Is That Shopping Site Fake? How to Tell the Difference.

More and more consumers say they prefer online shopping over conventional shopping these days. And who could argue with the numerous advantages and benefits that come with shopping anytime, anywhere, and without a trip to the store or mall? Consumers like to shop online for better prices, more variety, no crowds, less impulse buying, easy comparison shopping, and saving money on gas and parking. To be sure, online shopping has become an important part of many people’s lives. However, consumers may overlook some problems and hidden hazards.

Have you ever NOT received the things you ordered? Or been dissatisfied with the quality? Or, even had your identity stolen? It happens. When you shop online, you are for the most part purchasing your items from legit organizations. The problem is that you may come across a site run by individuals who have set up an online storefront to capture your identity or sell you designer knockoffs (aka “counterfeit” goods).

Fraudulent sites are on the rise mainly because scammers work at improving the look and feel of their fake websites, in addition to using legitimate methods to reach new victims, such as email, text messages and Facebook advertising. It is estimated that consumers spend $460 billion a year on these counterfeit items—with sneakers, electronics and eyeglasses topping the list.

When shopping online, be careful to check out the online merchant with some healthy skepticism. So, how can you spot a fake shopping site? Here are a few things to look out for:

Suspect domain name, The browser URL shouldn’t be long or complicated, for example “https://Amazon.com” vs. “https://Amazon-payments-transactions.com.” Next, make sure there is a secure network connection with a validated secure network certificate: “https” vs. “http”, and look for a padlock or key in the address bar.

You can’t pay with a debit or credit card. Does the shopping portal accept card payments or PayPal…or do they ask for payment through money orders, wire transfer, bitcoin or a prepaid gift card? Avoid the latter. And when you’re getting ready to pay, be sure the website is asking for general mailing information, and NOT your social security number, social media account logins or other sensitive information.

Spelling and grammatical mistakes. Fake websites are commonly produced in countries where English is not the first language. So, keep an eye out for mistakes in capitalization, poor grammar, and downright gibberish.

Here’s an example we found at a suspect Coach Outlet website offering a “great deal” on a designer handbag, wallet & sunglasses:

http://www.coachoutletonline.us.com
“Coach Only $119 Value Spree 3 $888.00 $119.00
Save: 87% off Outlet coach factory outlet online is the best place to buy the authenticCoach Only $119 Value Spree. Coach Only $119 Value Spree here is on sale now. The high quality and reasonable price will make you more happy. Do not hesitate!”

So, what’s wrong with this picture? For starters, everything. From the unsecure network connection to run-on words, bad grammar, and the unbelievable price, this online merchant practically screams “fake website.” What’s more, this purse/wallet/sunglasses deal was listed under the heading “Combination Meals”. Ugh! Follow through with this sale and you won’t be “more happy” but probably “more broke.”

Too good to be true discounts. It turns out Mom was right: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. When comparison shopping online, be wary of the “standout” price that runs circles around the rest, for example a discounted price that is 80% less than the competition.

Unclear refund policy. A trustworthy retailer will tell you exactly how to return a product you’re unhappy with. Fake websites will usually have policies that are difficult to understand, if they exist at all. They should also be able to give you an estimated arrival time if they are shipping the product.

Sketchy merchant credentials. Check the contact page to find the name of the owner, or Google the site and owner to check what search results say. To find out how long they’ve been in business, check out GoDaddy’s WHOIS tool, which shows you the e-mail address and phone number associated with the account, where it’s located, and the site’s creation date. Finally, does the merchant have a physical address or phone number on the website? This is a red flag if not.

Lack of certifications or seals of approval. Labels and logos can be stolen, so although not a flawless guarantee, it is a positive sign if the website has some seal of approval from a reputable organization, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Bizrate, TRUSTe, Verisign and many more.

Bad consumer reviews. You can check to see if the site has a reseller rating at ResellerRatings.com. Here you’ll find a database of merchants and consumer-verified merchants and their business details along with consumer ratings on those merchants. Also check the BBB for reviews or use their Scam Tracker to see if others have good or bad things to say.

So, what do you do if you suspect you’ve been scammed? Call your bank or credit card company immediately, where you can cancel a credit card, change your password or put a hold on your account. You can also contact the following so that other would-be shoppers won’t be duped:

The bottom line is that online shopping isn’t going anywhere, and there’s no reason to stop doing so because there ARE good honest merchants. Just be careful before you purchase anything, and do your homework on the merchant to ensure a satisfactory experience.

Resources: Reader’s Digest, CNBC, Asecurelife.com, CBS News, Adweek, Dashlane Inc., Upstream Commerce