Fake Affiliate Marketing Companies. Be on the Lookout.

Fake Affiliate MarketingThere are many companies and individuals out there deeming themselves to be within the affiliate marketing space, operating an affiliate marketing business, and worse, stating they are affiliate marketing experts…when they are not.

In this little rant here, I want to explain what affiliate marketing is, what it certainly isn’t, and what to look for when aiming to determine if an individual or company is misleading you about whether they are “affiliate marketing”. There are a lot of fake affiliate marketing companies out there and they are having an adverse impact on the affiliate marketing industry as a whole, so I want to bring some clarity as to what is affiliate marketing and what is not.

The Biggest Emulator. The MLM Bait and Switch.

The biggest trend we are starting to see is companies and individuals indicating they are operating an affiliate marketing agency, when in reality they are using it as a mask to cover up the fact that they are an MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) scheme.

Not to say there is anything wrong with some MLM companies, there are definitely some legitimate ones out there. However, you can almost assume that any MLM that is trying to say that they are affiliate marketing is running an unethical operation, and borderline (if not) illegal one.

There have been several take downs by the FTC in this space, with many more to come. It is my hope that they continue to tackle all the misleading programs out there operating businesses that are built around people joining and paying money, for the ability to promote that same program to others. That is the most common type of scheme that you see, with most people within these schemes losing money (95-97%).

There are some traits that you can look for in these programs that will be a key decider

  • Anything With Multiple Levels is NOT Affiliate Marketing. Affiliate programs are single level. If you are part of a program with 3 or more levels (including you), these are deemed multi-level marketing schemes. This is NOT affiliate marketing, in fact far from it.
  • Anything Where the Goal is to Promote the Same Program to Others. If you join something, or you have to pay for a program simply for the opportunity to sell that same program, then you are not getting involved in affiliate marketing. These companies have the tendency to call their “participants” affiliates, when in reality they are a notch in the MLM scheme and they are in reality network/multi-level marketers.
  • Anything High Ticket ($2,000+). The most common trait of “fake” affiliate marketing impersonators are those that are charging $1,000’s for information. If these companies offer $1,000’s in commissions, they are almost certainly operating their business in a way that relies on “baiting” participants with high compensation. These companies usually end in demise (or in the hands of the FTC) because their goal is to rip a few people off for $1,000’s to earn lots of money, versus actually offering a quality service to people for a realistic, market driven cost.
  • A Facade Entry Point Price. You will often times see a program actually offering an entry point into their program that operates in a true affiliate marketing fashion. However, once you join at the $49/$99 level of the program (or some smaller amount), you are encouraged to join at a more expensive level or BUY into some sort upline/downline platform, you have been misled and tricked to think you are affiliate marketing. This is a simple facade that has been set up, but in reality you are joining in on an affiliate marketing scheme.
  • Has an Income Disclaimer or Compensation Plan. All MLM companies are required to have a compensation plan as well as an income disclaimer on their website. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page and you see either of these, the given program IS NOT an affiliate program or affiliate marketing. It is an MLM.
  • There is a Cost to Join. Affiliate programs are free to join. If you have to pay to join an affiliate program, you should be skeptical. Some companies have a small, nominal fee to prove that you are real, but if you are paying $99 to join an affiliate program it is NOT an affiliate program.

What Affiliate Marketing Really Looks Like

OK, so now that you know what affiliate marketing is not, what is affiliate marketing? I have explained it in detail on the following affiliate marketing breakdown page already, but I want to show you two side by side examples of a program that is affiliate marketing, and one that is not.

Affiliate Marketing vs Fake Affiliates

The diagram offers you a good breakdown of the differences between real affiliate marketing, and the companies that are pretending to be affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is the relationship between an affiliate, a company selling products and/or services online, and a customer. As an affiliate, you can add affiliate links on your website or elsewhere, and if someone subsequently clicks on your link and buys something, you get a percentage of gross sale. This typically ranges between 1% and 75%, and will vary from company to company.

For example, if I run a website dedicated to selling “golf equipment” and I link off to Callaway to their website through my affiliate links, they will pay me 6% commissions for any sales that I drive to them. This allows Callaway to in essence have 10,000’s of people, across the internet simultaneously promoting their products.

As an affiliate, it gives me the opportunity to potentially promote MILLIONS of products through my websites, social channels and email and earn a great deal of affiliate income in the process. It is a brilliant business model and one that is only continuing to grow online, but there are a lot of companies abusing the word “affiliate marketing” when in actuality they are an MLM or worse, a pyramid scheme.

