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NickMorris
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Lots to comment on here.

Blackhat?
First of all, buying links isn’t technically blackhat – the Yahoo directory is a source of paid links and, as far as I know, not penalised by Google. What is blackhat is non-editorial links. It just so happens that most paid links are also non-editorial (or at least relatively low on the scale of editorial scrutiny) so its pretty safe for Google to consider all paid links to be black hat, with a few exceptions, such as the Yahoo directory.

Basically instances when you’re linking to a website and indicating to Google that ‘I’m linking to this site because I find it high quality’ while the actual case is ‘I’m linking to this site because they gave me money.’ Google does not like to manipulated in this way.

Natural Links
If you’re discreet and make the links you’re buying appear natural then its very difficult for Google to detect that your links are paid and therefore you’re unlikely to get a penalty. Some ideas to make your links appear natural:
-Vary your anchor text (I think I read that the average number of words in anchor text is something like 5)
-Try for links from various sources, i.e. not all blogs
-Get links from within content rather than sidebars or footers
-Don’t be worried about the timing of links but rather how their acquisition relates to website events. Most links should go from and/or to fresh content

PageRank
As some others have mentioned, PageRank is no longer an accurate measure of success of your own website – try traffic, engagement and sales. However, if you’re trying to evaluate other websites for possible link acquisition you probably won’t have access to that data. Still, PR is of very little use here. If you must use a similar stat then try SEOmoz’s Domain Authority (DA). Also look at other stats that related to the website’s authority, such as:
-Size of twitter following (and followers:following ratio)
-Number of subscribers
-Quality of content

Risk vs Return
You’ve repeatedly mentioned getting ‘bitch slapped’ is being your primary concern with using this technique but a penalty such as this isn’t your only risk. Google certainly has the ability to devalue links that it suspects are non (or less) editorial. Having said that, and as I mentioned above, if you do it discreetly, paid links are very difficult to detect so I would think that overall your risk is pretty low.

At <100 searches per month is your return even going to be worth the price of the links, let alone the risk? However, I can imagine that some acne products could produce a high lifetime customer value so perhaps the returns would be worth it, that for you to decide.

Opportunity Cost
Another thing you need to consider is whether your money and time could be better spent elsewhere. In industries such as Adult and Gambling that are ultra competitive and where link buying is rife then you might find that this technique is the best use of your resources – not sure if this is the case for you though.

Other Techniques
If you still feel like you need to spend some money, try some of these techniques:
-Guest post – here’s the catch – negotiate better posts on better blogs by offering to pay for StumbleUpon (or other) traffic
-Give products away to bloggers in exchange for a review with a link to your website
-Hold a competition with entry involving adding a link to your website from their blog/website
-Offer student discounts in exchange for links from the university or school website
-Sponsor a local sporting group or charity

Conclusion
It’s naive to think that all blackhat techniques are useless. Google, while incredibly sophisticated, is not perfect and can still be manipulated. If you are going to go down this path you should be aware of the risks, not least of which is the inherent diminishing value of blackhat techniques.