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Don’t get scammed: How to spot a fake website

Wednesday, 28 March, 2018

One of the unfortunate outcomes of living our lives online is how often people are taken in by failing to spot a fake website.

Even for hardened internet users, fakes are difficult to distinguish from genuine sites they can cost you not only your money but your privacy too.

With the right tools to hand and a bit of investigative work you can spot which sites are fake and which are real.

Always double-check the website address

Criminals are banking on the fact that you don’t know how to spot a fake website.

Many spoof websites will use well-known brands and products to entice you in parting with your cash.

An example would be ipadoffers.net or discountnikeclothese.org.

These are fake, in fact any website that ends with .net or .org is probably worth looking at.

Online retailers very rarely use these domains so they may have been acquired by fraudsters.

Rather than visit the site direct, a Google search will help you find the real address.

Secure sites use https

Always check whether the address is “http://” – which is what an unencrypted website begins – or the preferred “https://” which will indicate a secure website.

For example, if you check the BroadbandDeals.co.uk website address in your browser bar, you’ll see it starts with “https://”.

If you are shopping online you should always check that the website you’re buying from has “https://”.

If not, your payment will not be secure and you could be a victim of fraud.

Another red flag if you want to spot a fake website is that hoaxes will have an overabundance of symbols and random letters in the address.

For example: support-microsoft-com.jvrg.info. A quick Google check will reveal that the “jvrg” portion of the URL belongs to a scam.

Browse the suspected website

If you’re on the site you think might be a fake, then visit the homepage or the ‘About Us’ pages and read what they say. Look for poor English, grammatical errors or phrases that don’t quite look right.

Also check the site’s contact information. If a site doesn’t have a ‘Contact Us’ feature which tells you who owns the website, where its head offices are, and email and telephone numbers to make contact, then alarm bells should be ringing.

Any legitimate company should list a place of business, including phone numbers and email addresses through which to contact them.

If these are absent, then treat it with caution.

Check the returns policy

Always check a company’s returns policy if you are buying a physical product online.

A legitimate retail site will have a shipping and returns policy listed on the website.

This should contain terms and conditions and a privacy policy to tell you how the company handles your personal data.

Read online reviews and spot fakes

It is highly recommended to see what others are saying about the site or product a website is trying to sell you.

You might do this through Trustpilot, reviews.co.uk or any other major brand like Revoo.co.uk.

But keep an eye out for fake reviews.

Look at reviews across a number of sources and check the aggregate customer reviews.

Don’t just rely on one review site, check out a number of them to avoid getting a biased image.

Are there similarities in the reviews? Look out for similar word groupings and writing style.

Another indication they might be fake is if the reviews are all dated within one week or one month.

Check the company’s social media pages for recent activities and what other people are posting.

Pay attention to shipping fees

This can be a way that unscrupulous companies will jack up the price.

Pay attention to the location the product is being shipped from.

If you’re getting the bargain of the lifetime but it’s coming from Taiwan or Hong Kong, you should think twice.

Never pay with a bank transfer

In general, when shopping online never pay for anything with a bank transfer.

Using a credit card gives you some protection if you subsequently find you’ve been scammed, bank transfers do not.

While the seller on the other end will try to be persuasive, telling you this is the only way to pay, or it helps them avoid other fees, you’re just inviting trouble.

It becomes extremely difficult to retrace your steps, depending on the scam you fell for and the measures you took.

If your bank refuses to help then you can make an official complaint, not only to the bank manager and head office, but also to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Fake PayPal

Always check the authenticity of a PayPal payment page. Fraudsters will sometimes set up a fake PayPal page to gain your bank details.

A genuine PayPal page will always address you by your full name. a fake one will address you as “valued customer”, “member” or some other generic name.

A real PayPal page will also use the secure “https://” web address.

And if you have doubts then send the PayPal address to PayPal itself and they will check it out for you.

Credit and debit cards

The best protection you have for paying online securely is through your credit or debit card.

These offer the greatest protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Under this section the credit card company is jointly liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the company.

With a debit card there will be a chargeback scheme that assists in getting your money back.

It applies to all debit card transactions including goods costing less than £100. But there are no guarantees your bank will be able to recover your money.

So the responsibility lies with you to spot a fake website and do your best not to get scammed.

MAIN IMAGE: Marco Verch (composite)/CC BY 2.0

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.

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