There are several ways you can spot a scam website or scammer. PLEASE NOTE: This post is not intended to spot a scammer on Gumtree or Marketplace, common sense should prevail on websites like these. This is also not an exhaustive list.
1. The URL or Address Bar.
If you click on a link that says for example www.123.co.za that suddenly changes to something completely different in the address bar for example the clicked link changes to www.me.cheapshop.buy in the address bar then the likelihood that its a scam website is very high.
Another tip on the address bar is to look at the URL spelling. A legitimate website for example www.123.co.za may exist but a scammer will vary the spelling slightly for example www.132.co.za or www.1_2_3.co.za where you think you are dealing with legitimate website www.123.co.za but in fact you are dealing with scam website www.132.co.za or scam website www.1_2_3.co.za. The scam website will normally have logos and pictures which they had copied from the legitimate website to make it look as real as possible.
2. The Padlock icon is missing.
You would never enter credit card information on a site without the padlock icon as the site is not secure which means a scammer or hacker can have access to the information you input on it. The padlock icon refers to a SSL certificate which is paid for by a website owner and registered in their name along with their address so if its a scam website you can find out what web host issued the SSL certificate and the owners name its registered too. On the other hand, not all websites displaying the padlock icon can be trusted as even scammers with scam websites can get free and fake SSL certificates nowadays. The padlock icon is also clickable to see who issued the SSL certificate. The Padlock icon and the “s” at the end of https are related. Websites without an SSL certificate will not display the padlock and will not have the https:// but rather http://. Many websites still do not have an SSL certificate, this does not make it a definite scam website but merely makes it unsafe to input personal or credit card information.
3. It has an abundance of negative reviews.
Most businesses are listed on Google these days. Most people don’t think of Google as a website or search engine but that’s in fact exactly what it is, a website within which you can perform searches and receive search results. Check a websites social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for reviews. Previous customers would normally leave a detailed review of how they have been scammed. Please keep in mind not all reviews are legitimate as there are plenty of legitimate companies who buy fake 5 star reviews. If most of the reviews are positive one of 2 things are possible, either the company genuinely has 99.9% clients who are happy or the company bought its reviews and they are fake reviews. If you think about it critically, when will a customer likely leave a review, when they received good service or when they received bad service? That’s correct, we love complaining so the fact that you will get a bad review from an actual customer who had an actual bad experience is more likely than getting a good review from a happy customer. That is unfortunately just how we are hardwired as humans. Have a look a the profile pictures of the reviewer, it’s unbelievable but some companies will buy fake reviews where the reviewer has a stockphoto of a smiling person as a profile picture. The more you familiarise yourself with how actual profile pictures from actual users look compared to those of fake reviewers the more you will notice the difference between the two. In simple terms, if the profile pic of the reviewer looks like a stockphoto then alarm bells should start ringing. This though becomes more difficult when the profile picture is that of rolling hills.
4. Google the website or company name.
Do a search for the website or company and look at the search results. Imagine this scenario:-Google starts giving its users search results with scam websites as part of the top search results. This does not equate to good business sense as they will start loosing users. There is a reason companies who are trusted by Google appear on the first page search results, its because they are trusted by Google. There is no doubt that even a scam website can make it to Googles 1st page results as a scammer willing to pay a SEO expert to get them onto 1st page results will do exactly that. Checking out a companies Google reviews will soon expose whether its a scam or not. If they do not have a Google business listing rather err on the side of caution and do more investigating. Please note: Ads that appear on first page search results are paid adverting so the above does not apply. With ads you would you would have to do your own investigating.
This bring us to the next point.
5. Check for how long the website has been indexed by Google.
Do a search for something you are interested in. Look at the first page search results. Click on the ellipses icon also known as hamburger menu on the top right. Here you will see when Google indexed this website or web page for the first time. Its not likely that a scam website would be indexed by Google for many years. Most website will have “this website was first indexed by Google more than 10 years ago“. If a website is new, do some more investigating. Google removes websites which are reported by their users as a fake or scam website. The only way this could fall through the cracks is if a scam website never gets reported to Google by its users or if its a legitimate company who decided after years of running a legitimate company, that they are going to start scamming their customers for some or other reason. If the latter is true, you should be able to pick up on this on the companies business page Google reviews if they have one.
6. There is lots of spelling errors.
While English isn’t everyone’s first language, poor grammar and spelling errors is an indication that it might be a scam website. Most companies will invest in a copywriter if their English isn’t up to standard. Please also bear in mind for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) purposes some websites intentionally spell a word wrong. For example, after years of dealing with customer requests we realised some Afrikaans customers would enquire “Do you stock 50ml mens parfuum?”. Parfuum being Afrikaans for perfume, a good SEO company would add this spelling into some places on the website they are working on to serve an English website to Afrikaans speaking customers who typed those exact search terms into a search engine .
You might wonder why a perfume website would write a blog post about how to spot a scam website but thanks to the increase in scam websites, scammers and people being scammed we have had to answer these types of questions more often. This led to one certain potential customer not being happy with the evidence we provided him//her that we are legitimate and the customer then leaving a review on Google that we are not legitimate. Google has since removed the fake negative review as this customer was asked to give evidence of why they say so. This gave rise to our next post which we will publish next week on How to Deal with Fake Negative Reviews and how to Request to have it Removed.