SUMMARY: More than 75 percent of Americans shop online. For the most part, those people can protect themselves from scams and fraud by only buying items from reliable websites like Amazon and eBay.
Unfortunately, some hackers build fake websites, or scam sites, that attempt to trick consumers into providing private information like their credit card and account numbers. Some hackers even make sites that look similar to legitimate websites, like Amazon and eBay, because they want to trick more online shoppers.
You can protect yourself by learning how to identify fake websites. Once you learn the red flags to help you spot them, you can keep yourself and your computer secure.
1. Inaccurate Domain Names
Fake websites often try to imitate the domain names of legitimate companies. For instance, instead of Amazon.com, they will use Amaz0n.net. It's easy to miss small changes in a company's name, so you should pay close attention to the URL displayed in the address bar when you shop.
Also, look for websites that start with HTTPS instead of HTTP. HTTPS doesn't guarantee safety, but most sites that have it use encryption to protect your information. Google Chrome and most browsers visually indicate if a site uses HTTPS with a padlock image to the left of the web address.
2. Unprofessional English and Graphics
The people who design fake websites often do not live in the U.S. They may speak some English, but they aren't fluent, and they certainly can't write like the professionals who work for large e-commerce sites. Unprofessional, confusing or inaccurate language, and significant spelling mistakes, are telltale signs that the website is fake
Unprofessional graphics and designs should also make you wary. Successful online stores spend a lot of money hiring graphic designers and coders to build beautiful, intuitive sites that people want to use. Most scammers don't have the right skills to develop attractive websites. If they could build real sites, then they probably wouldn't have to work as scammers.
3. Incredible Discounts
You can save a lot of money by shopping online. Some online stores have daily deals that lower the prices of certain items by 50 percent or more. Incredible discounts from a site that you know gives you an opportunity to save money. An incredible discount from a website that you just found, however, could be a scam to steal your contact information and financial information.
If you think that a deal is too good to be true, conduct a Google search of the company name for validation. Unless you are comfortable with the results, then exit the website and walk away.
4. Strange Contact or Customer Service Information
Trustworthy e-commerce stores promote themselves by putting their names in their email addresses and giving customers easy access to services. Fake websites rarely take the time and effort to do these things. Instead of having an email like firstname.lastname@example.org, they may use addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may be directed to a fake website via phishing scams. You will receive an email with an address like this one: email@example.com. Typically, the email address contains lots of numbers and letters. Do not click on any links if you receive an email like this.
Many of the fake sites also lack information about customer services. A normal online store will encourage you to communicate with sales reps. A fake site, however, hopes that you won't notice the absence of a customer service hotline or email address. It may not even list the company's business hours or phone number.
5. Unusual payment methods
Fake web pages will usually force you to pay through a payment system that is intended for personal use, such as making a bank account transfer, Venmo, PayPal direct, or Cash App. This is so that the payment cannot be disputed after it’s sent.
If you’re being asked to send money to someone that you don’t know via a personal payment method, it’s likely a scam perpetrated by fraudsters. Reputable sites will have a proper checkout system in place where personal payment information is not sent to the business and the payment can be disputed if there’s a problem.
Those long terms and conditions documents that most people skim over? They often contain important legal information about how the business that you’re dealing with is going to protect your personal information, and how they’re liable to keep you safe during your transactions.
Scam websites generally won’t have these, since they’re unlikely to be read. Try looking in the website’s footer. If you can’t easily find privacy information, the website you’re on could be trying to scam you.
Fake websites have become serious threats to online security. Some of the sites will tempt you to provide sensitive information that makes it possible for criminals to steal your identity. Others install malicious software on your computer. The malware can work quietly in the background, gathering information about you or performing illegal tasks that take up your precious bandwidth.
Don't become another victim. If you see any signs of a fake website, navigate away as quickly as possible.
Find out more about staying safe online with TDECU’s Digital Banking today.