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Four red flags that signal a website is a scam

Sadly, scammers are now trying to mimic the padlock to better fool their victims, so you need to make other checks to keep yourself safe.

Image by © Tim Sandle
Image by © Tim Sandle

When you are online, you want it to be a safe and trustworthy experience from start to finish. Furthermore, you want all products and services to be genuine, and all websites fully reliable; you never want to spend time worrying that you are being scammed.

Unfortunately, being unaware of online dangers and naively surfing the Internet could lead to losing money. When scams are detected it is important that consumers report these to their relevant national authority.

Vincent Iachetta Jr., the owner and founder of Peppermonkey Media, has told Digital Journal about four telltale signs that a website is trying to scam you.

No Padlock Icon In Your Address Bar

The most well-known and simple way to see if a website is legit is by checking whether there is a padlock icon in your address bar when you visit the site.

According to Iachetta: “Your web browser (e.g. Google, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge) has software that can confirm whether a website is trustworthy or not. It does this by displaying a padlock symbol next to the URL in the address bar, which means the website has an SSL (security) certificate and is encrypted to provide further protection. You can click on the padlock to access more information regarding the company, something a cybercriminal would never supply.”

He adds: “Sadly, scammers are now trying to mimic the padlock to better fool their victims, so you need to make other checks to keep yourself safe.”

A Suspicious Domain Name

The next thing to check is the website’s domain name. This is the name of the website in the address bar – for example, ‘google.com’ or ‘netflix.com’. Make sure this name looks like what you are expecting before going any further on the website. Then look for unfamiliar URL extensions (e.g. .exe or .bat which run executable files, often used to install malware onto your computer) or random letters.

Iachetta also puts forward: “Incorrect spelling, such as ‘sonny’ rather than ‘sony’ for the famous electronics company, is often a hint that all is not well. Scammers often use names that could easily be mistaken for the real thing in the hopes that people won’t take any notice. Another good tip to remember is that few authentic online shopping sites use .org or .net.”

Unbelievable Offers

Scammers often try to lure their victims in with incredible offers that catch the eye, says Iachetta. A common recent scam has been to offer inflated salaries for home-working jobs, taking advantage of the growth of the remote work sector.

Iachetta explains: “If the scam website is set up as an online store, there may be a countdown clock to try and induce a feeling of urgency, or they may be offering a massive discount (e.g. 50%+). In these scenarios, the prices are probably too good to be true; scammers set these deals hoping shoppers will be too wowed by the amazing price to stop and think rationally.

Iachetta advises: “Shop around to compare prices and see if any of the offers for the item you want on reputable websites are anywhere close to what you found on the potential scam site. If that offer is significantly lower than offers from well-known stores, there’s a high chance it’s a scam.”

Unusual Payment Options

Safe choices for online payment include PayPal, credit cards, debit cards, and Apple or Google Pay.

Iachetta indicates: “These payment methods also often help you get a refund if you need one.

Remember that if you pay by bank transfer, you can’t get your money back if you’re scammed. Also, avoid paying by cryptocurrency or payment apps (e.g. Cash App, Zelle, Venmo) as there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get your money back if you don’t receive anything. If a site stipulates that you may only use these methods as payment, reconsider buying from them.”

From this, Iachetta recommends: “Always check online reviews (e.g. using Trustpilot) and read comments on the company’s social media profile pages. If they don’t have any social media, that’s another strong sign they aren’t legit. Run a virus checker on the website and look for their returns policy, as scam websites often don’t have one. If you feel any doubt, I highly suggest staying safe and closing the website immediately.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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