As the influence of the internet rises, so does the prevalence of online scams. There are fraudsters making all kinds of claims to trap victims online - from fake investment opportunities to online stores - and the internet allows them to operate from any part of the world with anonymity. The ability to spot online scams is an important skill to have as the virtual world is increasingly becoming a part of every facet of our lives. The below tips will help you identify the signs which can indicate that a website could be a scam.
Common Sense: Too Good To Be True
When looking for goods online, a great deal can be very enticing. A Gucci bag or a new iPhone for half the price? Who wouldn’t want to grab such a deal? Scammers know this too and try to take advantage of the fact.
If an online deal looks too good to be true, think twice and double-check things. The easiest way to do this is to simply check out the same product at competing websites (that you trust). If the difference in prices is huge, it might be better to double-check the rest of the website.
Check Out the Social Media Links
Social media is a core part of ecommerce businesses these days and consumers often expect online shops to have a social media presence. Scammers know this and often insert logos of social media sites on their websites. Scratching beneath the surface often reveals this functionality is not even working.
The social buttons might lead to the homepage of the website, an empty profile or nowhere at all. Scammer(s) are often too lazy to actually implement a dedicated Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for their fake site (or don’t want a place for bad publicity to spread). If there are functioning social media accounts, take a quick look to see if there are any posts. Oftentimes, if the website is a scam, angry users will let you know!
Check the Small Print (Terms & Policies)
Scammers often use placeholder or rushed text in pages like About Us, Terms & Conditions Shipping Policy and Returns Policy to give the air of professionality. If you find that these pages don’t exist or are of poor quality (they contain typos, for example) think twice about shopping on the site! Do you really think a business would put up incomplete or sloppy text if it was legitimate?
Are Brand Names (Mis)used?
A lot of fraudulent web shops use brand names (Adidas, Chanel, Apple) in combination with words like ‘discounted’, ‘cheap’, ‘sale’ and even ‘free’ to get visitors via search engines. Brands usually don’t like to see their products being sold via these kinds of web shops. Premium brands rarely or never put their products on sale or offer huge discounts. Likewise, most serious online stores sell multiple brands and do not tie their livelihood to one brand.
Pay attention to the look and feel of these websites. Legitimate websites have high-quality logos and pictures, as brands want to impress you with their products. Scammers often steal content like images and product descriptions from various sources. This can mean that the look of a website can appear unprofessional, with odd looking formatting or low resolution pictures.
Does It Have A Working Trustmark?
Trustmarks are a method for third-party verification for an online store. They indicate security or consumer rights protection, for example. However, scam websites also use them without permission. For example, they might have a picture of trustmark on the website without actually being verified, meaning they are misusing the logo and misleading you!
One example of a trustmark is the Ecommerce Foundation’s Safe.Shop trustmark. If you see the Safe.Shop logo on a website you are worried about, try clicking on it! If you find that this functionality is not working, head over to Safe.Shop and check that they are, in fact, a certified trust seal user.
Check the Domain Name
Certain sites will try and trick you into thinking they are official websites of known brands, even though they have no relation to the actual company. Make sure that the domain name (the address of the website) is as expected, especially if clicking a link. For example, the real domain name of the brand may be brand.com, while the fake website might use variations like brand.net, brand.org, brand.xyz, brand.biz, brand.online and more.
Still not sure? An easy solution is to search for the particular page through your favourite search engine. Fake sites commonly rely on you clicking a direct link and generally won't be high up in the rankings.If you get an email asking you to click on a link, it’s always safer to manually navigate to the website to be sure that you aren’t on a fake one.
Check the Domain Age
You can check websites on Scamadviser to find out how old the website is. Other information is also gathered about the domain, such as for how long it has been registered.
Domain names which have been registered for short periods of time, say, a year, might be suspicious because scammers don’t invest much money in their websites. They purchase domain names with short validity to keep their costs minimal. Websites which have been created recently and have a short validity are more likely to be scams.
Are the Reviews Reliable?
A web shop using a well-known consumer review system is usually a good sign. However, some review systems are better than others. Check if the review system adheres to the Review Certification Standards, meaning in short that the web shop cannot delete or edit reviews without proper cause.
Many fake websites have a Reviews or Testimonials section which is filled with fake positive reviews. They contain made-up names of people, use photos which are taken from random sources and the text is often copied from other websites. Therefore, it is advisable to not rely on reviews which are on the website alone. Websites like Scamadviser, TrustPilot and others allow users to leave reviews which cannot be deleted or edited by companies. Checking external reviews is a way to get a clearer picture of what real customers are saying.
Visit Company Registries
This may not be easy if you are considering buying across the border. Every country has its own way to register companies. In the USA the Better Business Bureau is a good source. In the Netherlands you can check the Chamber of Commerce.
Is Communication Secured?
Do you see ‘https’ in front of the web shop address and is there a ‘lock’ symbol visible? In this case, communication between the web shop and your browser is encrypted, making the web shop a little bit safer to use. It doesn’t guarantee that the web shop is not fake as the cost of adding an SSL certificate (what you need to secure communication) is minimal (starting at €4.99 per year).
Are Safe Payment Methods Offered?
There are many kinds of payment methods. In general credit cards, PayPay and Alipay offer consumer protection by allowing consumers to get their money back in case the product is not delivered. Check if the web shop supports these payment methods. Never transfer money to a bank account if you have doubts about the reliability of a web shop.
Payment methods like Western Union, Moneygram, Skrill and Bitcoin are often untraceable and it is virtually impossible to get money back which has been transferred using these methods. As a result, they are favoured by scammers.
Who Delivers The Product?
Check whether the web shop has listed its delivery partners. Not all web shops list them, but some integrate a feature to track shipments. The delivery partner/s might also be mentioned during the checkout process. If a reliable delivery partner is named, this is usually a good sign.
Not Sure? Contact the Web Shop
A good web shop knows its customers want to communicate in different ways. Check if the company provides a phone number, an email ID or contact form and is active on social media. Call the company if in doubt or send a request for more information via email or social media. A professional web shop usually replies within hours or a maximum of two working days depending on the medium.
Still Not Sure? Do Not Do It!
When (still) in doubt, do not do it! Our advice here at Scamadviser is that if you are still unsure, it’s better to be cautious and follow your intuition. Don’t let a great price cloud your judgement. If you have doubts, there are plenty of other shops to buy from.
Find out more about specific types of scams in our in-depth 'How to recognise a Scam' series below!
How to Recognise a Scam - Phishing
How to Recognise a Scam – Copy Cat Websites
How to Recognise a Scam – Employment Scams
How to Recognise a Scam – Deals That Are Too Good to be True
How to Recognise a Scam – Fake Reviews
If you’d like to hear a little more on this, check out our sister site’s article on Safe.Shop - our Global Trustmark.