With Black Friday around the corner and you begin shopping for some incredible gifts, we wanted to take a moment to discuss fake online stores.
These days, it is easy for criminals to set up something that looks like a top notch online store full of appealing products and then advertise for it with facebook ads, sponsored posts or ads on news websites, sales emails, and more.
But, as the adage goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Beware of Fake eCommerce Sites
In the age of digital ads that come at us from all angles, we’re often bombarded with offers that seem so good that they are tough to pass up. A jacket that looks just like the one you love, but for 80% cheaper. A state of the art coffee maker that costs hundreds of dollars at Target, but now it’s on sale for just $30 on a new website.
Times have changed. We all shop online which means a potential scammer doesn’t need to invest in a store at the local mall in order to set up shop. All it takes is a few dollars and some internet expertise and anyone can have an online store up and running in no time. They can create beautiful images and even hire a team to write up hundreds of five star reviews for their products. But no matter how sleek the website, that doesn’t mean the product is quality—or that it even exists at all.
There are thousands of online stores that are selling cheap knockoffs of popular products and there are thousands more that aren’t selling anything more than an illusion. What’s worse is that they are known to prey on older adults via Facebook or Google ads as they know that older adults are less likely to see through the facade.
How To Spot a Fake Online Store
In the pre-internet world, it was easy to spot a scam. A shabby table set up outside of the local mall. A guy on the street corner selling items out of a van. A popular toy, but the words on the box are written half in a foreign language and the colors aren’t true to brand.
While it isn’t always easy these days, there are always a few things to look for on a fraudulent website.
Here are a few tips on what to look for on a fake online store:
1. Bad Grammar
Bad grammar is a great giveaway to a fake online store and it probably the easiest to spot. While there is a lot of technical skill out there in the universe, it’s hard to master the English language. That’s why large companies like Walmart or Nike have entire teams of high paid copywriters who spend their days writing copy, editing copy, and combing through their website to be sure everything is perfect.
Do general mistakes occur on a legitimate website? Of course. But if you are reading a product description and notice multiple spelling errors, misuse of grammar, or sentences that just don’t sound right for some reason…take a step back before you make a mistake.
2. Stock Photography
Stock photos can be a bit harder to notice if you aren’t used to looking for it, but it can also be a great giveaway to a fake online store. If the photos look like they’ve been manipulated with Photoshop or the images just look like a generic group of people instead of real photos of whatever it is that you’re shopping for, you might want to second guess things.
3. Lots and Lots of Promotions
Promotions don’t necessarily mean that an eCommerce store is illegitimate, but you should be careful if it seems like they are trying almost too hard to get you to make a purchase. If there is a “wheel of fortune” AND a flashing coupon AND a notification every time someone else makes a purpose AND a countdown timer telling you that the deal is about to end…maybe there is a reason that they are pushing you so hard and making this seem impossible to resist.
Again, of course, legitimate websites offer deals, but for the most part, it will be a simple coupon code, not a combination of flashing buttons and countdown timers that give you the feeling you need to order immediately.
4. Preposterously Low Prices
As we mentioned earlier, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Price is perhaps the biggest sign that something fishy (or phishy) is going on.
For those unaware, when you run a Facebook or Google ad campaign, you can target people based off of their interests. That’s why you get haunted by ads for products similar to what you were just looking at for several weeks, even after making a purchase. Smart criminals will advertise their smart phone to people who’ve been looking at the T-Mobile or AT&T websites and they will advertise that they can get you the brand new Android phone for 1/5 of the price!
Do great deals exist? Certainly they do! But if you see something for sale that seems unreasonably cheap, do your due diligence.
How To Protect Yourself from Fake Online Stores
First off, read the above tips and keep them in mind. Look out for bad grammar, stock photos, too many promotions, and ridiculously low prices. If you see one of these, see if you can find two. If you spot two, definitely move on.
Second, and perhaps most importantly…Google!
If you are skeptical of a website, take 30 seconds to Google the website. Just punch it in and see what comes up. Unless the site is brand new, if there are people who have been scammed in the past, it will show up on the first page or two. Sometimes there will be notices on independent review sites like TrustPilot and other times there might be entire threads written on Reddit.
Similarly, if a website is legitimate, there will be good reviews on alternative websites or even on social media. It only takes a minute to do some research, so save yourself before you make the purchase and do a quick search.
What To Do If I Bought Something From A Scam Website?
Don’t worry too much. Most likely the website is just trying to make some money by selling a subpar product or just never delivering what you ordered. You’ll mostly likely have lost that money, but hopefully it wasn’t too much.
If you notice the issue soon enough, you can call your credit card company to stop payment and you can similarly reach out to PayPal or other platforms via their customer support.
If you want, you can also report this to the FTC or FBI. The contact information for their cyber and eCommerce crimes departments are on this website.