and haven’t figured out yet whether it really works.

It is a very rare situation where you would call in that 30 day guarantee, and the person selling the product knows that. All that a short term guarantee does is create a false illusion that the person selling the product has a lot of confidence in the product. In truth, no matter how disastrous the product is, you probably won’t turn in the short term guarantee.

A 30 day guarantee essentially means nothing, because it is extremely unlikely that you or anyone else would ever cash it in. Thus, offering a short term guarantee like that offers little risk to the salesperson – but it can certainly help sway a buyer that’s on the fence.

9. Buy Now and Get This Bonus Item FREE!

They split your attention so that you’re deceived into thinking you’re getting more.

Whenever someone “throws in” a bonus item for free if you buy it now, they’ve already planned to sell the items together as a package. You’re not getting anything for free – you’re paying for the free item. You just didn’t see what you were paying for until the last minute.

What this does is that it allows the salesperson to do a strong sell on just one part of what you’re buying and then add onto that a very glossed-over sale of the other parts. While you might wind up with critical questions about the first item, you don’t have enough time or depth to have critical questions about the other parts. So, you feel like you’re buying a good package – one thing you’ve seen somewhat in depth (and maybe question a little) along with some items you know little about that seem good at first glance.

It makes you feel like you’ve seen things in depth when, in truth, you’ve only seen a small part of the package in depth.

This violates the first simple rule of shopping: don’t buy anything unless you know what it is. With this strategy, you don’t know what you’re buying. You only know one small part of the package.

10. Try the ‘Value’ Option for Only $39.99!

They offer incredibly overpriced ‘deluxe’ options to make their normal items seem reasonably priced.

Companies will often offer several different packages at different price levels offering different features. One of these is often a “super deluxe” package that offers a bunch of non-essential features at a very high price, a package that most customers will think of as a ripoff or at least not a great deal.

In comparison, of course, the lower-priced options will seem like it offers much more bang for the buck. In comparison, it will seem like a bargain.

The truth is that the person selling you the package intends for you to pick that one that seems like a bargain. They’re making a good profit at that level. Sure, they’d make a huge profit if you bought the expensive one, but that’s not why they list it.

They list the expensive version solely to make the version they want you to buy appear to be a good deal.

When people see that they can buy the $99.99 premium package with a few extra things or the $49.99 normal package, the $49.99 normal package has the core things they’re interested in, so that’s the one they buy. Which is exactly the plan that the seller has in mind.

Never think you’re getting a “deal” because you’re not buying the high-end premium version. Usually, that one’s just there as a distraction.

Final Thoughts

By themselves, each of these tricks is pretty weak. It won’t convince you to buy a product all alone.

Where the magic happens is when you use a lot of them in concert together. Each trick only gives a little tiny boost to your chances of buying the product, but when you put a bunch of clever marketing tricks together, your chances of buying go up significantly.

That’s why marketers use these tactics. They want sales. They want your money. And, using these tactics together, they’re likely to get it.

So, how do you fight back? Be aware. When you’re about to buy, step back. Ask yourself why. Then start looking for these tactics – and others much like them.

Often, you’ll realize that your emotions are just getting played. You don’t really need this item anyway, not nearly as much as you just thought that you did. And you’ll put the credit card away and close the browser window.

That’s a real victory, one you can be proud of. One that will protect your wallet.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.