Fake online shopping websites: 6 ways to identify a fraudulent shopping website
Once upon a time, the only way to get your shopping done was at a brick-and-mortar store. In terms of crime, shoppers may have been worried about muggers and swindlers, but one concern they probably did not have was that the entire store was fake. Unfortunately, that exact threat is something that modern-day shoppers have to contend with.
Internet shopping frauds have been around as long as the internet, but a report by the Federal Trade Commission shows they rose twofold between December 2019 and May 2020. The risks of making a purchase on a fake site depends on who set it up and why. Some scammers want to steal your financial information and personal data. Others simply want to sell you counterfeit goods or goods that never arrive. While both are sketchy, the former can be a lot more damaging to your bank account and credit score.
Detecting internet shopping frauds can be tricky. Since you can’t rely on antivirus or browser protections to alert you that you’ve stumbled upon a fraudulent site, you’ll instead have to perform your own website scammer check.
Keep an eye out for these signs that you’re on a fake shopping website.
1. Unusual payment options
Legitimate retailers use secure payment methods like credit cards, PayPal and gift cards specific to their brand. So if a website asks you to pay in something unusual, like bitcoin or a wire transfer, it’s probably an internet shopping fraud.
Be leery of any company that asks you to pay in gift cards that don’t belong to their company — like iTunes or Amazon gift cards on a site that claims to sell designer shoes. Scammers like payment methods that are quick, untraceable and difficult to dispute once you’ve handed over the cash.
2. Poor website design
Savvy businesses understand the value of a strong first impression, which is why they have polished, professionally designed websites. Frauds making knock-off websites usually don’t have the same level of time, resources and funding, which is why their sites tend to look rougher and less sophisticated. Look for red flags like pixelated images, typos, grammatical errors and broken links.
3. Suspicious domain names
Take a look at the URL — that’s the virtual “address” that appears at the top of the web browser. Most retailers use simple domain names based on the name of their business, like tiffany.com, bananarepublic.com, or bestbuy.com. That’s why typos and random numbers in the URL are tip-offs that you’re on a fraudulent website.
For example, a fraudster may lure Amazon customers to bogus Amaz0n.net. Or they may hope that Walmart customers don’t notice the typo in Walmrt.com. Extra words in the URL are also a warning sign — especially eye-grabbing terms like “sales,” “deals” and “discounts” that are calibrated to get you to click now and think later.
But some fraudulent URLs are perniciously subtle. If that’s the case, you can do a website scammer check using Google’s Safe Browsing tool to see it’s legitimate.
4. Steep discounts
If your instincts tell you that something is too good to be true, they’re probably correct. Internet shopping frauds like to lure in victims by promoting steep discounts and flashy sales. Their lineups often include traditionally pricey products like designer bags or electronics. Since there’s no bulletproof way to determine if a price is fraudulent, you’ll have to rely on your instincts on this one. Although a bit of price comparison at well-known retailers can help, too!
5. Suspicious or non-existent contact information
Retailers want to provide their customers with a satisfying experience, which is why they make it easy to contact them in case you have an issue. Internet shopping frauds, on the other hand, want nothing more than to take your money and run. That’s why you won’t find much in terms of contact information. And if you do manage to track down a phone number or email address, it may not actually lead anywhere.
6. Negative reviews
Customer reviews can offer up a goldmine of information about a company — even legitimate ones — like the quality of customer service and refund policies. And if the website is a bogus storefront, there’s a good chance that reviews will include warnings to would-be customers.
You can also use the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker tool to find out if anyone has reported the site as fraudulent.
Do you suspect you’ve been scammed?
If you suspect you’re the victim of an internet shopping fraud, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that you may not get your money back — especially if you paid with bitcoin or wire transfer. But the good news is that you can put the bad guys out of business by reporting them to the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau. This should get the website taken down. And while it’s not the same as putting them behind bars, it throws a serious wrench into their fraudulent operation.
In the meantime, you can avoid future fake website woes by keeping out an eye for the red flags we discussed above!
Pandemic purchases lead to record reports of unreceived goods, Federal Trade Commission
Safe Browsing site status, Google Transparency Report
BBB Scam Tracker, Better Business Bureau
Report to help fight fraud!, ReportFraud.ftc.gov
BBB Online Complaint System, Better Business Bureau