When you work online, create a website, and set up an eCommerce store, your credibility is everything. As you establish your business reputation online, it is of utmost importance that you keep your reputation on the positive side.
Unlike in the real world where people can come into your real building, shake your hand and look you in the eye, people establishing a business online need to develop trust another way. This is usually referred to as “social proof.” Social proof is the condition of creating a psychological sense of importance or credibility for a brand based on the ideas and opinions of others.
One real example of this phenomenon is a business owner who puts up a Facebook page and obtains hundreds of followers who share and comment positively on their page or brand. Over time, this creates hype for a name positively and thereby “proves” the social validity of a brand.
There are other ways to gain credibility such as writing a book on a particular topic that shows your credibility or hosting a webinar or blog that promotes your brand.
With this in mind, we take a look at 13 unethical and potentially illegal ways to make money online in this post. So you will know what opportunities to avoid.
1. Spamming and keyword stuffing
You probably already understand why keyword stuffing will drop your rankings. But it also helps to remember why it is so unethical. Keyword stuffing is the process of overusing specific words with the purpose of directing people to a certain website or sales page. There is nothing wrong with sending people to legitimate pages when keywords are used naturally. But keyword stuffing is an overabundant use of words that are low in quality and are only meant to influence where people go online. It is considered a “Black Hat” technique.
2. Affiliate Marketing with Bogus Products
Affiliate marketing is a legitimate way to make money. But directing people to bogus products or products that are less than good quality is an unethical practice that should be avoided. It is important to check out any products that you promote on your website or blog so that you know you are representing good products. You have some legal liability regarding this if you recommend a product.
3. Selling Pirated eBooks or Media
Original eBooks are written by you are fine, and you can make a great deal of money this way, as well as use the books to promote your business or products. You can also outsource this work to other writers if you do not have the time to write the books yourself. However, you absolutely must retain “resell” rights from the author when you do this. To take any work that someone else created without their selling the exclusive rights to you is illegal and is considered an infringement of copyright.
4. Creating Autoblogs
Autoblogs are blogs with bots. In other words, they are set up using 100% automation software and designed to put out blog articles on a specific schedule that can be controlled by you ahead of time. While this may seem like an interesting way to put our fresh content, this is often done using tools such as WordPress’s Autoblog feature which pulls articles from other sources. This is dangerous for some reasons. First, people will be able to tell that it is not your content. Google may drop you in the rankings due to duplicate content. But worse, you could be accused of copyright infringement which is a federal crime that carries a penalty of $250,000 for one offense! If it is clear that you are not saying the posts are yours, you might get by with showing others’ content, but this practice could be perceived as claiming the content as your own. Do not risk this!
5. Setting up fake social media accounts
You probably already know that it’s unethical to set up fake accounts. But operating a business page that is not tied to a real business is also illegal. That’s because it creates the illusion of being representative of a real company and possibly causing people to spend money on something that is not legitimate. This is unethical and illegal. Transparency is necessary if you are going to create a good reputation online that will allow you to make a regular income and develop trust with your audience.
6. Writing Useless Posts or eBooks
Writing quality content is the only way to create your brand and make money in a legal and ethical way. When you write useless eBooks that are full of keyword stuffing, broken links, or references, not only will you lose your ranking with Google over time, but you may also receive terrible reviews on Amazon or Audible for the low-quality content. Anything you write or put out to the masses should be the highest quality possible. The content you write in any form reflects on you and your brand and website. So make sure it is good content and not meaningless text.
7. Counterfeit trading
Counterfeit products are still rampant on the internet today and buying and selling counterfeit products can be very lucrative. It is also very illegal. Legitimate companies create goods that they want to sell and promote online. Then illegal companies or individuals in China and other locations create an imitation product to compete with this legitimate product. This creates a clear disadvantage for the original product owner, and they can sue for damages if you try this unscrupulous tactic. If you are an online seller, avoid this practice always. Always check out the authenticity of the product before selling or promoting it.
8. Holding contest with money prizes without a permit
Holding contests online is a great way to get attention for your brand or products. Giving away free products is perfectly fine. But if you hold a contest involving money for a prize, you are entering into what is considered “sweepstakes” territory. There are particular regulations in various states regarding such contests, and you must make sure you follow these to the letter or face criminal charges. If in doubt, leave it out!
9. Lying to readers about content or offers
As a business or online blog owner, you probably already know the importance of telling the truth. This is just one of the most basic business ethics that all business owners know. This is not to say, however, that all business owners follow this. It is critical, however, if you want to create and maintain a viable business for the foreseeable future. As a rule of thumb, you might get away with something once or twice. But if you continue to deceive people, you will be destroyed online through social media and your credibility will be lost. This is just not worth the risk to take. Be honest with people about your brand, your products, and your services. Don’t overinflate an offer and tell them what the product does that will help them. Answer any questions honestly. People are looking for businesses they can trust online. They will be loyal to business owners who meet up to this standard. Ones who don’t may lose their good name. And once you lose that, it’s very hard to gain it back.
10. Posting digital content that is not your own
Just as we talked about eBooks and other content that belongs to someone else, the same rules apply to any digital content of any form that you did not create. You cannot post, sell, send as a file, or offer any downloads of digital content that is owned by others. This is an infringement of federal copyright law as well as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. To post anyone else’s content, you must secure a written notice from them granting you permission to post their content. Read the contract carefully, and this usually does not give you exclusive rights. Further, the only type of content you can post without worry is content that falls under the Creative Commons license, which is an open source, shareable license with some limitations. Only the author of the work can determine what type of license the work carries.
11. Selling personal data
A person’s data is important to their well-being and security both online and offline. Selling or even obtaining such data such as credit card information, social security numbers, and addresses without their permission is a crime and is an infringement of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. Just because we are in an era of free information and open source technology does not give anyone permission to hack someone’s accounts, purchase others’ private information, or sell this information for any reason. The only way to legally obtain information including emails, addresses, phone numbers, and credit card information is to have the person ‘sign up’ and give you this information with full knowledge when they purchase your product or sign up for your offers. The FTC takes this a step further and states that you may not keep or archive financial information on any server or device either unless the person opts in to save their data when ordering with a secure server that encrypts and protects it.
Gambling is only allowed in certain states, and there are specific laws for creating a casino or online gambling site. You must know the laws in your state as well as the federal laws to engage in this activity or offer it to your readers.
13. Selling tobaccos to minors
Retail store owners know that selling tobacco to minors is illegal. This behavior is also illegal online. So don’t do it.
Legitimate Ways to Make Money
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the unethical ways to make money online, in the hopes of discouraging anyone from using any of these tactics. Doing things legally and ethically is the only way to create and maintain a successful business. Sooner or later the Blackhat and illegal techniques will catch up with you, and you could lose everything.
The best way to make money online is to create a legitimate website and blog that offers people valuable information, resources, and opportunities. Business owners should think of ourselves as public servants who enjoy helping people to make their lives better. People will know when you want to help them and when you just want to make a quick buck! Using high ethics and creating genuine value is the way to go. When you think about the business like that, there’s no way you will lose!