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How to spot a rogue website

December 22, 2022

Rogue websites are appearing at an alarming rate within search results, but do you know how to spot the difference? Discover how to in our guide to detecting fake websites.

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Have you ever felt at risk when providing your personal information to a website? If so, you´re not alone. Today's consumers are concerned about ensuring that their data is safe in the digital environment, especially when it comes to online shopping.

We understand that the internet can sometimes be an overwhelming place, in fact, three new websites are created every second and according to ongoing research made by Siteefy there are more than 1.1 billion websites in the world. Online fraudsters of course do not fall behind in this growing trend as they reinvent themselves to structure more convincing and realistic-looking rogue websites (fake websites) to trick unsuspecting shoppers and obtain market share. 

At peak shopping periods such as the current festive season, the number of rogue websites peak. So, in the following paragraphs we will explain how you can spot a rogue website and avoid being scammed.

1. Better safe than sorry: check the domain and have a secure connection

It may seem obvious but is not as simple as it may first appear. When entering a website the page may look exactly the same as that of the official site. In fact, some of these fake websites are so well constructed that they could fool anyone at first glance, (yes, even the experts). Scammers often use images that they have taken directly from the official brand.  

Because of this, it's important to check the little details such as the domain name and the URL address. Normally there are two types of URLs that appear: 

1. Rogue websites almost always include the name of a brand in an attempt to convince consumers that they are on the official site. 

The URL will also include a keyword like: outlet, sale, cheap, wholesale, or even a straightforward word like fake or replica. Furthermore, they also impersonate the brand by adding in the url the name of another country or location, an additional letter on the name or changing the end of the URL to avoid detection. These are usually counterfeit selling sites.

2. The other type of fake websites are very generic ones that don’t last very long but pretend to sell products as well in order to retrieve information from consumers and scam them. 

In regards to the secure connection, most of us don’t pay attention to the small lock symbol which appears next to the URL on the website. However, this padlock is really important as it represents the Secure Sockets Layer Certificate (SSL). This certificate is an encryption system that provides security in the website and ecommerce sites should have it as they manage the personal and financial information of consumers.

If you are still unsure and need to double-check you can search for when the domain was registered. There are several websites on google that can provide this information. If a website has been running for more than five years then it can be interpreted as a good sign as rogue sites rarely exist for that long.

2. Red flag: scarce information

A lack of information is one of the main characteristics you can spot on a rogue website. You may see products with generic, low-quality or pixelated images, categories that appear on the page that are either not related or there are very few. Products with low prices or high discounts, low-quality or no descriptions. Product reviews may be very general such as: “it’s really good”, “fits my expectations”, “nice quality”, and may appear to be written in the same style. 

Furthermore, the structure of a rogue website may be very basic with a poor interface and lack of design. Functionality such as filtering or searching may not work smoothly across the product categories.

When navigating through the website it's important to observe information such as the terms and conditions, making sure that it is not a template and confirm they have specific information about the company that you are buying from, another tip would be to look for the company in Linkedin as well. The billing address can also give away key information, by searching for the address on Google you may find that even though the page has an address it might be a random one.

Social networks at the end of the page and payment methods can also expose a rogue website. By clicking on their logo normally the official website would direct you to their profile on said network, which most of the time is verified. If an ecommerce website has a payment method such as PayPal it will redirect you to the official website of that company and not to the login page, or to what is clearly a fake account with few followers or posts.

Look for the contact information and check for the phone number and email address. If the email address seems like a personal one with @gmail.com or any other private domain it should raise concerns. Most companies have their own email domain.

3. Paid doesn’t make it legitimate

In recent years, pirates have deployed increasingly sophisticated strategies to scam users as awareness of cybersecurity has increased. It may seem incredible but some of them are even paying to position ads at the top of Google search results which link to rogue websites. This strategy abuses trust, as consumers normally take it for granted that pages in this position are legitimate.

You have probably heard the typical phrase “nothing comes for free”, well this is a very good principle to follow when it comes to shopping online. As a user, a good tip for spotting rogue websites is that when something is completely free or is associated with an urge to buy now you should proceed with caution. In general, the language of communication of fake websites is very superficial, mainly focused on the call to action with countdowns or buy now banners as their ultimate goal is for the consumer to buy or give away information as soon as possible.

Pro tip: be very cautious when providing data (especially your financial information). Only share once you have conducted relevant checks to be sure that the website is legitimate. Your personal and financial information is extremely valuable and can cause significant damage in the wrong hands. 

4. Funny thing is: we can all fall victim to rogue websites

There’s no shame in admitting if you have fallen victim to online scams. The reality is that you are not the first, and most definitely won't be the last. Through a simple search you can find many forums that review websites and expose scammers, so when in doubt stick to the basics and google it. 

At Smart Protection, we give brand owners 360° visibility of the digital ecosystem. We monitor, detect, analyze, and act against the various forms of intellectual property infringements. This includes rogue websites, counterfeits, and the various forms of brand abuse which exist and emerge throughout digital channels. Our scalable, automated brand and product monitoring and protection technology can be adjusted to suit your specific needs. 

As members of Google's Trusted Copyright Removal Program (TCRP), and our relationship with countless marketplaces and social networks, we act quickly and efficiently to safeguard your revenue and brand reputation.

Together we can make the internet a safer place for brands and consumers alike. 

Last but not least, applying the words of the philosopher Descartes as a tip for identifying a fake website: “In order to determine whether we can know anything with certainty, we first have to doubt everything we know” so click and scan the various parts of the page, search their name on google, and check reviews, addresses, contacts and categories on the website before providing information or making a purchase. 

Author: Laura Losada - Smart Protection

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