The Internet is a vast place, growing bigger and bigger each day, and while the majority of the websites out there are legitimate—with the intention of informing you or selling you quality products and services—the sad reality is that many are simply out to steal your hard-earned money.
What makes these websites so successful is that they’re specifically designed to lead you astray while making you think that you’re making an informed decision. The sole intention of these scam websites is to prey on your weaknesses and to cause you to make an ill-informed, irrational, and emotional purchase.
Most younger generations who grew up with the Internet have become immune to these types of scam websites because they’ve learned how to identify some of the common traits that all of these sites share. Unfortunately, older generations have often not developed this skillset, and it is this segment of the market that these fake websites target.
In fact, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, seniors in the U.S. are defrauded out of more than $2.9 billion each year. Clearly, this is a big problem. Seniors are often more trusting than their younger counterparts, and these scam websites are usually set up to look like a legitimate news site, or to appear like a professional lifestyle blog when in fact they’re nothing of the sort.
Regardless of how they’re formatted, though, the top two industries that scam website creators target are nutritional supplements (which seem to be especially prevalent among products such as testosterone boosters and those that promise quick weight loss) and home-based business opportunities.
The creators of these scam websites understand that the people interested in these types of products are typically more “desperate” for a solution to their problems, and they prey on these vulnerabilities to get you to hand over your hard-earned money. In other words, they want you to feel that they’re providing you with a solution by appearing to be a legitimate business and to cloud your judgment.
Even though scam websites are especially popular among weight loss supplements, testosterone boosters, and home based business opportunities, they’ve crept into almost every segment of the market. The good news is that the tips we’re about to give you can apply to any product or service imaginable, so you’ll always be able to use them, regardless of what website you are visiting.
But before we dig in and identify the common traits that will help you spot a scam website, let’s first define what these sites are.
What is a Scam Website?
A scam website is one that’s set up to look as legitimate as possible while taking your hard-earned money and delivering very little in return.
You recently lost your job, or find yourself in a position where you need money quickly. While searching frantically around the web for money making opportunities, you land on a website that claims to teach you “a little-known trick” that can have you making $5,000 per week “or more” in just 10 hours per week, all from the comfort of your home.
You think to yourself, “This definitely seems too good to be true,” but you’re in dire straits and will do whatever it takes to make some extra money. Against your most basic instincts, you decide to sign up and pay $49.95 for a “welcome package” that you’re led to believe will give you all the information you need to launch your business.
However, immediately after signing up and paying the fee, you quickly learn that you received only basic information and that you’ll need to pay even more money to obtain something actionable. Often, it’s the case that you can spend hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars chasing this information down the rabbit hole, and ultimately you’ll be left with not much more than with what you began.
The above is a prime example of a scam website – one that gives you some information or product in exchange for your money, but that doesn’t even come close to what was originally promised.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the six most common warning signs that will show you how to identify a fraudulent website.
Scam Website Warning Sign #1: Fake Social Buttons
Over the past couple years, you’ve probably noticed that most websites feature buttons for social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube. They’re usually located at the top or bottom of websites, where visitors can click on them and stay connected with the company, who will often post updates, pictures, and videos promoting their products.
Because these social media buttons are so prevalent nowadays, scam websites have started including them, but with one major difference: They don’t work. In other words, when you scroll over them with your cursor, you’ll find that you can’t click on them. And if you can, it’s often the case that they’ll just lead you to another section of the website that (once again) asks for your money.
A popular way fake social buttons are used.
So, if you land on a website that features social media buttons that either don’t work, or take you to another section of the site, this is your first indication that it may be a scam.
Scam Website Warning Sign #2: All Links Lead You to One Place
Have you ever heard the saying, “All roads lead to Rome?” Well, in the instance of scam websites, it’s often the case that all links will lead you to the same page; one that constantly asks for your credit card information.
As a mature Internet user, you’re probably used to modern, intuitive websites that are easily navigable. Menus are often easily identifiable and feature clearly marked categories (e.g. Cars, Health, Fashion, Technology, etc.), and when you click on one of these links, you’re taken to the appropriate page.
However, on a website built to scam visitors, these links, whether featured on the main website or included in an article, will always redirect you to a page that asks for a sale (see our Affiliate Marketing article for additional information on this). The reason the website creators do this is so that they and their affiliates will earn as much money as possible from the people who click on these links and purchase their products.
At this point, if you’ve successfully identified these first two traits, you can be 99.99% certain that it’s a scam. But don’t stop here, because it’s important that you know all the signs to confidently tell if the website is fraudulent.
Scam Website Warning Sign #3: Fake “Featured In” or “As Seen On” Claims
The creators of scam websites fully understand the power that reputable networks and publications have on your purchasing decision, which is why they’ll typically feature their logos prominently displayed somewhere on their sites.
