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8 Warning Signs That a Shopping Website is Fraudulent

Social distancing measures made brick-and-mortar shopping rather difficult, and sometimes, even inaccessible. As a result, shopping websites became more prevalent than ever. And unfortunately, this made online shopping fraud skyrocket, too. To avoid exposing your personal and financial information to scammers, it is crucial to know the red flags that can help you spot a fake website. Watch out for these 8 warning signs when checking a website’s legitimacy. 

1. Pay attention to the address bar

Warning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, https://
The first thing you want to check is the https:// at the beginning of the website's address. The 's' in https:// stands for 'secure' and indicates that the website uses encryption to transfer data, protecting it from hackers. If a website uses http without the letter 's' at the end, it doesn’t necessarily mean that website is a scam, but it is something to look out for.
To be on the safe side, we’d recommend you avoid entering payment information on a website beginning with http. To learn more, check out our previous article The 5 Online Shopping Tips That Everyone Should Follow.

2. Take a closer look at the domain nameWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, domain name

A domain name is the address of the website that you would type in the browser bar to visit the website. In simple terms, if the website was a house, then the domain name would be the address. 

When shopping online, it is recommended that you take a good look at the domain name, to see if it’s actually what you think it is. Slight variations in spelling or wording can be easy to miss. For example, scammers might create a website that mimics the name of a large brand or company, like Yah00.com or Amaz0n.net. Another example reported to the Better Business Bureau is the fraudulent website Pandorapicks.com, which sold imitation Pandora jewelry. Most of us skim through the domain name, which is exactly what scammers rely on. It’s always worth double-checking and making sure that you are purchasing from an official seller. 

If you’re unsure about a certain domain, you can run it through the Whois Lookup Domain Tracker, and verify who a domain name is registered to, where they are, and how long the website has been active. 

3. Poor grammar and spellingWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, man browsing ebay

Even if you didn’t detect any odd phrasing or grammar mistakes in the domain name, they might be apparent in the website’s copy or the product’s description. Companies with legitimate websites may certainly have the occasional typo, but they do put a lot of effort into presenting a professional website. If you spot an excess of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar mistakes on a website, it could indicate that the site was created hastily and should certainly raise suspicion. 

Related: 8 Steps to Protect Your Privacy Online

4. You’re asked for financial information while browsingWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, providing financial information online

If you get an e-mail or a pop-up message that asks you for your card details or any other type of financial information while you’re browsing a website, close this window immediately. Do not provide any information or follow links by any means, warns the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Legitimate companies never ask for information that way. 

5. Vital information is hard to find or nonexistentWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, contact information

There are a few bits of information that should be easy to find and access on any legitimate shopping website. Firstly, look out for the contact information. There should be several ways to contact the company, i.e. phone, e-mail, live chat, and a physical address. If there is no contact info, or all you get are automatically-generated responses, that is a huge red flag.

Another thing that should be completely transparent and easy-to-spot is the website’s privacy policy. You should be able to get a clear idea of the kind of information a website you’re using is collecting, as well as how they’re going to use that information. If you can’t find a policy, or can’t understand it, consider taking your business elsewhere. 

Finally, take a look at the return policy. This one should also be absolutely transparent. If it seems in any way vague or convoluted, or if it is nowhere to be found, closer the window immediately. 

Related: 5 Ways Stores Track You for Personalized Advertising

6. Strange Google search resultsWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, google

One thing you can do if you’re questioning a site’s legitimacy is to Google it. Simply type the site’s name and the owner’s name (if you can find it) into Google and see what the search results say. You can also visit Google’s Transparency Report to find out the safety rating of a specific website.

7. No option to pay with a credit cardWarning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, credit cards

This one may seem obvious if you’re an experienced online shopper, but it’s still important to understand the rationale behind it. When you pay with a credit card, your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act, under which you can dispute charges and temporarily withhold payments while the seller is being investigated. If a website requires you to use a wire transfer, money order, or other unsecured (and nonrefundable) form of payment, it would be best to stay away, even if the rest of the website looks legitimate.

8. A deal looks too good to be true

Warning Signs That a Shopping Site is Fraudulent, happy man shopping online
We are not trying to say that every discount or deal you see online is a scam. Sometimes, retailers offer significant discounts on their merchandise to offload excess goods and make room for new products. However, if an offer instinctively seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a site has the latest iPad at a 70% discount, or the price of an item is much lower than what you’ve seen on other sites, walk away. Chances are, it is either a scam or the product is counterfeit. 
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