One of the most prevalent scams on the internet is fake online stores. If you’re an online shopper, you need to be careful. Luckily, you can spot a fake online store if you know what to look for.
In this article, we’re going to go over some easy steps to confirm that the site you’re visiting is real — before you click “Buy now.”
Can You Tell a Fake Online Store From a Real One?
The steps we’ll share come from my own research as well as internet safety principles from money expert Clark Howard.
One way cybercriminals trick people is by designing a website that looks identical to that of a reputable company.
Once you enter your personal information at a bogus site, you could have your bank account drained or even have your identity stolen.
You used to be able to tell a legitimate website by the “https” at the beginning of the address bar, but that’s no longer the case.
Given the state of internet security, you may be wondering what an ordinary online shopper can do to feel safe making a purchase.
Here Are 5 Steps to Spot a Fake Online Store
1. Scrutinize the URL
Some fraudulent sites have URLs that look just like those of legit websites — at first glance. Before inputting any of your personal information like your credit card number, study the URL.
If you used a search engine to get to the site, always look in the address bar to confirm that you’ve landed on the webpage you wanted.
And if you typed in the URL yourself, check for spelling errors. Some cybercriminals set up sites that are just one letter off from real sites, hoping that you will mistype the URL.
2. Use a Website Checker
You can check the legitimacy of any website by using online verification services. Here are two sites that do just that:
- Go to UrlVoid.com and enter the website’s URL into the bar. After that, you can see all kinds of details about the site. UrlVoid.com generates a report and runs the suspicious website through multiple lists to see if any warning signs pop up.
- Go to Google Transparency Report, which can tell you how safe a website is. Once you’re on the homepage, just enter the URL in the “Check site status” box and hit the Return key.
3. Click on the Padlock in the Address Bar
In addition to studying the URL, you’ll want to look for a padlock in the address bar. If you click on it, a dropdown box will open that will tell you security information about the site including:
- Whether the certificate is valid
- The number of cookies in use
- Other site settings
A padlock in the address bar generally signifies that the site has been verified as secure (like Clark.com!).
But some bogus sites have been able to replicate the padlock icon in the address bar. It’s also true that, even if a site is deemed secure, it can still get hacked.
4. Rely on Your Browser
If you keep your browser updated and have antivirus software on your computer, it should tell you when you’ve run across an unsafe site.
If you see a “Not Secure” warning on your screen, back out of the site or close the page immediately.
5. Look for a Trust Seal
If you see a trust seal or trust badge on a website, it’s not just for decoration. Whether it’s from the Better Business Bureau, PayPal or Google, trust seals tell users that they can make secure transactions.
Results of a study cited on CXL.com indicate that recognizable site seals foster trust among e-commerce shoppers.
It must be said, though, that you should never trust a website simply based on a site seal or badge alone. If you haven’t used the site before, always research it well before you enter any personal information.
Hackers and scammers are constantly coming up with ways to trick even the most capable browsers these days.
If you run across a fake website or malware, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, send an email to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency and/or these internet companies:
When shopping online, remember always to heed cybersecurity warnings, and be cautious when you sense something isn’t right.
Want to learn more about how to safeguard yourself online? Check out Clark’s Free Virus, Spyware & Malware Protection Guide.