The 2020 pandemic and microchip shortage helped to prove that most common wisdom for spotting online scammers was false. There were websites selling PS5 consoles that were highly ranked on Google (despite being scams). They were reviewed well (because most were purchased reviews). The websites also had real contact information that led to real buildings and real phone numbers (the scammers didn’t care, they just moved). The domain names were correct, they had SSL, and so forth, but they were still scams. Here are a few tips that hold up a little better in this day and age.
1 – You Cannot Be 100% Sure
No matter what you read online about how to avoid scams, the online fraudsters have already read and have taken steps to rectify. It is just like how the CSI TV shows would show people how the police gather evidence, so real-life criminals would take more informed steps to avoid detection. In truth, you need to credit cards when you buy online because at least if you are scammed, then you can get your money back.
2 – Try a Scam Tracking Website or Extension
Do you have a team of experts who constantly analyze big data to see who is scamming whom? Of course you don’t, but companies like Web Paranoid do. Plus, they aggregate online chatter to hedge their bets on which websites are toxic and which are not. They may cast a wide net, but that is how you catch the most aggressive monsters.
3 – Has Both Good and Bad Reviews
Scam websites will buy bot reviews, and they are pretty convincing. Sometimes the bots will post their own content, and the bots will have fully filled-out profiles that contain several reviews on other companies. It is hard to spot the fake reviews, but you can spot companies that use bot reviewers. The most classic sign is that there are hundreds of amazing five star reviews, very few in the middle, and then a few very negative one star reviews. The one star reviews are the real reviews. If the reviews are all positive, then something is wrong because no company is perfect.
4 – How Cheap Does The Website Look?
A common trick is to set up a website so it looks good, post the reviews, fake the social media, take orders and then delete the website for the negative PR catches up to them. Scammers who do this over and over will eventually start cheapening out on the website, so keep an eye out for cheap looking websites.
5 – Do They Have an Active Social Media Presence?
Faking a social media presence is easy. In fact, you can buy the social media accounts from other people and rename them. The key to knowing if a social media account is real is if people are actively posting, liking and replying. Activity right now is the key, not the amount of likes, posts or followers.
6 – Whois and The Source Code
If you are willing to learn about fraud detection, then learn about Whois and how you can gather as much information as possible (even if they are set to private). Also, learn what to look for in the source code. The cheap template stuff is easy to spot, along with other signs that the website may have been copy-pasted from another source.
7 – Ask People Online If They Have Tried The Merchant
You can try asking your friends and family if you want a perfectly honest opinion. This is a good idea if you are looking for a service like an electrician or insurance. However, for online stores, you can ask strangers on social media and Facebook. The people who have been burned by the companies will not be shy about coming forward and warning you.
8 – Make a Small Purchase First
Let’s say you are trying to buy something that is not easy to acquire in bulk without a massive expense. Perhaps it is something like industrial liquid latex. In this case, you should try ordering a smaller batch for a higher price to see how the transaction works out. If things go well, you can make a bigger bulk order at what is hopefully a good price.