Recently, a scandal broke when it was discovered that a freelance columnist at ESPN.com was using her connection with the Worldwide Leader in Sports to allegedly scam others. The story of Sarah Phillips offers some insight into making money online. Her story actually illustrates the many opportunities available online. Unfortunately, if the allegations against her turn out to be accurate, her story also illustrates how scammers can swoop in and take advantage of you.

Plenty of Opportunities

One of the great things about opportunities on the Internet is that they are easy to find. Sometimes you can simply be “discovered” through hard work and persistence. Sarah Phillips started out making comments in the forums of a popular sports betting web site, Covers.com. After a short period of time, the Covers.com owners and editors noticed her, and invited her to write a column for the web site. That’s pretty good for someone who is a relative unknown. The Internet offers you the chance to make a name for yourself, and garner notice for your hard work, since the audience is wider, and more people are likely to see what you are doing.

The story got even sweeter for Phillips, though. Not many months after she started writing her column for the sports betting web site, an editor at ESPN.com saw her work. Phillips was invited to become an ESPN.com columnist for Playbook (formerly Page 2). That’s the sort of opportunity that is rare even in the Internet world. But it still emphasizes the point that there are opportunities out there for just about anyone.

Watch Out for Scams

The story seems like a feel-good story: Young college co-ed makes gets a great side gig. But things started to get weird when people started accusing Phillips (and a “shady” associate) of fraud. One was someone she had exchanged communication with from her Covers days. He said that she claimed to be starting a web site, but that she needed money to get things going. Phillips allegedly promised to allow him to be a part of it, and that he gave her money.

But some of the more shocking allegations come from those who claim that Phillips and her associate convinced them to turn over their own popular (and possibly profitable) social media accounts over in exchange for a chance to be involved with a web site that Phillips insisted that her friends at ESPN were just waiting to buy. The owner of the popular NBA Memes Facebook page turned over admin credentials to Phillips and her associate. And the parody Twitter feed Condescending Wonka (OhWonka) similarly gave up control.

Supposedly part of the reason such scams work is because it seems like it could actually be true. Phillips had an ESPN.com byline. Her associate claimed to be gunning for a VP position at ESPN. Phillips’ byline made it plausible to her dupes that she might actually have something in the works, and that they were dealing with the real thing. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case. As this story shows, before you do business online, make sure you look deeper. Look beyond the superficial story, and try to independently confirm the facts. You’ll be in a much better place, and less likely to fall for scams.