How to spot a fake, fraudulent or scam website

Don’t lose your money to online con artists. You can use our tips to identify and avoid fake, fraudulent or scam websites. Read on to find out what to watch out for when shopping online. 

Seven ways to spot a fake, fraudulent or scam website

It can be difficult to spot a fake, fraudulent or scam website. Fraudsters are extremely cunning and good at creating convincing websites.

Take these seven simple steps to test whether a website is legitimate or not.

1 Double-check the domain name

A lot of fraudulent websites will use a domain name that references a well-known brand or product name. But won't be the official website. 

For example, website domains such as www.ipadoffers.net or www.discountnikeclothes.com should raise alarm bells. 

You should also be cautious of domains that end in .net or .org, as they are rarely used for online shopping so may have been acquired by questionable organisations.

2 Is the offer too good to be true?

When you see very low prices with ridiculous discounts, you should be a bit suspicious. If prices seem too good to be true then, sadly, they probably are. 

Scam websites use low prices to lure bargain-hungry shoppers to quickly sell fake, counterfeit or non-existent items. 

You can use our tips for spotting a scam to help you identify if something is actually a good deal or simply a con.

3 Never pay by bank transfer

Alarm bells should ring if you are asked to pay for something online via a bank transfer. 

If you buy something that turns out to be fake or non-existent with a credit or debit card, you do have some rights to get your money back.

But if you pay by bank transfer, there’s very little you can do to get your cash back.

4 Browse the website

Take a couple of minutes to double-check the site. Maybe visit the homepage or the ‘About us’ pages and read the text there.

Watch out for poor English, such as spelling and grammar mistakes, or phrases that don’t sound quite right.

It could mean the site isn’t genuine and was put together by someone abroad looking to make a quick profit.

You should also check that the website lists any contact information. 

Reputable and legitimate companies will always list ways to get in touch with them; if the website doesn’t have a ‘Contact us’ page, it could well be fraudulent. 

If the site does have ‘Contact us’ page but only offers a form to fill out, be wary as this could also be an indication of a dubious website. 

Any company offering goods or services should list a place of business, as well as a phone number or email address through which to contact them.

If none of this information is available, you should treat the website as highly suspicious.

5 Check the returns policy  

If the company is selling a product online, it should have a shipping and returns policy listed on its website.

If it’s a real company, it should tell you how and where to return a faulty item.

The website should also have terms and conditions, and a privacy policy that tells you exactly what it plans to do with any data you share and any extra contractual rights you may have.

6 Read some online reviews

Look at reviews across a number of sources, such as Trustpilot, Feefo or Sitejabber, which aggregate customer reviews.

Don’t look at just one review website – check several to avoid being influenced by potentially fake reviews.

You should also check the company’s social media pages for recent activity and to see what other people are posting on their social channels. 

Spot a fake review

Use our top tips to spot a fake review:

1. Are there lots of oddly similar reviews? 

It should be a red flag if you notice a similarity in the reviews across several websites. 

Reading through reviews, you might notice a whole set that use similar word groupings and writing style. 

This often means the reviewers are either copying information or that the reviews were all written by the same person.

2. Are the reviewers all very new? 

Watch out for reviews from new accounts. Some of the reviews should be from long-standing members of the site.

You might find the person has reviewed hundreds of websites, which gives them more credibility than someone who’s only reviewed one site.

3. Is the review non-factual or overly factual? 

Facts are important in a review; don’t trust a review if facts or actionable information is light on the ground.

Similarly, a review that gives no personal opinion at all may well be a fake – and in any case, it’s not a great deal of help.

4. Can you only find very few reviews?

In this case, it’s probably best to give any suspicious website a miss.

7 Can you trust a trust mark?

Research carried out by ANEC, a European consumer organisation, found that seven in ten people say they’re more likely to use a website with a trust-mark label or logo.

But with more than 50 different trust-mark labels and logos in use across Europe, and many countries also not using them at all, they are not always a sound way of judging whether a website is trustworthy.

Also, just because a website appears to carry the logo of a reputable trade organisation, it still doesn’t necessarily mean the website is genuine. 

If you’re in doubt, you could always contact the trust-mark company to check. 

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