How to Spot a Fake Website

By

Robyn Oglesby

|

May 12, 2022

How to Spot a Fake Website

Fake websites are attractive but open the door for security issues.

Many people are fooled by fake websites, which can be difficult to detect. These sites are dangerous because they can trick visitors into entering personal information, which can then be used against them. Sometimes these sites also entice people with free or discounted software offers, which get them to download malware packages to their computers. These are legitimate concerns that users should have as they surf the internet.

The rise of fake websites has made internet browsing more dangerous than ever before. According to Statista, an estimated 611,877 phishing sites were detected as of Q1 2021. These websites are created with the sole purpose of causing harm to their visitors. Cybercriminals often create fake websites to scam people out of their money, and they can be hard to detect. You may not even realize that you're visiting a phony website until it's too late. Not only do these sites pose a real threat to visitors they also cause users to waste time and energy as they attempt to take advantage of whatever offer brought them to that site.

So, how can you avoid these bogus websites? Here are some tips to help you stay away from fake websites and reduce the risk of getting scammed.

Check the website's domain name.

Domain names are essential for website security. It's not difficult to create a fake website, but it is important to check the domain name to ensure you're visiting the correct site. A fake website will usually have a different URL than the website it is trying to imitate. The easiest way to do this is to look at the URL in your web browser. The domain name should be at the beginning of the URL, and it should be preceded by "HTTPS" (not "HTTP"). This indicates that a valid security certificate is in place and registered for that site.

If you're not sure whether or not a website is legitimate, you can search for the website's name using Google and see what other websites come up. If there are no results for the website's name or only bad reviews come up, then it's likely a fake website. You can also check who the domain is registered to by using Whois.net.

Make sure the SSL certificate is valid.

Another way to tell if a website is legitimate is to check the site's SSL certificate. SSL certificates are used to create a secure connection between your browser and the website you are visiting. A third party issues the SSL certificate, and it verifies that the website is actually who it says it is. If the SSL certificate is not valid, then you should not enter any personal information on the website.

You can tell if an SSL certificate is valid by checking the website's security information. The website's security information will show the name of the SSL certificate, the issuer, and the validity dates. The first thing you should do is look for the lock icon in the address bar. This icon indicates the website is using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to keep your data safe. If the site does not have this icon, do not enter any personal information.

Another way to check a website's security information is to look for the "HTTPS" in the address bar. The "s" stands for "secure" and means that the site has a secure connection. If the site does not have this prefix, do not enter any personal information.

You can also check the website's security certificate to make sure it is signed by a reputable issuer. An SSL certificate is issued by a Certificate Authority (CA). A CA is a company that has been authorized to issue SSL certificates. When you visit a website, the server presents its SSL certificate to your browser. Your browser verifies that the certificate is valid and has not been revoked. It also checks the issuer's name against a list of trusted CAs. If all of these checks pass, your browser will show the green padlock and proceed with the encrypted connection.

Check out the design quality of the site.

If the design quality of a site seems poor, that can be another indicator of a fake website. While malicious sites are structured to appear legitimate, they are often rushed into existence. Therefore, the design quality and site elements have not been scrutinized the way professional sites typically are. Fake sites will sometimes have low-quality graphic elements and layouts that are not user-friendly. If a site looks sloppy, it might be fake.

Outdated or poorly created content.

One of the problems with fake websites is that they sometimes have outdated content. Properly maintained sites are usually up-to-date and have recent content published on them. Content that is created in a rush - as might be the case with a fake site - might have obvious grammar and spelling mistakes. Check for a blog. If there doesn't appear to be active posting on it, that could be another red flag about the site's content development strategy and whether or not it's fake.

Nonexistent contact information.

Since fraudulent sites can look just like the real thing, they will often have a contact page with a form submission option. If this is the only option for contacting the site, it could be a scam. If it seems too hard to contact the website owner, it's probably because they don't exist. Sometimes fake sites will list an email address and phone number, but they will be invalid if you try to use them.

The site might also claim to be based in a location that doesn't exist. If you can't get in touch with the people running the website, how are you supposed to resolve any problems or questions? You're not. This is why nonexistent contact information is another warning sign of a fake site.

Read online reviews.

Type the URL into Google with the word "review" behind it and see if anything pops up. You should be wary of fake reviews - because they can easily be planted - but many times, other people have reported the site's fraudulent nature somewhere, and that could show up with a quick search of the URL. Along with this, you could attempt searching for the business name with the Better Business Bureau. While this isn't a fool-proof method, it can yield some results.

Check the company's social media pages.

If they exist, check out the company's social media pages. If the site is fake, there will likely be little or no activity on the social media pages. Another sign that a site may be fake is if the company has a suspiciously low number of followers or likes.

In conclusion, it is important to be aware of the dangers that exist online with the rise of fake websites. Even though they can be misleading and very convincing, there are ways to protect yourself and determine if the site is fraudulent. Be aware of your online surroundings and never enter any personal information into a site that you don't 100% trust. If it looks questionable, look for the signs discussed in this article or just leave the site.

If you have found a fake site, you can report it to Google Safe Browsing, which will investigate any claims and eliminate the threat if it is real.

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