Fake Online Stores: How to Spot them, Prevent them and Wipe them off the Face of the Earth

Online scams have taken on a whole new dimension: a few months ago, the most common scams on social media were fake ads about sweepstakes and gift cards. Now, scammers have stepped it up a notch and not only want to steal your data but your money too. For some time now, they have been creating fake stores, posing as famous brands, and using them make away with your bank info. Let’s see how we can spot them and fend them off.

How do these fake online stores work?

Scammers take advantage of the social networks that we all use, such as Facebook. They then create posts with fake offers for an online store and promote it so it’ll reach more people.

In examples provided by the Office of Internet Security (OSI), we can see some fake posts posing as an online fashion store. They advertise shoes of a well-known brand, at a hugely reduced price of 19€ . Who could resist such an offer?

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If we decide to click on it, the ad takes us to a website that really looks like a normal everyday online store. Several sections, official product photos, search bars and even a phone number… Who would suspect that it’s fake?

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If we decide to “buy” something and make a payment, we’ll be charged for that money but never receive the product. Or, even worse, in addition to not receiving anything, we’ll be charged more than we thought. Keep in mind that the minute you give your credit card or bank account number, unauthorized charges can be made really easily.

What can we do to prevent such scams?

Although Facebook is fighting fraud, it’s not so easy to spot scams, so sometimes they can be online for hours or days, with many unsuspecting users falling into their trap. That’s why is our responsibility to keep our eye out for these types of scams.

The first thing you can do if you see a conspicuous ad on Facebook is check out the web page where it’s coming from. In the example, it was “Fashion sale 2018.”

Check the reviews section… Are they very negative? Then something isn’t right.

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What’s more, look at the page’s Facebook wall. If it has few posts, photos, etc. something strange is going on. It’s also suspicious if there are many spelling errors in the texts or there is little info on the “Information” tab. As new as a business may be, it’s typical to keep social profiles up-to-date. If not, don’t trust it!

If you’re still not suspicious that a website is a scam and you click on the link to go to the online store, here are a number of additional measures that will prevent unpleasant situations:

1. Check that the website has mandatory sections that all online stores must have: real and physical information about the company, as such ownership, tax ID, tax residence, conditions of sale, return policy, well-written legal texts, etc.

2. If you’re about to make a payment, never enter personal or financial info during the purchase process if the page doesn’t have HTTPS or a digital certificate.

3. Don’t trust extremely low prices. It’s one thing to have discounts or “Outlet” prices, and another for an article that usually costs 200 euros and that is in season (for example, sunglasses or shoes) to be listed at 20. It’s also unusual for all articles of a store to have the same price.

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4. Don’t trust websites with low quality photos, several types of irrelevant texts, poorly written descriptions, etc.

5. If on the website several payment methods are advertised (credit card, Paypal, Western Union, cash on delivery, bank transfer, etc.) and later when paying you can only use one, run! (That’s not only deceptive but illegal.)

201703xx_no_compres_si_0606. You can find more info about fake stores in these two articles by OSI: Prevent fraud by fake online stores (I and II).

Report it!

Have you spotted a fake store? Don’t stay put with your arms crossed: report them.

If you discover fraud on Facebook, report the page in question. To do so, go to the page, click on the three dots below the cover photo and select “Report page.” Facebook will ask you a few simple questions to process the complaint, so answer them and you’re done.

Facebook manually reviews these types of complaints and if the store turns out to be fraudulent, they’ll shut it down. Find out more info about Facebook complaints at this link.

If you think a website is fake (and it doesn’t have a Facebook profile), you can send a tip to CERTSI. Here you’ll find their address.

Sources for information and images: OSI (1, 2)

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