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Updated: 3 May 2022

How to spot an online shopping scam

Don’t lose your money to online con artists – use our tips to identify and avoid fake, fraudulent or scam websites
Lauren Merryweather

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

Here we pull together some straightforward checks you can use to work out if an online retailer is legitimate.

Video: how to spot a scam website

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.

Browse the website before buying

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.

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Read our full guide to spot a scam website for more tips.

Don't always trust social media adverts

Rather than depending on your friends and family to share a scam on social media, we have also seen scammers pretend to be advertisers.

The scammers create social media accounts and pay to have their scam message advertised to you in your timeline.

They are trying to exploit the credibility of social media advertising, understanding that you’ve grown used to seeing and trusting offers from genuine advertisers on social media.

Stay vigilant when you see new companies, organisations or brands pop up on your feed. You should also be suspicious if you see a new social media account advertising for a company you know well. It may be a scammer pretending to be a new branch or new account for that brand.

Common social media scams include:

  • Slimming pills, CBD oil and vitamin supplements
  • Fitness equipment and beauty products that promise quick fixes
  • Designer fragrance and clothing at discounted prices
  • Cheap sportswear
  • Cheap shoes
  • Discounted toys and games
  • Big brand ‘clearance sales
  • ’Electronic devices like phones and tablets at heavily discounted prices
  • Collectibles like coins and figures
  • Cryptocurrency investments, pension schemes and insurance policies
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Four tips to spot a social media scam

  1. Is it the real deal? Scammers will often pretend to be from legitimate and trustworthy sources, offering an enticing incentive to click through to a ‘too good to be true’ deal. The first thing you should do is try doing a quick search for the promotion. If the company, organisation or brand is promoting a deal on social media, they are likely to also be promoting it on their homepage.
  2. Check the URL Closely inspect any URLs you aren’t sure about. Does the URL look suspicious? Does it match the URL of the company website? Sometimes enticing posts on social media link to a fake login page, and when you enter your email and password, you’re actually giving those details to a scammer. Always check that the URL matches the social media website you’re using if you’re redirected to a login page after clicking a link in a post.
  3. Check your timeline Are you seeing an unusually high volume of the same status being shared? This should ring alarm bells that it may be a scam, especially if the post message is the same for more than a few people.
  4. Check the branding Check the post for branding inconsistencies. Are they using the right logo? Is this the standard of design and care for presentation you usually see from the brand? If it’s a new brand entirely, go to its profile page and have a proper look at how it’s presenting themselves. Do they look professional or does it look like a quick and sloppy job?

Read our full guide to spot a social media scam for more tips.

Scam adverts on search engines

Just because adverts appear in your search results doesn’t mean legitimate companies are behind them. Anyone can pay to advertise products and services on search engines.

When you use a search engine like Google or Bing, it will suggest a list of websites relevant to what you’ve searched for. Some results in the list will be paid for adverts.

It can sometimes be tricky to spot the difference  between search results and adverts.

If you’re using Google the ads usually appear at the very top of the search results list and are labelled with ‘Ad.’

You might also see ‘Shopping’ results, which show products being offered by retailers at competitive prices. These are also paid for advertising.

Fraudsters are also known to place adverts that look like they’ve been set up by brands or organisations you trust, but instead link you through to scam websites. 

Check the URL when you click through to a website from an advert. The URL should start with the official domain name.

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, it can be tougher do to get your cash back.

Scam alerts: stay one step ahead

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