The internet is filled with websites that are either fake, malicious or just flat out scam. This is a tragic fact of life. The advancement of technology has brought a range of incredibly convenient changes in the way we buy, bank, and communicate with the world around us. Around the same time, this evolution has also given rise to new risks—new strategies for criminals to rip off of the unsuspecting.
Our advantage is that often the con game leaves traces—signs of fakeness that with vigilance can always be detected. And while the list can be technical, we can always rely on common sense. You’d be genuinely surprised how many people ignore this stuff on a regular basis. Read on to find out.
1. Check for Digital Footprint
The best thing about the internet is that everything leaves a trace. Chances are that other individuals have had encounters with this business and – positive or negative – they’ve shared the experiences elsewhere. With just a little bit of searching, you might be able to find out whether a website is bogus based on ratings of its own. Google the name of the site along with ‘+ reviews.’ Search with the Better Business Bureau or either of the countless scam platforms that operate to defend customers. Just look a little bit. The internet may not be the right one to tell you if something is good, but it will surely tell you when something is wrong.
2. Check the Who.Is
If you really want to know who’s running a website, there’s a database called Who.Is that will tell you what email address it’s registered to. There is a range of free sites that allow you to search for the official WHO.IS website registration, but GDPR issues have complicated access lately.
The WHO.IS database will tell you who owns a website and whether it is a person or a company. If it is a company, the “Organization” will be identified along with the address and phone number. For an individual, the “Name” will be indicated along with the address.
This can be an invaluable tool, particularly when working with brands. If you’re on a website that appears to be owned by a big corporation but is registered at some address in another country, there’s a good chance you’re on a fake website.
3. Over-Abundance of Ads
Ads are a part of life. Wherever you go, you’re going to run into advertising. But if you’re on a website that’s more advertising than content, be careful. If you need to click a few links to get past annoying pop-ups and redirects to the intended page—you’re on a website that’s either bogus or at least scamming. There’s a thin line between UX and the sale of advertisements. If it is obvious that the website has no respect for the line, you ought to be careful of it.
4. Look for Poor English
Good websites are proud of themselves. This means that the graphics look sharp, the spelling and the grammar are perfect, and the whole experience looks streamlined and polished. If you’re on a website that sounds like it’s written by someone with a third-level education you may want to be a little careful. Especially if there are errors on important pages.
All of us make occasional mistakes—even big companies. But at a point where the errors are becoming conspicuous, you need to be careful.
5. Take a Look at the Contact Us Page
Another telltale indication when it comes to whether or not a website is fake or not can be found in the “Contact Us” section. How much of the details are there? Is the address provided? What about a phone number? Is that line really linked to the company? The more information you have, the more secure you can feel—provided it is genuinely good information. If all they’re sending you is an email address, or worse, there’s no contact information—run.
Remember to check the details. Google the address, maybe even check out the street view. See whether any of the workers listed have a LinkedIn profile. Do some homework.
6. Check Forms of Payment
This is another tip that is more for e-commerce, but what forms of payment does the website offer to accept? Most legitimate companies will take major credit cards and typically have a couple of non-payment card options, too. If a website asks you to send money to a random PayPal account, wire it to Western Union, pay in iTunes gift cards, or just cryptocurrency offers, it can send a red flag. Much of the time, these strategies are used to escape review and to guarantee that a contract cannot be undone. Remember, a reputable website would have nothing to conceal and would certainly not engage in this kind of suspicious business activity.
7. Check the Shipping and Return Policy
Any legitimate e-commerce business would have a shipping and return policy, which is deemed to be best practice. So any website that appears to be selling something but lacks this paperwork is immediately suspicious. Likewise, if you open a link and the policy looks flimsy or has been copied and pasted straight from another page, that’s also suspicious. We’re not asking you to read the entire thing – nor are we foolish enough to think you will – but a brief look can tell you what you need to know.
Where to Flag Fake or Fraudulent Pages
We urge you to report bogus websites. It’s good for the internet and it’s good for you. Here’s where to report malicious websites to:
- Google – Safe Browsing
- Mozilla – Protect the Fox
Microsoft offers users the ability to flag malicious pages to their browsers. To do this, go to the Tools/Safety menu, choose Phishing Filter/SmartScreen Filter, and click the “Report Unsafe Website” button.
You may feel a little uncomfortable after reading this guide. This isn’t the argument we’ve been trying to make. The internet is a great location, and you can use it for a variety of useful things. Still, like everything else in general, there you should be okay.