Affiliate programs are not multi-level, nor do they require you to pay money in order to promote a product or service at a particular level. If someone is trying to get you to join something that is multi-level or that is paid, it is NOT an affiliate program.

There is a proper process, and a proper ethical procedure that all successful affiliates are following these days, and I am going to take a minute to explain this.

Establishing Yourself as An Authority Marketer

There is a right way to create a sustainable and long term business online, and there are many wrong ways. I am not going to focus on the wrong ways, rather the proper way. Becoming an authority.

The most natural way to do this is to choose something that you are truly passionate or interested in and build a business around this. That is not the only way, but it is a great starting point. That way you can truly build a business around something that you love to do.

Let’s say I love basketball, which I do, I could create an entire business and work to become an authority website in a particular segment of the broader basketball category. Let’s say, Basketball Skills and Drills.

I would then build a website, and start building out the content, all while being able to integrate relevant promotions into my website through affiliate programs. There are all sorts of things that I could promote in a niche like this, some examples would be:

  • Amazon (1,000’s of products related that pay 6% commissions)
  • Ballers Institute Skills Guide/Training (pays 51% commissions)
  • Vertical Jump Bands (6% commissions)
  • JumpUSA (15% Commissions)
  • And 100’s more

This is just brushing the surface, as I build out my basketball skills website and discuss many topics within this niche, I will be integrating highly relevant and useful product/service recommendations to my audience. Through time, I could have 100’s or 1,000’s of pages on my website, driving 1,000’s of unique visitors to my website daily, generating far more than a typical full time income ($1,000’s per day).

To grow your business, you scale your content and traffic. That is the approach that can be taken within any niche, and that is the most scalable and lucrative way to build a thriving affiliate marketing business. So whether you are interested in building a mommy blog, a cats and dogs website, a tech gadget website, a knitting site, sports related site, or a hobby car website, there are literally 100,000’s of directions that you can head.

That is the reality of the affiliate marketing business, and that is how affiliate marketing works. If you are interested in building a thriving affiliate marketing business, there is only ONE place in the world that you should consider, Wealthy Affiliate. It is a community & platform that offers an “all-inclusive” environment with the training, live classes, research tools, websites, hosting, coaching and networking under one roof. Get more info here.

I hope I have offered some clarity on the differences between the REAL affiliate marketing opportunity, and those companies and individuals out there pretending to be affiliate marketing when they are not. I would love to hear any stories you have had, or if you have any questions about the legitimacy of any program (or affiliate marketing in general) I would be more than happy to help you out.




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29 thoughts on “Fake Affiliate Marketing Companies. Be on the Lookout.”

  1. Kyle, I deeply regret ever leaving Wealthy Affiliate. I got taken in by the promises of Anthony Morrison, and his focus on making money quickly. This has costed dearly, both financially and emotionally. How do I come back into WA? I have learned my lesson well that there is no quick way to financial riches, and if that is what is being promised grab your wallet and run! Hopefully I can recover some my money, but it is not looking promising.

    • You can resubscribe to Wealthy Affiliate at any time by logging back into your account, and you can reconnect your training, your profile, your network instantly when you resub.

      Unfortunately there are a lot of companies and individuals out there in the industry that are in the business of using “People” as a vehicle to make as much money as they can, without offering sufficient value in return. You will see this with the “high ticket” model, companies charging several $1,000’s for info products, conferences, masterminds and training.

  2. Hey Kyle,
    I’ve been through scams before and I learned my lesson before I started looking into affiliate marketing companies.
    It was easy to spot most of the fakes because as you pointed out they were always asking for money upfront and not concerned about helping people first.
    The MLM companies and others that were asking for so much money upfront just made it so obvious that they were not legitimate.
    When I found Wealthy Affiliate I didn’t hesitate one bit. It’s the one company that is real to me and doesn’t “hide” anything. It’s all about building a website around a niche around something you love and are passionate about. That’s what convinced me it was the real McCoy!
    Do you have any one particular red flag for folks for trying to avoid the fakes or are they all equally important?

    • One of the biggest standout red flags in my opinion is when “money” is the ultimate goal within the marketing, without any explanation as to how you are going to earn it.  There is all sorts of facades and motivating videos of people on a beach, driving nice cars and partying, but there is no explanation of what you will actually be doing. 

      This is almost certainly going to be a scam, or some sort of MLM scheme…and often times a small, low ticket purchase is going to be followed up with a high ticket one. But all of these affiliate marketing “scam clues” are very important and are good indicators that you may be getting involved in a scheme, not a affiliate marketing business.

