04 Jan 2019
Who doesn't love shopping? It’s fun (if a little pricey), and shopping online is so much more convenient than going to the high street or your local shopping centre. There are no crowds, no hassle parking, no having to carry all the things you bought, and no pick pockets.
Well, actually, pick pockets – or what we might more accurately term ‘fake websites’ are just as much a problem online as they are when you physically head to the shops. In fact, they might even be more dangerous because at least when you are out and about you can keep your possessions safe; you wouldn’t knowingly hand them over to a thief. Online, that might be exactly what you are doing when you buy something from a scamming website. So because the problem is a real one and something that is becoming much more prevalent, here are some of the best ways to spot a fake site and to steer clear.
1. Look At The Address Bar
So you’ve hunted around online and you think you’ve found a great website. It’s got everything you need right there, and all you need to do is fill in your details – name, address, and card number. Everything a safe website would need to fulfil your order, and everything a fake website would need to take your money and your identity.
What do you do to make sure things are okay?
The first thing you need to do is check out the website address bar at the top of the screen. It should say ‘https://’ before the main part of the URL, and it’s that ‘s’ that is the most important thing to note here; it stands for ‘secure’, and it means that the website encrypts all the information you give it, making it much harder for hackers to get to.
Websites without an ‘s’ in the address aren’t all going to be fake ones, but some will be, and in order to be totally safe, make it a golden rule never to input your personal or financial data on a site without that ‘s’.
2. Check The Logo
Some sites will have logos plastered all over them showing that they adhere to various security certifications. This might be VeriSign or DigiCert, for example. Just because the logos are there, though, doesn’t mean that you can rest easy and use the site; they may just have been copied onto the website to give a look of authority.
To tell the difference between a real logo and a fake one, click on it. If by clicking you are taken to a page offering more information about the certifying body, it’s likely to be real. If it’s just an image that goes nowhere, it’s probably fake.
3. Check The Domain Name
When you’re in a rush and you want to grab that one last item on your list before shutting the laptop down for the night, you think you’ve clicked through to a real website, perhaps one like Amazon or eBay, where you can do your shopping and then head to bed, or go to work, or play with the kids, or do whatever it is you want to do because you’ve saved so much time shopping online.
But did you look carefully? Did you really look at that domain name? Because what you might have assumed was Amazon, might have been Amaz0n, or Amazoon, or any other of the infinite varieties of spelling and symbols that a scammer might choose to use. Our eyes and brain tend to skim over information like this, especially when we are expecting to see something else, so it’s well worth taking an extra moment to read it all properly.
4. How Old Is The Site?
If something feels off, another way to ensure that you’re using a real site (or not!) is to check the domain age. Christmas is such a busy time for online shopping that this is when potentially thousands of new websites are set up with the sole purpose of scamming people out of their money; if the site is brand new, something might be up. If it’s been in business a while, it’s likely to be a safe place to buy from.
5. Are There Typos?
Not everyone is great at spelling, and it’s true that you might come across a perfectly respectable website that has a couple of typos on it, but these websites will also do their best not to make any mistakes – they might even employ writers and editors specifically for the job or writing product descriptions for example.
A scammer isn’t going to do that. In fact, a scammer isn’t going to be too worried about whether or not their spelling and grammar are on point. All they want is to get the website up and ‘trading’ as quickly as possible to make as much money as they can before it disappears and no one can come looking for them.
Spelling and grammar will not be their priority. It’s a good sign to look out for when you’re worried the site you’re thinking of buying from is a fake.
6. How Much Contact Information?
Scammers really, really don’t want to be contacted, and they’ll put massively vague information on their site’s contact page (if there is a contact page at all). If there is a number and you call it, what happens? Is the phone ever answered? If not, it isn’t a great sign. Neither is not having a contact page at all, or only listing an email address or give you a form to complete, it might not be quite what you want.
7. Look For Secure Payment Options
Secure payment options are things like being able to use a credit card or Paypal. That’s normal; it’s exactly what you would expect when you go shopping online. But if you’re sitting there with your debit card in hand ready to tap in the 16 digits and all you’re presented with is a choice of wire transfer, money order, or shuffling off to a dark alleyway with a bundle of cash (that last one might not actually be an option… but don’t do it anyway), then there could be a scam afoot.
Basically, if you are asked to pay in a way that can’t be refunded quickly and easily, then don’t pay at all – no bargain is good enough to risk the problems that this would bring you.
Protect Your Information
If you have accidentally stumbled onto a site that ended being more likely to be fake than anything else, don’t worry – if you didn’t enter any information you’re likely to be safe. But in order to stay on top of protecting your identity and your cash, it’s always wise to use a password manager (which encrypts your passwords and stops hackers from finding them). Also, check your bank account every day so that if something happens you’ll spot it quickly.
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