Shopping online is a great way to save time and money but fake websites can try to trick you out of your money. We show you how to avoid them
The internet has completely changed the way we think about many aspects of our lives. Almost any information is now just a few clicks away and shopping can be done from the comfort of home at any time. However, with these new conveniences come new risks.
Sadly there is a growing number of fake websites designed to trick visitors into handing over credit card or bank account details. The promise of brand-name goods at dramatically reduced prices is often used as a lure, but in reality there may not actually be anything for sale.
Thankfully it is quite easy to avoid falling victim to such scams. In this feature we’ll reveal how to spot fake sites and how to use free tools to stay safe.
How scammers work
The vast majority of online shops are legitimate. But there are a few that have been set up with the purpose of tricking visitors into placing orders for goods that do not exist then taking their credit card details. Fortunately avoiding these sites is relatively easy and won’ t cost you anything: keeping your wits about you and using a few free tools can help you avoid scams.
But how do these scams work? Generally, scammers attract customers away from legitimate shops by offering lower prices, or claiming to have goods in stock that are in short supply elsewhere. Last year one website claiming to have the then-elusive Nintendo Wii Fit game in stock attracted thousands of shoppers.
Scammers also attract shoppers by manipulating their websites so that they appear prominently when people search for certain goods online. Use a search engine to look for a particular brand of shoes, for example, and you’re likely to get results that include several shops selling that brand: scammers want to make sure their website is listed here. Don’t assume a shop is legitimate because it is listed on a search engine.
Some scammers go to greater lengths to trick their victims. One tactic is to set up a site that has a similar name to a famous brand, in the hope shoppers won’t notice. The site can still appear in search results.
How to avoid them
The last of these tricks is easy to avoid. When visiting a shop that you know to be legitimate, the bookstore at www.amazon.co.uk, for example, be sure to type the address carefully into the address bar of your web browser. Similarly, it’s possible to avoid many scams by sticking to the sites of shops that you know and trust. If you regularly shop at Boots, for example, you can find out in-store that it has a website.
Common sense can also be a key ally when it comes to suspiciously tempting bargains. Remember the old adage that ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’. A website you have not heard of offering unreasonably low prices for goods that can’t be found elsewhere should alert your suspicions. How can this small retailer offer such a great deal on goods that mainstream retailers can’t even find?
But what if you’ve found a shop online and you have no idea whether it’s
legitimate or not? One of the first things to check is for a full UK postal
address – not a Post Office box, phone number and email address.
These are no guarantee of legitimacy, but any site without them should be immediately lowered in your estimation: without these details you’ll be unable to get in touch if there’s a problem. You can also phone the company. If you are given the run-around, go elsewhere.
Checking the address is also vital to see where the company is located. UK law gives consumers many rights, but it’s important to know that a website address ending in .co.uk does not mean that the site is based in the UK. It is perfectly legal for a company in, say, Hong Kong to run a shop with a .co.uk address, and purchases from that shop would not be covered by UK law.
Search engines can also be put to use for finding out more information about any online store. Copy and paste the name of the shop into Google or your favourite alternative search engine and you may well find comments from other shoppers.
There’s no way of knowing whether comments posted online are from real
shoppers, so positive reviews should be treated with a pinch of salt, but a
number of complaints should be reason enough to steer clear.
If there are no references at all to the shop it is likely to be new – in this case it’s hard to know if it can be trusted, so we would avoid that particular shop for a while.
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