With Black Friday officially here, the holiday shopping season is under way! And as many of us are confined to doing all our shopping online this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, it’s important to stay extra vigilant of the websites we’re surfing and purchasing from.
There are plenty of scammers building sites, especially this time of year, that look legitimate but are, in fact, fakes. They’re malicious sites created to steal your bank information and money. So how do you tell a real site from a phoney one? While it's difficult nowadays as many fraudsters become more sophisticated in their work, there are still some telling signs you can watch out for to help keep yourself safe.
1. Take a close look at the URL
Pay attention to the URL of the website you’re on. Even the slightest change in the address bar can redirect you to a different website entirely. Common techniques used by criminals who want to send you to one of their fake sites include incorrect spelling, letters replaced by characters or numbers, special characters inserted, altered endings to URLs or adding an IP address.
Tip: When visiting a website, it's best to directly type the URL into your search bar versus clicking on a link you're unsure of. You can also open a new web browser window and Google what you are looking for, then navigate to your desired destination.
2. Watch for typos
Spelling and grammar errors can indicate that a website went live quickly — sometimes in an attempt to take your money and run! That’s not to say legitimate websites will never have typos, but there will still be an effort to present a professional-looking website to potential customers.
Tip: Read carefully and take your time reviewing a site for any odd mistakes or phrases that don’t make sense.
3. Avoid “too good to be true” deals
Before you shop, make sure you do your research and know the average market price for the product you’re looking for. Not only will this information help you snag a really good deal when you stumble across one, but it’ll also help you steer clear from the ones that are, in fact, too good to be true. Remember: if something is significantly below the average retail price, it could be a sign that it’s a scam.
Tip: To avoid fraudsters, only buy products from a store’s official website or an official list of authorised sellers listed on their website.
4. Look for secure payment options
Any reputable online store will offer you secure payment options for making your purchases. Search for choices like checking out with Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal or major card schemes like Mastercard. If a website asks you to make a wire transfer, money order or other unsecured and non-refundable form of payment, it’s best to think twice!
Tip: Shop online safely with your Monese card, which allows you to check out with Google Pay, Apple Pay or PayPal by linking your card. You can also buy online with a Monese virtual card for an extra layer of security.
5. Check for viruses
Ads aren’t a bad thing. But if hundreds of pop-ups are inundating you, it could be a sign that a site isn't secure. Several free websites allow you to run a quick check for viruses, phishing, malware, and known scam sites: Is It Hacked?, VirusTotal, PhishTank.
Tip: PCs and Macs are both susceptible to malware. The best way to protect yourself is to install proven antivirus software. There are both free and paid options out there.
6. Find the refund policy
Honest websites should display a refund policy on their site along with terms and conditions. Look for these pages and make sure they’re populated with real content. If you can’t find this anywhere on the site, it’s another fast and easy way to spot a fake!
Tip: Before purchasing, make sure you read the refund and return policies plus the terms and conditions. Be sure that the policies are fair and that you’re comfortable with the measures outlined before proceeding.
7. Search for ways to get in touch
Genuine online retailers will always give you a way to contact them. This could be a telephone number, email address, address to a physical location or live chat. Before buying, make sure you find these points of contact so that you’re able to get in touch if something goes wrong.
Tip: Look through a few websites that offer a live chat option. If you’re getting the same generic response from all of them, it’s a good chance they’re phoney sites.
8. Read reviews
Not only will reading customer testimonials help you make a wiser decision before purchasing, but it’ll help you learn of others’ shopping experiences (good and bad) before you buy. Take time to search online and on different review platforms for information on other customers’ experiences with the websites you’re interested in interacting with.
Tip: Make sure you search on independent review sites like Trustpilot for an unbiased evaluation.
9. Consider the source
Be careful with those Black Friday promotional emails landing in your inbox this time of year. If you don’t know the sender and the emails contain strange links sending you to unknown websites, don’t click on them (no matter how good the sale)! This is a common way criminals trick victims into giving up their financial information or infecting your devices.
Tip: Links can be shortened or compressed, concealing their true destination. The true destination will usually be displayed in your browser's bottom-left corner if you hover over the link. If you get an email about an offer, look up the store on your own and try to find it that way.
10. Don’t trust the padlock
It used to be that you could feel safe browsing or shopping on a site with an SSL certificate (a padlock in the address bar) and if the URL started with https (the ‘s’ at the end stands for secure), but not anymore. As criminals can now obtain a padlock for their phoney site in a matter of seconds, you can’t rely on this alone. Make sure you apply all the other tips and advice outlined in this post when you're evaluating a website.
Tip: Don’t trust security badges or logos on a site, as these can easily be pictures that have been copied and pasted. If the badge or logo on a website doesn't lead anywhere legitimate with more security information, it’s most likely a fake.
It's hard to tell a genuine website from a copycat these days, but we hope you feel better equipped to tackle any upcoming online holiday shopping with these tips. How do you keep yourself protected when purchasing online? Share your tips with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.