      One thing we have always believed in is offering VALUE and being up front and honest with your audience about the process and what you are offering them, before you ever ask for a penny.  That is why we have our free Starter membership, and why WA continues to lead the industry in terms of ethics and trust. 

  3. Hi Kyle,

    Before I stumbled wealthy affiliate I joined other affiliate marketing company, I really believed that it’s affiliate marketing when i was a new member, they have an affiliate program but the program is just promoting their company and their core products, they don’t have program teaching members to be a real affiliate marketer. They have different core products at different prices, and you need to upgrade your level to learn other training about affiliate marketing or should i say how to recruit new members, If you are just in a first level what you can learn only is driving traffic using Facebook and how to use and pay Facebook ads. 

    Their training is very basic and no value and if you are just a new member you can edit the income of their top earners to make your audience believed that you can really earn to their company. The commission is depended on your level too, that is why they want all new member to position yourself to a higher level to get more commission from your recruit. 

    I decided to leave that company after I finish the basic training because it’s very clear that they are not affiliate marketing even if they insisting that they are not MLM or pyramid. 

    Your article is very helpful especially to people who don’t know the difference between affiliate marketing and MLM, and I’m so thankful that I stumbled WA and I joined right away after reading all good reviews and read about affiliate marketing business.

    • That is exactly what I am referring to.  That is an MLM and that could in many countries, states, and provinces be deemed a pyramid scheme.  Unfortunately,  unscrupulous companies like this are presenting themselves as though they are “affiliate marketing” and thus, giving the rest of the  industry a completely bad name.

      Feel good that you rid yourself of this program before it is too late.  Any program that encourages you to join a higher level, in order to earn higher commissions at that level is bound to eventually get  taken out by the FTC for fraudulent business practices and this is something that we have seen a great deal lately.  

  4. Hi Kyle; I had fallen victim to illegal offers more time than I care to admit. It was at the time when I had nothing left for these heartless ones to take; the anger that grips me pushes my eyes open so that I decided to send somebody to prison if I could.

    I was in a range; searching Google for that type of help when I stumbled upon keywords that promote Wealthy Affiliate. I immediately identify the difference as I opened the Link. Angry though I was; as I read through the signup information I knew that it was a business for real and not anything fake.

    I signed up for free, I do not make money as yet, but I am sure it will happen.

    Thanks, Kyle for such a fantastic opportunity wherein whosoever will, can become a real entrepreneur doing business


    • You can either be angry and consumed by  past mistakes, or you can focus on the positive an exciting future you have ahead of you in the affiliate marketing world. I am glad you chose the latter.

      There are enough scams and schemes within the online world that they could fill a large container ship, but as a customer when  you understand and know the traits to avoid with these types of schemes, it really makes it much easier to dodge them.   I am hoping that many of these folks will also get the opportunity to read this,  so  they can truly understand the differences between legitimate affiliate marketing, and those companies that are pretending to be in the affiliate marketing space.  

      Thanks for stopping  by.  

  5. Hi Kyle, I am glad that you took some time to elaborate on this topic as I’ve personally encountered a few MLM companies online that are promoting themselves the affiliate way. It’s kind of confusing because that wasn’t what I learned about inside WA’s training. Now I have more clarity on what’s going on.

    On a side note, it appears that some long standing MLMs are starting to adopt the affiliate way rather transparently. For example, I noticed that Avon is now a partner with CJ network while still maintaining their direct representative channel. I wonder what’s your take on that. Thanks.

    • I have noticed that as well. There are MLM’s that have a singular component of their business that is affiliate marketing.  Often times you see a front end price point or offer that is lower ticket, and this is purely commission based like affiliate marketing.  But when people do join, they are actually getting involve in a multi-level program and then the trickery begins.

      Companies like CJ are in the business of providing their software and network for companies that want to expand their business in a performance marketing manner.  I am sure they don’t have an ethics team or a team dedicated to screening programs in too much detail, and many would argue that Avon is completely legitimate as they have been operating or many moons now, they  have a tangible product.   What they are not is affiliate marketing, but I also think they are using  CJ to get leads, versus trying to use that network to try to portray themselves as something that they are not. 

  6. I’m fortunate that I have never been conned into signing up for a fake MLM scheme. I must say I have been plain lucky because I almost did on two occasions. Like you said, not all MLMs are bad if they sell themselves as affiliate marketing companies, then there’s a serious issue here. They are poles apart and I’m glad that you have explained very clearly the difference between the two. But these days, they do all the clever stuff and with guile, they even manage to blur out the difference. To a wide-eyed newbie, the bait is enough to coax them into their scheme which is similar to a hit-and-run case. The end result is, you are left all high and dry and with a serious dent on your optimism. Thanks for a nice post.

