5 ways to spot a scam website
Unfortunately scam websites are common, and they’re usually created in an attempt to fraudulently trick people into making some kind of transaction, and by design, they aren’t easy to identify.
We found that when considering whether or not a bank is legitimate, nearly 51% of us* always look at a website to check that it’s legitimate. But how can you be sure that you’re dealing with the company that you think you are?
Here are 5 ways to help you spot a scam website:
1. Look for simple mistakes
Although scam websites can be very convincing, the criminals behind these scams can’t get everything right. You can identify these mistakes by looking out for indicators to make sure you are where you think you are.
- Check the website address
The website address itself is one of the most important parts of your interaction with a company, it should be instantly recognisable and not contain any intentional but slight deviations from the brand name. For example, look out for missing letters or even words, and cross check the name in the address and on the website against other marketing materials from the company you’re dealing with.
If you don’t have any other marketing materials, consider searching the internet for the exact name of the business you’re dealing with, and double check that you end up at a website with the same address.
- Check for spelling mistakes
Spelling mistakes are a big giveaway. If there are consistent spelling mistakes in the make-up of a website, or the website you’re looking at is poorly worded, then it’s quite possibly the case that the website you’ve arrived at isn’t what it’s making out to be and you should do some further research before making a purchasing decision.
Although spelling mistakes are simple mistakes to make, no reputable business wants to make them, and proper diligence from a well organised business will ensure they don’t get made, or are very rare.
2. Check the website’s reputation
If you’re unsure about a website, something doesn’t feel right, or you’d simply like to double check that a website is authentic before you use it, consider checking the website’s reputation first.
- Take a look around for company reviews
A business’s legitimate website will have built a reputation on the internet, whereas if a website has appeared overnight, then it won’t have had time to develop much of a footprint. A quick search should enable you to make sure that you’re on the official website.
Close down the web page that you’re on and search for reviews of the company that you’re looking for. By visiting a website like trustpilot.co.uk or feefo.com, you’ll get real customer reviews based on real experiences, and there will usually be a link through to the company’s official website too.
- Look for a padlock
Websites that require a transaction, or the need for you to log in to an online account, should be covered by ‘HTTPS’, meaning you’ll see a padlock in the address bar of your browser right before the website address. By clicking on this padlock, you’ll be provided with a small amount of information about the website’s security certificate, confirmation that it’s valid and, if you view the details, the length of time that the certificate has been valid for.
A scam website will often be created and removed quickly, without a security certificate, meaning any information which you provide may not be concealed through encryption.
3. Check for scam websites online
- Scam website checker
A quick search will show you that there are lots of online scam website checkers, meaning you can usually answer a few questions and find out if it’s likely that you’re dealing with a scam.
Through Citizens Advice, you can check if something might be a scam online, and you even have the option to get in touch with a scams advisor if you’d prefer to speak to somebody.
You’ll also find useful information and up to date advice about the latest scams and fraud at Take Five to Stop Fraud, including guidance on how to report different types of scams.
- Search a governing body
If the website you’re using belongs to a business which is required to be regulated (like insurance, or a bank for example), then you’ll be able to find an online register of legitimate businesses.
For example, if you’re using a financial services website, like an insurance company, or an Independent Financial Advisor, the Financial Conduct Authority provides a register of firms and individuals that are authorised to provide the service they’re offering – you can use the phone number or website link on the register to ensure that they are who they say they are.
It’s worth being aware that a business, particularly a bank or building society, can operate under different names, meaning you may need to search for the businesses’ parent company if you know it.
4. Reach out and ask somebody
- Call the company you’re looking for
If you’re unable to get the reassurance you need online, it makes sense that you’d try to speak to somebody at the organisation to find out if the website you’re visiting is legitimate. Before doing this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using the correct phone number, as if you suspect that the website you’ve visited is unofficial, there’s every chance that it includes a false phone number too.
If you don’t have any letters or brochures from the company you’re trying to contact, try searching for the company on Gov.uk. Here you can get some details for free, and this way, you can check to see if they’re a registered company or not.
- Ask a friend, or family member
A second opinion is always welcome, and so if you’re still not entirely satisfied that the website you’re using is genuine then perhaps consider talking to a friend or family member. If nothing else, their fresh eyes may spot something about the website that you’ve missed – two heads are better than one.
If they’re not sat alongside you, be sure to send them to the exact website address that you’re using, because if they search for the company, they may not end up at the same website as the one that you’re visiting.
5. Check on social media and other sources
- Search for the company you’re looking for on social media
If you’re unsure about something, then it’s always worth doing as much research as you can to ease your concerns. The social media search results for a company are usually a giveaway for anything untoward, and these days it’s very unusual for a company not to have a presence on social media.
Take a look at Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to find the business you’re trying to use and when you’ve found their official page, you could send them a message with the website address that you’re using to double check that it’s the right one.
- Use search engines to double check it’s the official website
In a new search, type out the company name and take a look at the list of results that appear. A reputable business will return search results from a number of sources that you should recognise, for example, review websites, social media sites and they may also even have a Google business profile.
Remember, nothing should replace typing out the company’s website address in your browser’s address bar. Once you’ve done that, bookmark it, and you won’t need to double check again.
How to check that a bank is legitimate
The tips we’ve provided in this article are relevant to any kind of website, however if it’s specifically a financial services provider that you’re trying to identify as legitimate, like a savings provider, or Financial Advisor for example, you should always check the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to make sure that they’re authorised to provide the service they’re offering.
The FCA register also provides a link to the firm’s official website – so you can be sure that you’re in the right place.
More information about scams
Take a look at Scams | what to look out for, for more information including ways to protect yourself and your family against fraud and scams.
* Maru conducted research among 2,004 adults living in the UK on behalf of Charter Savings Bank between 01st – 30th November 2020
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