Christopher Spata is a freelance journalist and he was recently scammed on Craigslist . Fortunately for the rest of us, he was brave enough to share his experience with the readers of Salon so that we can learn from it.
The scam involved being a “part time data entry person to help with a temporary computer project.” The reality of what was going on is that Spata was signing up for affiliate offers and the links he was using belonged to Aaron, some guy in Michigan. Every time he signed up for Netflix, Aaron got paid. Eveyrtime he signed up for Disney Movie Club, Aaron got paid. In some cases, the trials cost a couple bucks and, in theory, Aaron was going to reimburse Spata and pay him more. This system isn’t that much different than the Fatcash rebate system at Fatwallet or being paid through Ebates, except Aaron is an individual and decided not to pay Spata.
Here’s how can you avoid something like this:
Listen to Your Gut
Spata admits from the onset that he thought it sounded shady. The job didn’t match the ad. He could make a lot of money doing very little. It seemed a little too good to be true and he listened to his gut… until he stopped. Now, Spata is in a tough position. He needs to find some part time work to meet bills and while his gut said it was a scam, his head said to give it a shot. Worst case scenario is that he loses some time and right now, with no job, his time isn’t terribly valuable.
Your best scam detector is your gut. You may not be able to point to the reasons why your gut screams “scam!” but it’s the same reason why the world’s best experts on anything can’t tell you how they do the things they do. You can call it thin slicing  or you can call it a gut feel, but the reality is that it works more often than it doesn’t.
Trust Your Friends
So before he jumps in, he sends it to a friend whose opinion he trusted. He trusted her to be as untrusting and cynical as he was and she was – she was 99% sure it was a scam but it doesn’t hurt to talk to the guy. The part that doesn’t get talked about in the article is that she probably knows he’s out of work and she doesn’t want to be the one that tells him “that’s a scam run away!” when it might not be. There’s a very small 1% chance that it’s not a scam, so you don’t want to be the one that says “run” while your friend eats more ramen.
Your second best scam detector is the gut of your friends. Ask several of them and you can drop that percentage down to zero.
Never Pay Out of Pocket
With the exception of getting to interviews, you should never pay out of pocket for a job. Whether it’s paying to get a kit or, in this case, signing up for offers, no legitimate job should ask you to pay money on the on set. At worst, anything you need to pay for should be deducted out of paychecks (like uniforms) and that’s only if they are legitimate. All those charges Spata was paying for were just trials ending and the full service beginning.
What can you do if you’re scammed like this? Save the links you are sent from the scammer because it’ll have enough tracking information to identify them should you approach the affiliate network. At least you can hit back a little should you get scammed.