    • You are definitely one of the fortunate ones, too many others have fallen and are still falling into these traps.  The problem is that too many of  them are deeming themselves as affiliate marketing, when in reality their programs are about joining so they can force them into promoting the same product,  or they have some hidden MLM scheme in the back office of their sites. 

      The purpose of this post was to remove the “blurred” lines that are being created by unscrupulous marketers out there and educate others on the industry.  If I can save just one person from being scammed, I have done my job!

  7. Kyle!

    It is really excellent to see your site up for review. A real pleasant surprise.

    I see that the Dragon Dictation Software really helps you be more productive. I am considering getting one as I do NOT want carpel tunnel wrists from typing fast.

    Back to the subject of affiliate marketing and spotting the real ones from the fakes, I find you have really nailed it. Also, I now see the value of creating an authority site in a clearer manner than before.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi!

    When I first tried to make money online I clicked ads on “Paid To Click” sites but it was boring and only gave a little money (some sites were also scams or frauds).

    Then I start doing a lot of different surveys but they were quite the same, you didn’t’ learn very much and you were often “screened out” or there was some “error” just before completion.

    After that, I tried different MLM and so-called AD platforms with revenue share. All the revenue share sites turned out to be frauds (and it didn’t feel right to promote) and one of the MLM I tried was almost forcing me to pay a lot of money 🙁

    I lost a lot of time and money online and that’s why I think it’s important to write about the dishonest/unethical online businesses but also the good ones…just like you do in this post!

    Have you or anyone close to you lost any money online?

    Regards, Jan

    • There are plenty of different facades that these companies set-up.  Paid to click, MLM, selling all sorts of high ticket machines/products, etc.  At the end of the day, most of them are not affiliate marketing, if they work really hard to sell you on the idea that they are (without actually telling you what it is).

      Affiliate  programs are free, and as an affiliate marketer you will be promoting from over 550 MILLION products/services.  

  9. Hey, Kyle!

    Everything you say about fake affiliate marketing companies is on point.

    Unfortunately, I learned the hard way – having been sucked in by Empower Network and Digital Altitude.

    The owners heavily promote their programs with hype, but as soon as you get in, they turn out to be “plug and play” systems.

    You start off at a cheap membership level of $1 or $25/month (which you assume will get you started off on the right foot) – but all you get is some generic training on making money.

    To get any real meat on the bone, you have to upgrade to the next level and then the next, etc – which results in $1,000s out-of-pocket before you start seeing any level of success.

    The other thing I hate is that when you decide to invest and go “all in”, you’re stuck with promoting that system and its products instead of building something that you have a true interest in.

    The good news is that money making schemes eventually get closed down either by the FTC or due to being unsustainable.


    • Oh no, I had no idea Neil.  Sorry to hear you did get sucked in by a few of these companies, you certainly are not alone.  Those promoting these programs are just as responsible and guilty as those that were running them, and what we  are going to start to see is a shake up of those representing themselves as “affiliates” as well (the FTC traces  the money back to participants through “claw backs”).

      Any company asking you for $1,000’s should be questioned, and almost assumed to be a scam these days.  In particular if no software or additional service is offered, this is unquestionably a payment into a bigger “scheme” which only thrives by others paying in at susbsequent levels of the scheme.

  10. This post is definitely an eye opener, especially as the term “internet marketer” and “affiliate marketer” seem to be used in an interchangeable way. The sad part is that many of us fall for this and it leads to trouble. I don’t think there can be enough said about the difference between the two.

    Thank you for clearing this up and helping the rest of us from falling into that trap of pay to play. I especially like the comparison image you put in lmao that was a nice touch.

    This would be something I would be interested in learning how to do once I rework my content.

    Thanks again for the great advice


    • The problem is, you only know what you know.  Someone that is new to the affiliate marketing space could (and are) easily convinced it is  something that it isn’t by these unscrupulous companies. Many of them are emulating that they are affiliate marketing on the front end with a low ticket price,  then on the back end they have an MLM arrangement.

      Fortunately many of these companies have recently been deemed fraudulent by the FTC  and have been wiped from the Internet. My only assumption is that this is going to continue to happen to those companies that are “posing” to be affiliate marketing, when in reality they are not.  

  11. The difference between an MLM and an affiliate marketer can be quite confusing especially with so many MLM companies trying to get money from people by all means. This post has made it really clear. Thank you. Now I know what to look out for and what to avoid.

