The internet has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Its importance has been growing steadily in the last few decades – it has become “mainstream” in the 1990s and it has been steadily growing ever since – but in the last couple of years, it has received an unexpected boost. Today, we shop, play, buy, and pay over the internet, and this makes many of us especially vulnerable to scammers. So, it is increasingly important to learn about the most common signs of a fraudulent online outlet out to take our money.
Here are some tips that will help you spot – and avoid – sites that are probably scams.
Domain names and email addresses
Fraudulent websites love to pose as legitimate businesses. But while one offers you, say, betting services with safe online banking withdrawals and regulations in place, another may pose as a trusted brand but will only collect your payment information, maybe even siphon some money from your bank account.
The first thing that gives away fraudulent websites is the domain name they use.
Legitimate brands go out of their way to maintain branded domain names – think nike.com for Nike – in a variety of TLDs (or domain extensions) to avoid malicious third parties from using them to scam you. And most importantly, serious businesses never use free email services – think Gmail or Yahoo Mail – for commercial purposes.
So, if an email from a Yahoo address claims to be PayPal, for example, and links to a shady domain that’s NOT paypal.com, you can be sure the message is a scam.
If it’s too good to be true
Discounts are perhaps the most attractive methods to convince you to buy from one webshop or another. Sometimes, in turn, they simply seem too good to be true – and they usually are.
There are some cases where merchants will indeed decrease the price of certain items to a level that seems too good to be true but there are almost always caveats – the product is refurbished or used, for example, or in the case of foods and such, it will expire soon. But no merchant will offer you a ridiculously high discount for the sake of a discount alone.
Scammers often resort to using discounts that seem incredible to lure in bargain hunters. Their methods vary – they may actually sell you a product that’s either broken or counterfeit, or they may send you a brick or a similar item instead of a highly discounted smartphone or gaming console. Or they may simply send you nothing, disappearing the instant they get their hands on your money.
Be critical of any discount, especially when it’s offered by an outlet you don’t usually use.
Read the reviews
Finally, here is something that’s common sense but many of us forget about it: read the reviews. But this can also be tricky in the age of fake reviews – so here are a few tips on how to spot the real ones.
First of all, if there are many reviews that are positive, recent, and oddly similar, showing up on various review sites like TrustPilot or Sitejabber? This is a red flag – they may be all left by the same person, copy-pasted from one site to another. Are the reviews offering personal accounts or just generic praise for the product or service in question? Well, this is a red flag, too. Finally, are there just a few reviews, too few for you to have an informed opinion? Well, in this case, the best course of action may be to head over to another merchant altogether.