Every day, more and more people are shopping online, and who can blame them? It’s quick, easy, and convenient. Furthermore, a broader selection of goods are available online, and it’s a lot easier than having to navigate a store to find something that may be hidden in a corner. It’s all sunshine and roses, right? Not exactly. For every good, secure site, there are at least 99 sites that will try to steal users’ information and/or install malware on their computer! Some sites may have good intentions, but they don’t adequately protect their users’ data. Without knowing some of the telltale signs of a sketchy site, it’s easy to fall into their trap and give up vital personal information. Search engines are even starting to crack down on dangerous sites, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of them still out there. If you want to avoid having your personal information leaked, your bank account hacked, or your computer overrun with malware, take a look at these important criteria for judging a website’s legitimacy!
Format and Grammar
A legit site will look professional. Sure, some phony online shops may appear very polished, but for the most part, a sketchy online shop is not going to be very well made. When looking at products, descriptions, or any writing on the site, are there many spelling or punctuation errors? Are things spaced oddly? Do you see a number of very alien characters where there should be an apostrophe or other punctuation? Many of these sketchy sites are fly-by-night operations, so they don’t put too much effort into spelling, grammar, and other aspects of their site.
If it’s a site that hosts merchants who write their own descriptions, they may be legit in spite of the occasional mechanical error. This is because the merchants are often the ones responsible for writing the product descriptions. Sites like eBay or Amazon are a good example of this exception. Still, most legit sites will at least put in the effort to make their writing appear presentable.
Ads, Style, and Questionable Reviews
What does the content look like? Even if the writing is decent, does the content look like it has been copy-pasted from another site? If the site has reviews for its products, then make sure to look at them. Bogus sites will often have very generic reviews on their products. Do the reviews seem like they’re even about the product in question? Are there a ton of reviews that appear to have been posted around the same time? Fake reviews are often indicative of a sketchy site, so it’s best to avoid sites that seem plagiarized or generic.
Also, sites with a ton of ads for external web pages are often not legit. If they have a ton of advertisements and weird links plastered all over every page, then that shows that they make the bulk of their money from ads and possibly malware, as many sketchy links download viruses onto users computers. Unless the site has some other clearly stated purpose, an online merchant is going to make most of its money from selling merchandise through its site. An abundance of ads implies that they’re simply trying to milk every penny out of their visitors, and they probably don’t have enough sales or repeat customers to keep the site afloat without infectious ads and links.
Has this site shown up in the news at all? If you look it up, can you find any mention of it on social media? Obviously, if news articles warn you about the site, then you should probably avoid it. It’s also a red flag if a site has no press. Legitimate sites tend to leave a digital footprint. Sites that scam people thrive on being obscure. They can fly under the radar more easily when fewer people know about them. Numerous legitimate, well-established sites and organizations get hacked every day, so it’s vital to keep up with the headlines if you want to keep your data safe!
If you click your search bar once or twice, you will see the full URL for the site. A secure site will start with “https.” The “s” means that it’s encrypted. If the site is encrypted, that means that it’s harder for hackers to access its users’ data. If a site lacks the “s,” then it is very susceptible to hacking and breaches. Here is an example of what we mean: https://www.securewebsite.net. Don’t click that link; it’s just an example. If it just started with “http,” that would be a red flag. Some very popular websites have not been certified as secure, and others have only done so very recently, so even if you trust a website, make sure to look for that little “s.” It is also important to note that a website isn’t necessarily safe even if it is encrypted, so don’t let that “s” stop you from judging the other aspects of the site before you make a purchase.
Do they have any contact information? If so, what do they have? A phone number and email address really aren’t enough. You also want to look for is a physical address, and most legitimate sites also have links to their social media accounts. Sketchy sites tend not to have social media accounts.