This post is the latest in an ongoing series on how to stay safe online. - Ed.

As the designated tech support person for my immediate family, I'm used to getting calls about issues like browser crashes and confusing websites. But recently my mom called to ask about something she saw online that said Google would pay her thousands of dollars to work from home with no experience required. She didn't buy it, but she did want to ask — is this for real?

My mom was right to be skeptical. In the current economic downturn, a lot of people are looking for ways to make extra money. Unfortunately, some unsavory characters see this trend as an opportunity to trick unsuspecting people with scams and elaborate get-rich-quick schemes. We're seeing disturbing cases in which websites, emails and advertisements claim that you can make large amounts of money from home with very little effort using Google products and services. They're designed to look like they were written by a regular person, just like you, who stumbled across an amazing opportunity to make their monetary dreams come true. What they don't tell you clearly is that Google is not affiliated with these sites and that they may add extra charges to your credit card or misuse your personal information.

To be clear, we are proud to say that many companies and individuals do legitimately make money placing ads on their websites with Google AdSense or participating in programs like the Google Affiliate Network. Creating a successful website is hard work — successful sites earn their money by writing compelling content, developing useful applications and maintaining vibrant user communities. Any claim that you can skip all of that and make just as much money by posting links, using a secret system, or running a kit to generate websites should be treated with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Spammers attempt to reach users by generating hundreds of webpages and sending out a flood of spam emails, sometimes even buying advertisements on reputable websites. Their sites also target other popular Internet companies. They may include family photos pilfered from another site or a picture of a check they supposedly received. Spammers use a wide range of techniques that try to slip past automatic filters to get to you. At Google, we work hard to protect users from these schemes by using a combination of automated and manual tools that remove them from our search index and ad network. However, scams target many companies and appear in various places around the web, so we all need to work cooperatively. Google collaborates with various government and non-governmental consumer protection agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, that are investigating these types of schemes further.

How to identify scams and other schemes

In general, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some pointers on what to look out for:
  • Before you fill out a form or give someone a credit card, do a web search to see what other people are saying about the company and its practices.
  • Be wary of companies that ask for upfront charges for services that Google actually offers for free. Check out our business solutions page before writing a check.
  • Always read the fine print. Watch out for get-rich-quick schemes that charge a very low initial fee before sneaking in large reoccurring charges on your credit card or bank account.
  • Google never guarantees top placement in search results or AdWords — beware of companies that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a special relationship with Google, or advertise a "priority submit" to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or through the Sitemaps program — you can do these tasks yourself at no cost whatsoever.
  • Be wary of anything resembling a pyramid scheme, where you make commissions by recruiting more participants.
  • Some sales pitches use the word "Google" or other trademarks right in their name with targeted phrases like "cash," "pay day," "money," "secrets," "home business," etc. If you can't find it on our list of Google products or on the business solutions page, don't trust it.
  • Look for third party verification. Scammers can easily cut-and-paste images to plaster a site with "as seen on TV," "five-star reviews" and the logos of well-known news channels. Products that have really been recommended by experts and fellow users typically contain links from legitimate news sites and multiple user review sites.
  • Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about making money with Google AdWords as you do for "burn fat at night" diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators. In general, be wary of offers from firms that email you out of the blue. Amazingly, we get these spam emails too:
"I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories..."
  • Google is not running a lottery, and we have not picked your email address to win millions of dollars. Don't give out your bank account details via email in anticipation of a big jackpot.
What you can do
  • If you come across many sites with duplicate content or common templates intended to direct users to the same product or scheme, please let us know with a spam report.
  • If you've been contacted to place suspicious links on your site for money, let us know with the paid link report form. If you have your own website or are in charge of advertising on a site, think carefully before accepting ads or entering into affiliate programs that will lead your users to schemes like those mentioned above.
  • If your site's forums or comment sections have been spammed with fake offers of fabulous financial gain, you may need to take steps to fight comment spam. Spammers will take advantage of any user-generated content sections of your site, and will even generate thousands of fake user profiles to try to slip under the radar.