How to Recognize Scam Websites

Learn how to protect your identity anywhere online

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It can sometimes feel like we have scams coming at us from every direction including phone calls, email messages, text messages and websites. Luckily, it is not too hard to spot a fake website once you are armed with a little bit of knowledge.

How Did You Get to the Website?

The biggest clue to whether or not a website is legit may be how you got there. A common lure to fraudulent websites is through email, sometimes cleverly concealed as a warning about a breach in your security.

These emails heighten our sense of security and then use that paranoia against us. But email isn't the only way we are lured to these websites. Social media has become a scammer's best friend, so you should always be a little wary when coming to a website from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other popular social media sites.

  • Always be wary of links in email messages, especially security notices that warn your account may be disabled or hacked.
  • Do not click on links from generic-sounding messages like "this is great" or "check this out" from friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media websites. 
  • Google is your friend! If you are wary of a link, try entering the company's name into Google. The top search results from Google rarely contain fraudulent websites.

Does the Website Contain Numerous Spelling and Grammatical Errors?

A big hint that the website you are on isn't on the up-and-up is an abundance of spelling errors or a lot of bad grammar.

One spelling error could be a mistake. Two might be pushing it, but if you start spotting these problems all over the page, it is a good bet that it wasn't designed by a professional.

  • Check the spelling on the home page.
  • Look at the bottom of the page for a privacy policy or contact information.
  • Visit links from the home page to see if they have spelling or grammar issues.

    Is the Website Endorsed By Big Name Companies?

    As Seen On... 
    We've probably heard it or read it dozens of time. But just because a website brags that is product was featured on Forbes or Time magazine doesn't make it true. If you click on the "endorsed by" link and are taken to the home page of the endorser's website instead of an actual article, it's a good sign that no actual endorsement exists. 

    This carries over to trust badges. A trust badge is a log, symbol or seal of approval from a third-party organization attesting to the website's validity. Often, this relates to where the website receives it security certificate. 

    However, it's easy enough for a scam website to simply place a graphic on the website pretending to be a trust badge. In fact, fake trust badges can be recommended by unscrupulous articles advising how to best monetize a website. 

    • Endorsement links should always lead to an article endorsing the company or product.
    • Valid trust badges are usually clickable and lead to more information about the badge.
    • If you don't recognize the trust badge, don't put any stock into it.

    How to Spot a Fake Website Address From a Real One

    One common shopping scam is to have a close-but-no-cigar spelling for a popular brand or store.

    For example, it's "michaelkors.com" not "michael-kors-com.salesonline.info" This is where searching Google for "michael kors" can help you find the real website.

    But learning to decypher those mysterious website addresses can also pay big dividends. Here's how you can tell a secure website from an insecure website:

    • "HTTP://" is how a normal website without any encryption begins.
    • "HTTPS://" is a secure website with an encrypted connection. These websites are often marked by a lock near the web address in most web browsers.

    You should only give out your credit card information on websites with a secure connection.

    This doesn't mean you should automatically trust the website, but you should never trust a website that asks for payment or personal information that doesn't have a secure connection.

    Next is the domain name. This is where you can catch many fake websites Don't let the jargon fool you.  It's relatively easy to decipher the domain name.

    • The domain name is everything after the first period (".") and before the second period.
    • Fake websites often have a lot of extra symbols like dashes before the first period.  For example, a fake website might look like: "http://support-microsoft-com.jvrg.info"
    • Once you locate the real domain name, ask yourself if it sounds related to the company. In this case "jrvg" doesn't have anything to do with Microsoft.
    • Fake websites usually have both an overabundance of symbols in the first part and random letters in the domain name. For example, "https:/www.cutx.org" is the valid website for the Credit Union of Texas while "http:/credit-union-tx.ajvjs.us" is a fake web address.

    Do They Take Credit Cards?

    You should never pay for anything with a bank transfer. In most instances, you should do your online shopping with a credit card. When you shop with a credit card, you are getting an extra layer of protection. Not only do you have some recourse for getting your money back by contacting your credit card company, they might detect a fraudulent transaction before it even begins. Credit card companies are wary of transactions that originate in certain countries, and this wariness can work in your favor.

    • Valid websites take credit cards.
    • Some specialty shops may use PayPal as their primary method of payment. You should still use a credit card when paying with PayPal.

    Real Shopping Websites Offer Real Refunds and Have Real Contact Information

    Two other good things to check are the refund policy and the contact information. Refund policies should be clear and offer valid information on how and why to return any goods if they are damaged or not what you ordered. The website should also have a link to a contact page or include contact information on the home page. 

    • Pay attention to shipping fees. These are sometimes used to jack up a seemingly good price.
    • You should be wary of"contact us" pages that only include a form with no contact phone number.

    Are the Prices Too Good to Be True?

    We'll call this one the gut check. If your instincts are telling you the deal may be too good to be true, your gut feeling may be right. There are some great deals out there, especially when shopping eBay. But most great deals on never heard of before websites don't turn out well.

    Often, you are getting counterfeit goods. Sometimes, you won't get any products sent to you at all.

    • Remember to always pay with a credit card.
    • Pay close attention to the location the product is being stored. If you are getting a almost-too-good-to-be-true deal with goods that are being shipped from China, for example, you might think twice about the order.

    Check Reviews and the Better Business Bureau

    The Better Business Bureau is a great way to check out a business.  But remember, just because the Better Business Bureau doesn't come up with results doesn't mean it is legitimate. The website may simply not be reported yet.

    • The Better Business Bureau also has a scam tracker that can help spot fraudulent websites.
    • An alternative to the Better Business Bureau are websites like SiteJabber that compile online reviews. Unfortunately, review sites can garner a lot of fake reviews. A good tactic is to check what the bad reviews and the middle-of-the-road reviews are saying. If you see some glowing reviews but all of the one-star reviews calls the website a scam, it probably is one.