    • As the name states, if there is a downline structure and multiple-levels it is an MLM.  Anything over 2 levels is considered a multi-level marketing scheme. 

  12. Kyle,

    I appreciate your article here! I actually am a bit surprised to hear that anything with high ticket items isn’t affiliate marketing. I’ve seen so many of the folks online who claim to be affiliate marketers. In fact I fell on one of these programs before I found a program that worked for me. I remember just to see what it was like, it cost me like $30 and it had upsells of ridiculous amounts as you progressed through the training. This was when I stopped pursuing it and went on to find something else. 

    I quite honestly didn’t know MLM existed online as well until I started affiliate marketing. I was a part of an MLM which worked on a referral basis when I was in college a couple of years ago. I thought this was a good deal, but I didn’t really appreciate how they only talked ‘nice’ to you if you were bringing in good referrals. If you didn’t they didn’t really take much notice of you. This is why I like affiliate marketing. There is no playing favorites here. It has an equal playing ground and equal knowledge. 

    Appreciate the article!

  13. Kyle,

    I really enjoyed your article defining the difference between real and fake affiliate marketing. I have been involved in all too many fake ones that turned out to be MLM schemes. They seemed great at first and I would get all excited, but when it was all work on my part and no ROI, I would get frustrated and watch my hundreds to thousands of dollars vanish leaving me alone and broke! I shouldn’t have to pay out big bucks to “sell” their product for them!

    I have recently joined Wealthy Affiliate and am learning about how to create a great and helpful website while also learning how to do REAL affiliate marketing with reputable companies! I am loving it. I love that I have the ability to reach thousands of people not only with my message, but also with useful items that can help them meet their needs!

    Keep sharing the truth!

    Best wishes,Karin 🙂

    • There certainly are an abundance of them out there.   As a rule of thumb if  a company says they are “affiliate marketing” in one breath, and in the next breath they state you are part of a downline,  then you should run for the hills. There are too many companies in this industry pretending to be affiliate marketing, when they are not…and their leaders come from pure MLM backgrounds.

  14. Hi Kyle,

    thanks for the detailed explanation. You really showed what is true/real affiliate marketing.I sure did feel all the benefits when I joined Wealthy Affiliate. I’m so gladthat I’m a member and that I found it.

    I was always reserved in trying programs that wanted to take a lot of money atthe start, just for joining. You are totally right about this: ’only care aboutmaking money, at any cost’ – about fake affiliates. I saw some reviews ofpeople who tried those programs with high tickets and they practically ’pullthe wool over user’s eyes’ (easily tricked them). People where not satisifiedat all. They took a lot and gave nothing to them. I’m glad that I chose WA and I wouldrecommend it to anyone, trully from the heart.

    I love the diagram you put, I downloaded it to my computer as a reminder. 🙂

    Thank you,


    • There are many programs claiming to be affiliate marketing, when in reality they are nothing more than a high ticket, sham.  Too many people are getting taken advantage by such programs which is why I wanted to offer some clarity on the top clues to look for when assessing and analyzing a program.

      If I can help a single person avoid one of these scams or fake affiliate marketing companies, I have done my job.  Time to give people the information that avoid the “wool over the eyes”.

  15. Many of us are trapped wIth fake news. It is no other with fake affiliate marketing. You give us a great warning and also a sure guide on how to recognize thoze companies and not to fall into their traps. I was very happy to discover the WA platform and to learn on daily bases how to build up an online business. It is the teaching part that I find the most relevant. A university indead. Before I lost time and money in learning with others. But no in depht. Thank you Kyle for giving us those great ressources! 

    • Fake news, fake reviews, fake everything.  You hear it all these days, the word once used to describe something that wasn’t reality or fact free is now being used to describe things that those who are doing bad things don’t want to hear.

      There are so many companies out there faking being affiliate marketing, when in reality they are multi-level marketing schemes, or worse yet, illegal/fraudulent programs.  These are the clues that you need to watch out for and I hope others find this insightful.  

  16. Hi Kyle,
    I wish I would have read this blog before I joined that company which I don’t want to name it, building trust based on transparency, offering solutions and keeping your word with your customer is the key to continue in business

    I told them I couldn’t promote you unless I see the benefits of your education program.. your system should teach me how to make money from affiliate marketing my niche related product, not your company. That’s why when I joined WA, I asked you many questions sometimes irittating, and you were always there(live) to respond to my questions. It didn’t take time for me to decide to upgrade and to promote WA ethically.
    Ahmed Shehata


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