Online shopping makes buying things so straightforward. Unfortunately, criminals are using this to attack people, steal their information, and defraud them.
This article will guide you through some of the most common red flags of recent online scams. We’ll also share our recommended tips and tools you can use to buy safely when online.
Common Red Flags of Online Shopping Scams
As sophisticated as an online scam might seem, they share specific characteristics and features. Below are six of the most common red flags you should be aware of when online shopping:
1. Sense of Urgency Scams
One of the most common red flags of online shopping scams is when an online store pressures you into buying something quickly. They use a sense of urgency to force you into making rash decisions without thinking them through properly.
Be wary of offers with time countdowns or highlight a limited supply of items for sale. These sites want to make a quick buck on letting your guard down.
2. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is
Scam sites will often advertise high-quality goods at low prices to get your attention, have you create an account on their website, and supply them with personal information.
But the golden rule with online shopping is if it’s too good to be true, it’s because it is. Check the website for other signs of unrealistic pricing, how long the site has been active, and what prices other websites charge to make a more informed decision.
3. Suspicious URLs
Some criminals will try to imitate reputable brands and create fake websites to steal potential customers’ information. They will replicate the site exactly, including logos, images, and the interface, and try to copy the original site’s URL address.
Hackers might substitute a single letter, e.g., 1 instead of L, to trick users into thinking they’re on the official website. They might also use a different domain extension (such as .co.uk instead of .com) to fool you.
Moreover, many fake sites can artificially inflate their popularity and rank high on search engine results. Just because they are at the top of the results, do not take this as validation that the site is trustworthy.
4. Generic, Overly Positive Reviews
We often check reviews before buying online to see whether the website is trustworthy. Scammers will often use AI tools to spam 5-star reviews on products, making them seem more popular and worthwhile than they are.
Ways to identify a dishonest review include:
- Overly positive reviews that don’t mention anything specific about the product.
- Reviews share similar tones, phrases, and experiences.
- No sign of a verified purchase being made.
- Reviews are posted in quick succession from each other.
5. Poor-Quality Photographs
When shopping online, we’re immediately drawn to product photos to make a decision. Research from Invesp found that over 50% of consumers say visual information when shopping online is more important than text.
Unfortunately, scam websites will often steal photographs of genuine products to be used on their site to trick customers. A simple way to verify images is using a reverse image search, which can help find the photo’s source.
Stolen photos are often low-quality and unusually cropped at specific angles to remove copyrighted logos and icons.
6. Hidden Costs in Shipping
Some shops sell their wares at incredibly low prices, encouraging you to visit their site and buy without reading the fine print. Many customers might not realize these sites often have high shipping costs to compensate for the low retail price.
Before purchasing, check the website’s shipping policies and whether tracking information is supplied upon purchase. Legitimated sites will have a table of prices you can expect to pay relevant to your location.
3 Ways to Stay Safe When Shopping Online
Thankfully, there are many ways of staying safe when shopping online. Below are three of the best and most effective methods:
1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN is one of the most helpful cybersecurity tools for online shopping. It encrypts your internet connection, making it impossible for a criminal to intercept your data.
Even on public Wi-Fi networks, a VPN will offer you peace of mind that no one is tracking your online activity. Moreover, many of the best VPNs have built-in features that flag malicious websites before you click on them, protecting you from falling for fraudulent sites and scams.
Because a VPN disguises your IP address and makes it seem like you’re elsewhere, your online banking service might sometimes treat a sudden change in IP address as suspicious. But don’t worry – there is a solution!
A dedicated IP VPN is a brilliant feature that offers all the same protections as a regular VPN but gives you a consistent IP address, ensuring you can stay verified and shop in private!
2. Create Unique Passwords
If buying from a new website, you will no doubt need to create an account and fill in your details. Unfortunately, many people often make the mistake of using the same password that they use for other websites in their account creation.
Fraudulent websites will use the information you supply to try and hack your other accounts. For this reason alone, creating unique passwords for different websites is highly recommended.
Strong passwords are usually at least eight characters long and use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use personal information in the password.
3. Use Secure Payment Services
You should only buy from websites that allow you to pay through credit cards or trust-worthy transaction services. This is because they will have security features that can help protect you from scams.
Services like PayPal, for example, have 24/7 fraud protection that monitors every transaction, helping to prevent you from falling victim to a scam. Transactions are encrypted, and you can be reimbursed if your purchase doesn’t arrive or is not as described.
Websites that avoid this kind of payment method should be avoided. They are most likely trying to get your personal debit card details, which they can use to defraud you.