How to Spot a Fraudulent Website
Con artists sometimes create websites to trick victims into handing over money or information. These sites can be hard to spot as they are often created to look like legitimate businesses. There are, however, several ways to spot a fake or fraudulent website. These tips will help you discern between reliable sites and potentially dangerous ones.
- URL | A website’s domain name can be a reliable indicator of the trustworthiness of the site. Many fraudulent sites will have a URL that is very similar to a well-known and trusted brand’s site to deceive users who aren’t paying due attention. Read the domain name closely and be wary of any that are suspiciously similar to popular brands. If a website is trying to pass itself off as an official domain of a popular brand, search for the legitimate site on Google and compare the URLs. Any company that sets out to deceive its visitors on an aspect of their brand as foundational as the URL cannot be trusted.
- Reviews | Websites and businesses are subject to personal reviews just as much as the products they sell are. There are many organizations, like Trustpilot or the Better Business Bureau, that can help you ascertain the legitimacy of individual websites. Anyone, including businesses themselves, can write reviews so browse a range of sources to get a more informed overview of a website’s standing. Social media is also a great place to read organic and genuine reviews of websites. The benefit of social media is that you can get a brief background of the person who did the review by looking at their other public posts. Someone with an activity feed made up solely of reviews may have been paid to make them so should not be trusted to be honest as much as someone with a natural and varied post history.
- Padlock | Look for a green padlock to the left of the URL. The padlock is a sign that the website uses HTTPS and is generally more trustworthy. HTTPS means that all the information sent and received by a site is encrypted so you can be more comfortable entering important information like your bank details, knowing that no one else can access it. The padlock is a positive sign that many fraudulent sites don’t have, but you shouldn’t take it as a sole indicator of complete safety. Use the padlock as an additional, rather than the sole, consideration when deciding whether to trust a website.
- Contact information | If you’re concerned about a website, a thorough check of their contact details can be very informative. Legitimate businesses make it as easy as possible to get in touch via some different methods, so if the information is hidden away or overly vague, it might be cause for concern. Follow any contact links or ones that profess to offer more information about the company to check that they’re valid. Hover over a link to see its destination URL in the bottom left corner of your browser before you click it. The lack of decent and verifiable information a company has about itself on its website is a major reason for suspicion.
- Payment | When it comes to money, don’t trust any website that tries to pressure you into handing over money or financial details unless it’s necessary. Arbitrary deadlines and other high-pressure sales techniques are often the tools of the trade for fraudulent websites so be wary of them. Don’t pay money to any site that insists on receiving the payment via bank transfer. Any genuine enterprise will have other payment methods available as it’s difficult to get a refund for goods or services paid for via bank transfer.
Knowing how to spot a potentially harmful website can save yourself a lot of aggravation. The impact of becoming victim to an online scam can be devastating mentally and financially. Educate yourself on what to look out for, so you know what to avoid.