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No free participation. If you have to pay a company for privilege of trying to sell their product and increase their profits, you aren't looking at an affiliate program. You've found an example of multi-level marketing (MLM). Not all MLM opportunities are scams, and some people are extremely successful at MLM. Unfortunately, if you aren't one of few who can make it work; you'll usually spend a fair chunk of change discovering this MLM program doesn't fit your needs. True affiliate programs are free to join. If things don't work out way you expected, you haven't risked any of your money.
No positive testimonials. Even though there is no financial cost for an affiliate program, you will be investing quite a bit of your most precious commodity, time. Before making that sacrifice, it's always a good idea to spend some time scouring Internet for people who have some experience with your program. Don't rely on testimonials a company provides on their website to give you a complete and accurate picture. Head to your favorite search engine and see what kind of dirt you can dig up. A search with program name and word "review", "scam", or "experience" is a good place to start. Even high caliber programs will likely have some negative reviews from people frustrated program wasn't a good fit for them, so don't immediately condemn an opportunity for a little bad press. Unless a program is brand new, though, you should be able to find a few positive experiences and success stories.
No track record. A good affiliate program is going to continue to be a good affiliate program for a while. Resist temptation to be swayed by marketing hype that urges you to "get in on ground floor" of a brand new opportunity. Of course, there's something to be said for being first to market with a new idea, so you shouldn't be afraid to immediately embrace an affiliate program that you feel good about and doesn't set off any of other red flags described here. If you are on bubble trying to decide if a program is legitimate, though, you're better off waiting. In six months dependable affiliate opportunities with quality, high-demand products will still be around, and they'll still be plenty of money to be made. Meanwhile, most of affiliate program scams will have collapsed.
Clay Mabbitt writes articles about online income opportunities. He is the founder of a community of Internet entrepreneurs sharing knowledge and experience at http://www.affiliatescreen.com