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How to find out if an online retailer is genuine

Experian logoExperian 18/11/2014 Rhiannon Jones

Here’s how to spot whether a website is safe to buy from, and what to do if you think you’ve spotted a fake…

Knowing the signs of a scam website could save you a lot of money – Action Fraud estimates identity fraud costs each victim an average of £1,190© Rob Lewine/Getty Images Knowing the signs of a scam website could save you a lot of money – Action Fraud estimates identity fraud costs each victim an average of £1,190

Identity fraud is still rife on the web: four million people have been victims of identity fraud in the UK¹ alone. Fake retail sites, which harvest your card details, are one of the ways scammers can steal your identity online. 

If you shop on the web, it’s important to keep yourself safe from identity fraud. Knowing the signs of a scam website could save you a lot of money – Action Fraud estimates identity fraud costs each victim an average of £1,190.

How does it work?

These kinds of scams work in two main ways.

Fraudsters can either create an entirely false retail site – with its own url, company name and logo – using images of products they’ve stolen from elsewhere on the web. Or, it’s possible they might hijack a genuine retailer’s site, if it’s badly protected, and steal your card details when you enter them at the online checkout.

How do I know if a retailer is safe to buy from?

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

This is a security protocol that encrypts the channel of information between you and the website, ‘scrambling’ your credit card details. It means hackers can’t intercept the information you’re sending to the retailer.

If there’s an SSL in place, the url of the site you’re visiting will change from ‘http://’ to ‘https://’, and there will either be an icon of a closed padlock or an unbroken key on the left-hand side of the address bar. With more advanced SSL, the name of the website’s registered owner will be highlighted in green on the left-hand side of the address bar, too.

If the padlock icon is open, or the key appears to be broken, that could be an indication that there’s something wrong with the SSL. If you see either of these warning signs, call the retailer before entering any card details.

Registered address and phone number

Any legitimate online business will have a registered address and phone number easily available on their website, so you can call them if you’re nervous about entering your details online.

If you can’t see any contact details for the company, it’s a cause for concern. If you’re really worried, contact Companies House to check out the business’s credentials.

Privacy statement

All major retailers will have a legal privacy statement on their site, which tells you how they protect the information you give them about yourself – including your credit card and other personal details – and whether they sell that information on to other companies. If you can’t see a privacy statement, contact the business to find out more about how they handle your information.

Good experiences from other users

If you know someone who’s used the site before, and had a good experience, that’s a promising sign. Similarly, if you can find a good number of online reviews, from established reviewers on independent review sites (like trustpilot.co.uk), you can feel more comfortable.

Be aware that the scammers who set up these fake sites can also create a fake review site, or generate their own reviews to fool users into trusting them. The Consumerist pulled together some tips on how to spot if an online review is fake, including lots of hyperbolic language and marketing speak.

Experian can help you spot the early signs of credit fraud. Sign up for the 30-day trial of Experian CreditExpert² to make sure your credit history is as it should be before you spend your money.

Trusted payment gateway

Lots of smaller online businesses use a payment portal such as PayPal or WorldPay to conduct their online transactions for them. If you’re redirected to a trusted payment site when it’s time to enter your card details, you can feel secure.

What are the warning signs?

Strange web address

If the first part of the site’s url suddenly changes to something unfamiliar – especially when you’ve navigated to the payment page – you may have been sent to another domain by scammers.

Unsolicited email

If you receive an email purporting to be from a bank or retailer, but you don’t remember giving them your email address, you could have been targeted by fraudsters. Make sure you don’t click any links inside the email, as this could send you straight to a fake website.

Instead, get in touch with the bank or retailer to find out whether they really sent the email.

Experian can help you spot the early signs of credit fraud. Sign up for the 30-day trial of Experian CreditExpert² to make sure your credit history is as it should be before you spend your money.

Spelling mistakes and low-res images

If the site you’re looking at is peppered with spelling mistakes, low-quality pictures and other design or visual elements which don’t seem quite right, it could be a fake. Fraudsters create these fake sites quickly, so they don’t often take the same care with presentation that we’d expect a legitimate online business to.

A few typos or other minor errors won’t indicate a fake site, as long as you can see an SSL in place.

I think I’ve found a fake retailer – what do I do?

If you’ve spotted a fraudulent website, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud

¹ Action Fraud, 2014

² A monthly fee of £14.99 applies after your trial. You may cancel during your 30-day trial without charge. The 30-day free trial is available to new customers only. The trial period starts on registration – further ID verification may be required to access the full service, which may take up to five days.

For more advice on how to manage your money, visit the Experian Experts Blog & Q&A.

This advertorial content includes links to CreditExpert for promotional purposes.

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