Americans are expected to spend $1.2 trillion this holiday season, with the majority of shoppers planning to buy most of their gifts online. Unfortunately, all that online spending is a huge motivator for scammers.
Cyber-criminals set up fake shopping websites with the aim of selling consumers knockoff goods, stealing their information, or just taking their money. It pays for shoppers to be aware of holiday scams online. Here’s how to spot a fake shopping website this holiday season.
Look for the Padlock
Before putting your contact and payment information into a website, look for a padlock symbol in the address bar in your browser. This indicates that the data you send and receive is secured via an encrypted connection. Every legitimate website should have a padlock in the browser bar.
It’s important to remember that the existence of a padlock doesn’t prove a website is legitimate. It’s entirely possible that criminals, knowing that many consumers are educated enough to check for a padlock, will go the extra mile to secure their website with an encrypted connection to make themselves appear more legitimate.
Nevertheless, any website without one should immediately be avoided.
Check the Domain Name
Most retail websites have simple domain names that reflect the name of the store or company. However, if you see extra words like “deal,” “sale,” or “discount” in the URL, it could be a scam website. The same goes for URLs that at first glance appear legitimate but maybe slightly misspelled or have a few letters transposed. If you’re unsure about a site, you can check it on the Google Transparency Report.
Look for Suspicious Payment Requirements
Every legitimate website should allow you to pay with established, secure payment methods like credit cards, debit cards, and PayPal. These payment methods generally have protections built around them if you fall victim to a credit and debt card fraud (credit cards generally have the strongest legal protections).
It can be a scam if a website requires you to pay via money order, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or prepaid gift cards. It can often be more difficult to recover lost money via these payment methods. Also, avoid any website that asks you for unnecessary information at checkout, like your Social Security number.
Check the Professionalism of the Shopping Website
Legitimate companies care about the design and professionalism of their websites. If their site is full of low-quality visuals, outdated layouts, and weird design choices, it’s a red flag. The same goes for sites that are riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and other linguistic mistakes.
Check the Return Policies and Contact Information
Legitimate websites should provide you with contact information, including an address, phone number, and email or chat for customer inquiries. They should also clearly outline their return and shipping policies. If these elements are missing or look strange, there’s a chance that the website isn’t legitimate.
Look for Reviews
If you still can’t tell if a website is real or fake shopping website, try typing the website name along with the word “scam” or “reviews” into Google to see if you can find any complaints. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has reported the website.