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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Scam websites

 Note: This post was originally published on November 27, 2016 and has been updated with new information.
On top of all the safety concerns we have for shopping in the real world, you have to be careful online as well.  Not only from identity theft issues but bogus, price too good to be true deals, on fake websites and fake mobile apps.

You use to be able to look at a website and have your spider sense tingle warning that this doesn’t look quite right. But now, at first glance, it’s hard to pick out a thrown together site. Site building skills and packages are such that pretty much anyone can construct a site that looks like a multi billion dollar corporation is at the other end. When in reality it’s a small time operation or worse an out of country company that is selling bogus products or collecting personal data.

Scam Busting

One quick way to tell if the site is not quite on the up and up is to take a tour and make note of the grammar. One thing the scammers haven’t quite grasped is writing in grammatically correct English. Sites that do not pay attention to simple grammatical structure probably don’t have your best interest in mind. We’re not talking about a typo here or their or misusing there,  they’re, or their, you'll see serious grammar issues that scream no quality control. But don’t use this as your only method.

There are several “detectors” that can be found online that you enter the questionable website address and the detector gives you a report on the site, including a score, location, technical data, owner, and contact information. One such site is [This is just one of many and no endorsements are being given.] This site seemed to provide the most detailed information that online users could use.

If you’re not sure of a site, run it through a “scam busting site”, you should be able to get enough laymen details to make a determination if the site in question is someone you want to provide your credit card.


In the early days of the Internet, criminals would identify the most popular retailing websites and then figure out the commonly mistyped spellings of the retailer’s names. They create their own sites under the misspelled names. Users always misspelled Amazon, or example. Type in Amason, and you are directed to the scammers’ site. Companies figured this out and began buying up the domain names associated with the misspellings.

The technique is called typosquatting. The practice diminished but is picking up popularity again. It’s hard to think of or even buy every possible spelling combination, so criminals are able to slip past the gatekeepers. The fraudulent sites are very close facsimiles to the real sites. Once a user interacts, malware is downloaded onto the users computer and/or information is stolen.

Mobile devices are targeted as well through fake retail apps sold in smartphone stores. The apps mimic legitimate retailers, but they install malware that steal identity, financial information, and sometimes install ransomware (If you ever want to see your files again August 8, 2016) The RiskIQ cybersecurity company estimates that 1 in 10 Black Friday apps were fraudulent. The biggest app stores fall victim to fake apps. Retail apps may be safer downloaded from the retailers website.
Another oldie but goodie is fake shipping notices sent via in email. They are always prevalent but become more so when criminals know that there will be an increase in online shopping/shipping. The notices can look real and appear as they are from a retailer from which you recently purchased. With the flurry of shopping everyone does at this time of year, it’s easy for fake notices to lost in all the emails received. Know what you purchased and from whom, monitor the confirmations and shipping. Most companies will send out a confirmation email, a product shipped email, and possibly a follow up.  Be on guard for anything more.

It’s hard to say stick with nationally named brands and big retailers. Lots of small businesses make their living through online sales and often have good deals especially on unique items. Just as if you were shopping in the real world, you wouldn’t buy from a questionable character off the street, so do some research before you buy online. And watch out for too good to be true deals, especially on hard to find items. Use common sense.  Check reviews. Do your homework.

Be safe. Enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

See our blog archive for other posts relating to shopping safety:

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