Shopping, along with a multitude of other business transactions, is regularly conducted on-line. This is more and more our way of life and provides wonderful efficiencies and convenience. There are, however, risks that we all need to be aware of and diligent in avoiding. That is the work of hackers, scammers and identity thieves who construct scam or fake websites, in order to obtain personal information or to infect your computer with malware. Their clever ways can make it very easy to get fooled, with potentially serious consequences.
Here are 7 clues to spotting a scam website:
- The Address Bar: A website address should begin with https:// . The “s” means the site is secure, indicating that encryption is in use to transfer data between you and the site, protecting it from hackers. If a website address doesn’t contain the “s”, that doesn’t automatically mean it is a scam site, but you should not enter any personal information on such a site, in any case.
Other indications that a website is secure is the appearance of a small padlock image at the start of the address. The address might also be highlighted in green. If you see the domain name next to the padlock, before the https://, that indicates a very high level of encryption, so can be trusted.
Note that the presence of the https:// alone doesn’t guarantee that the website is secure, but it is a good indication. If you’re still unsure, you can do a further check on Google’s safe site search.
- The Domain Name: Scammers will often create websites with addresses that are very close to those of well-know brands or companies. Examples could be micrsoft.com or amaz0n.net. They hope you won’t read too closely and miss the error. Next thing you know, you’ve entered in your username and password and the cyber criminal has what they wanted. Double-check the address bar, especially if you’re redirected to a website from another page.
3. Poor Grammar and Spelling: A common indicator of a questionable website is lots of spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization errors and sometimes some odd phrasing. This suggests a website that was put together hastily. Legitimate websites can of course also have some errors, but there is a clear effort to present as professional an image as possible.
- Reliable Contact Information: There should be several ways to contact the company who’s site you are visiting: phone, email, physical address, live chat. Try to make contact to see if anyone answers the phone or responds to your email or chat with other than an automatic, generic reply.
- A Complete Site: Legitimate websites should have pages covering topics such as “About Us”, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and shipping & returns information if it’s a shopping site. Check that these pages exist and contain the appropriate details.
6. Secure Payment Options Only: When shopping on-line, websites should offer standard payment options such as credit cards or PayPal. If the website is asking for a wire transfer, money order or other such unsecured and nonrefundable form of payment, it’s safest to avoid such a transaction, even if the rest of the website seems legitimate.
7. Too Good To Be True: Retailers will offer older merchandise at discounted prices, or holiday specials, but if you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is, as the saying goes.
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