How to avoid getting scammed by a fake online store

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If you are like most people, you probably believe that nothing can surprise you in the wild world of online shopping. You find something you like online, create an account, give out your credit card, shipping address and everything you ask for will be delivered right in front of your doorstep in a matter of days.

However according to several reports and statistics, millions of dollars are wasted online every year due to crooked online sellers and naive consumers who haven’t done their research properly. It seems that online scammers are always five steps ahead of the game and when they steal your hard earned money, it’s often very hard to seek justice and get it back.

How safe is online shopping?

online shopping scam

Online shopping has become a major thing in our lives. In the old days we had to preplan every shopping journey and if we didn’t know where to find particular thing, we often had to drive miles and visit dozens of stores to find what we were looking for.

Nowadays everything is much simpler. Online shopping allows us to purchase goods from the comfort of our home and get them delivered to our doorstep in a matter of days.

But when something is too good to be true, it usually is.

According to the Javelin Strategy reports, over 2 millions consumers became victims of online fraud in 2017.

It seems that this number is going to grow in the next few years and isn’t going to drop any time soon. Hackers and crooks are always a few steps ahead of the game and being 100% secure while shopping online is more of a science fiction than anything else.

Fake online stores – Good to know

Setting up a website isn’t a rocket science any more. All you have to do is purchase two very inexpensive things.

  • A domain name which represents the name of your website (costs about $10 per year)
  • Hosting for storing the content of the website (costs as little as $1 per month)

After the domain and hosting are ready, all you have to do is spend 30 minutes of your time playing with a content management system such as WordPress and voila, your website is up and running.

While this is a blessing for most website owners with legit businesses who don’t need to struggle or pay thousands of dollars to developers for creating a simple website any more, it also allows scammers to target more naive consumers at once by creating hundreds of different professional-looking, but fake websites.

What is a fake online store exactly?

It’s a website that looks like a legit online store, but doesn’t actually sell anything. It’s owned by crooks who are trying to trick consumers into sharing their private information such as Social security numbers, passwords and security number details to steal their identity and drain their bank accounts.

Are you absolutely sure you know how to identify fake online stores and scammers who are pretending to be legit online sellers? Here are the 5 key steps that will make your online shopping experience much safer and put an extra layer of safety on your hard earned money.

The offer is too good to be true

discount online stores scam

When something seems to good to be true, it usually is. Online scammers will often offer much higher discounts on products from reputable brands than anyone else to convince desperate consumers to share sensitive personal details and open their wallets.

Is the offer too good to be true? How could someone offer 95% on a brand new iPad or the newest Gucci bag?

Skepticism in these cases can go a long way toward saving you from becoming a victim of online fraud.

The website hasn’t been around long

The more the website is old, the safer it usually is. When a fake online store gets reported to authorities, it’s taken down and blocked by all major internet service providers fairly quickly. This is why most fake online stores aren’t around for long and once they get busted, scammers have no other option but to create new ones.

There are several tools such as the Lxrmarketplace that can help you find exactly how old the domain really is. All you have to do is type in the URL of the suspicious website and the Lxrmarketplace will tell you the exact date when the domain was first registered.

lxr domain age checkNow here comes the catch. Even if the 3rd party tools show you that a website is 20 years old, it’s still possible that it’s owned by scammers who have purchased a 20-year old domain that used to be something completely different, and turned it into a fake online store over night.

But how do they do that?

Once the owner of a domain name isn’t interested in it any more and doesn’t pay for its renewal, the domain goes on a public auction where anyone is able to buy it. Sometimes all it takes is $10 for scammers to become owners of a 20-years old domain.

Luckily there are a lot of tools such as the archive.org that are able to show you exactly how the website associated with the domain looked like in the past..

All you have to do is submit the URL of the website and take a quick look how it looked in the past.

Was the website associated with the domain always an online store? Or was it something completely different not so long ago?

If it was something completely different, you have a lot to worry about and it’s highly advised that you stay away from buying anything from it.

There’s no option to pay with credit card or Paypal

bitcoin scam

If an online store has no option to pay with credit card or Paypal, turn around, grab your wallet and run for your life.

If you use credit cards or Paypal to purchase goods online, you are fairly safe because these payment processors are quite secure and can identify most fraudulent transactions automatically. Reputable websites will almost always allow you to pay with secure methods because they have nothing to hide and they see no problem in the fact that the money coming through can be traced by authorities.

However some sellers are trying to convince consumers to pay for goods with bitcoins, Western union or prepaid gift cards. These payment methods can’t be traced and if the seller decides to steal the money without delivering the goods, authorities aren’t able to track where the money ended and it’s highly unlikely that the victim will see the money again.

The website doesn’t have SSL certificate

ssl secure website

SSL is a security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a server and a visitor. What this means in practice is that websites with SSL have additional layer of security which prevents hackers to intercept sensible private information.

Sometimes an online store is legit, but it was hacked by crooks. When you visit such a website, the connection between the website and yourself might be intercepted by hackers. This means that hackers will see everything you do while visiting the online store, including what passwords you use and what are the security numbers of your credit cards.

Identifying sites with SSL certificate is fairly easy. They have https in front of them instead of http, and when you visit them, the browser displays a locked lock right next to the URL.

The website asks for very personal information

When you register an account on any legitimate online shopping website, no one should ask you for personal information such as your Social Security number or your favorite child’s name.

While no one can steal your hard earned money just by knowing what’s your mother’s maiden name, some hackers will use personal information to steal your identity. When you become a victim of identity theft, your entire belongings can be at stake because crooks can run up charges on your credit account, get medical treatment on your health insurance, and drain your bank account.

What else can you do?

One of the most important things that can improve your online safety is to use different passwords for each website where you register an account. The password should be unique and it shouldn’t be common. It should be at least 8 characters long and should consist of a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Almost every major online website is bombed with hackers on a daily basis. They are trying to hack into accounts of registered users by using their emails and some of the world’s most common passwords.

Words such as “123456”, “passw0rd”, “football” and “abc123” are among the world’s most commonly used passwords. When hackers try to log into someone else’s account, it’s logical that they will first try their luck with these common passwords.

Conclusion

The internet has been changing the way we communicate and the way we shop online ever since it became mainstream. While it made many aspects of our lives easier, it also brought a lot of trouble and opened the door to crooks who are looking for new ways of ripping off consumers.

Urska Pav

Urska is a full-time interior designer with a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. Coming from a family of dentists she specializes in copywriting, blogging, and interior design.
Urska Pav
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