In fact, they’ll often be so oversized so that your eyes are immediately drawn to them, to make you believe that their product is approved by these organizations.
A typical way fake links to reputable networks are displayed
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “But I’ve been to plenty of trusted websites that feature promotional material from organizations like these. What’s the difference here?” In the instance of legitimate websites, these logos will typically allow you to click on them, which will take you to an area where you can learn more about the article, radio show, or TV program where the company’s product was featured.
On the other hand, fraudulent websites don’t give you this ability, which prevents you from verifying whether or not these endorsements are legitimate.
Scam Website Warning Sign #4: Weird Web Addresses
Instead of trying to explain this in detail, let’s use Rachael Ray as an example. Over the past several years, Rachael has become extremely popular by inspiring women to eat, cook, and look healthy. Because of this, she’s viewed by most of America as an everyday young mother that you can trust; almost like the “mother next door,” and her name has become a brand in and of itself.
As such, you’ll find numerous websites that take advantage of this to draw in unsuspecting visitors and take their money. For instance, you may come across a site with a URL such as www.EveryDayWithRachel.com—notice that there is no A before the E. However, everywhere else on this site, the creator might spell Rachael’s name correctly, which should immediately raise a big red flag.
Next, scam websites will often feature weird-looking addresses that include a lot of numbers and symbols. For example:
http://newfaddiet.com/dr-oz-new-diet/4/index-ga2-gcb.php – Notice the overuse of numbers, letters, and other symbols.
http://www.usdietsecret.com/garciniacambogia – While this web address is long, it doesn’t include a lot of confusing numbers and symbols. In other words, it has a very “clean” appearance.
Scam Website Warning Sign #5: Fake Images of People and One Common Video
For example: If you’re searching for a work at home opportunity, you may land on a website that features a picture of a mom and son having a good time, smiling, and just enjoying each other’s company. In fact, they might even assign the mother a generic name like Mary Stevens, or something along those lines.
The point is that this picture is intended to make you think, “Oh, how I’d love to be able to spend more quality time with my children. Maybe this work at home opportunity can help me do just that!” Even without writing a single word, the creator of the same website is trying to make you “think” emotionally instead of using your brain.
Fake image of Mary Stevens
However, the reality is that image is simply a stock photo that’s readily available for anyone who wants to purchase it and does not in any way represent an individual who’s used this work at home system to achieve success. In fact, here is a link to the original image.
Here is the same image available for purchase
Alternately, a scam website for a weight loss supplement may feature a video of Dr. Oz promoting some “breakthrough” product like Green Coffee Bean Extract or Garcinia Cambogia (or what he calls the “Holy Grail of weight loss”). But the fact is that Dr. Oz was promoting the supplements as a whole in his October 2012 show, not any specific brand, which is what these scam websites want you to believe.
An image of Dr. Oz is often used to promote a specific brand of product
Scam Website Warning Sign #6: Location-Based Targeting
Have you ever visited a website and it says something like, “A local stay at home mom in Seattle, Washington is making $8,337 per week?” You may think to yourself, “Wow! I’m in Seattle as well, and if this mom can make it work, maybe I can too!”
The unfortunate reality is that this is exactly what scam website creators want you to think, which again, is intended to cause you to make an emotional decision instead of an informed one. So if there isn’t a mom in Seattle making more than $8K per week, what is it?
These websites are detecting your IP (Internet Protocol) address, which is simply a sequence of numbers that look like something along the lines of 220.127.116.11. Each IP address is unique (e.g. your home and work Internet connections will utilize different IP addresses—or, if you log on to a public WiFi connection at a local coffee shop, each user will have the same IP address) and identifies your current location.
In other words, these scam websites read your IP address, see what city you’re located in, and then display it on their website in one form or another. However, whatever form the creators decide to display it, they almost always have one feature in common: they’re scams, and if you see something like this, you should stay far away.
Always Do Your Research to Determine If a Website is a Fake
At HighYa, we exist to help make our readers more informed consumers and to help you hold on to more of your hard-earned money. In fact, the experience of one of our readers was the reason we wrote this article in the first place.
You see, this reader is in her late 50s, and she’s currently in a position where she needs to earn some extra money for her and her family. She had been exploring some work at home opportunities and was about to “pull the trigger” when something in the back of her mind told her to hold off.
Instead, she contacted HighYa and asked our opinion. After a quick investigation, we determined that the opportunity she was interested in was almost certainly a scam, and we recommended that she avoid it altogether. In the end, we helped save her hundreds of dollars, in addition to the time and frustration often associated with these types of scams.
The good news is that this reader is now better equipped to identify potential scam websites, and after reading this article, you are too.
Do you have tips or suggestions that other HighYa readers can use to identify scam websites? If so, leave a comment and share your knowledge with the world.
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