How to Recognize the Scams from the Legitimate Websites
Is that website legitimate? Should you give them your credit card number? Or is it a scam? Some websites look great and offer you great prices on hot products, travel, dvds, or get-rich schemes. But is it for real? It is difficult to know whether a flashy, professional looking website has a real, reputable company behind it, a shoddy company or an out-and-out scam.
When we receive an inquiry about a website, we first look for the signs of both a scam and a reputable company.
What defines a scam website or scam online offer?
There is no one indicator that is proof positive of a scam, but if a website exhibits a number of these, we rate it is a likely scam. Here are some of the things we look for:
Contacts - A reputable transactional website, that is selling something, will have contact information, including company names, including their registered business name ("inc', "llc", "plc", ltd", etc.), a physical address, a mailing address, an email address or contact form and a phone number. They operate in the open.
Can you reach them? Call the contact phone number. Can you reach them during normal business hours in their time zone? Did you get a person or a recording? If you went into voicemail, were you able to reach a live person?
Where are they based? Go to www.whois.net and look up their domain name. Are they based in the U.S., UK, or another western country, or in a country that has weak consumer protection laws or enforcement, such as Eastern European countries or China, Russia or Asia?
Private listing in Whois, or the listing names are associated with other scams. A private listing is fine for a personal website, a blog, or an information-only website (like CFR), but if your business is selling something, the Whois entry should identify the company that owns the domain.
Do the links on the website work? A few broken links here and there are normal, but if the majority are broken, that may indicate a website that was slapped together quickly.
Unrelated photos or content. Do the pictures, links and content on the pages match the theme and purpose of the page and website?
Vague or inaccurate information - Reputable marketers have access to the product details and know you will want them. Scammers just cut and paste why they can quickly find.
Cloned content - Are the photos and text copied from other websites??
Misdirection - if you type in a web address, but it redirects to a different web address, that can be a sign of a scam.
Misrepresentation - Do the terms and conditions or product and services match the advertising and content on their pages?
Hidden or hard to find terms and conditions - If the terms are generic and not likely to impact the use of the product or costs, it may be a not issue. But if their terms include buried requirements that cost you money or make the product or service less useful, that's a scam!
Few links in Google - If you search in Google, Yahoo and other major search engines but find few or now results to their domain, they are either new, unpopular or a scam.
No listing in related aggregate websites, like the Better Business Bureau, or related website reviews (like Shopzilla, Shopping.com, Bizrate). The bigger and more reputable firms will show up elsewhere in listings for their industry.
Not sites we review turn out to be scams; we clearly identify those that have been found to be a scam by a court, other authority, or by those that have the appearance of being a scam, and those we think are legitimate:
- Product Test Panel, www.productevaluationservice.com, Consumer Research Corporation"Get a Free Garmin Nuvi GPS by acting as a product evaluator"
Get-Rich Scams and Work-From-Home Schemes Unmasked!
See our page that lists the most common get-rich schemes like Berman, Isackson and 49GetMoney.com, and others. The overwhelming majority of the time, Get-Rich-Quick Schemes are shams, actually promoting their own (or others) prices or products, which are terrible and at worst, some are identity thieves! Some use a variety of convoluted businesses to skirt the laws and regulations, as many, if not most Multi-Level Marketing companies do, some are blatant rip-offs.
Reporting a Fraudulent Business Website
Of course, in all cases, you can start by reporting it to us, using this form. We will use the information to warn other consumers and help you to direct it to law enforcement agencies.
A catch-all for bringing internet scams to the attention of the FBI and FTC is the U.S. government's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at Internet Fraud Complaints Center. If you are looking for your local FBI Office Listings to report a crime or scam, click here.
Do you want to report a fraud, scam or crime to the FBI (the Federal Bureau of Investigation), but can't find the phone number for your nearest local FBI office? See this page to find the closest office!
For other government agencies to report scams, see this page. And of course, write us! We are always interested in hearing about any potential scams!
Example: Is is a scam, or just terrible web design?
At first glance you might think this (image below) is a legitimate website for a legitimate business. But compare the images, text and links. What does this ubiquitous photo of a young college-aged blond woman with a backpack have to do with anything related to shipping cargo? And you've probably seen that photo many times before; it seems to grace many scam websites.
Where is the link to contact information, company name, address, phone numbers?
Why does a quick search in Google for "basecargo.com scam" turn up 10 results, such as:
Evidently, there had been a scam on that domain; they folded, and now the domain is hosting nothing more than sponsored listings, web-speak for advertisements.
The present website at www.basecargo.com is more a simple waste of time, than a scam.