In this guide to safe shopping and avoiding fake websites we’ve enlisted the help of F‑Secure’s crack team of cyber security experts. *Cue voiceover*:
If you have a problem. If no one else can help. And if you can find them… maybe you can hire — the F‑Team!
In this bumper collection of tips and advice, our team has covered a host of topics, such as: sticking with trusted shopping websites with a good reputation; paying attention to user reviews; avoiding the temptation to fall for the fancy ads in social media; being mindful of outdated advice; and many more!
And whilst our security specialists might not be able to build a tank from an old Renault and some farm equipment we can guarantee that they absolutely love it when a cyber security plan comes together.
(Once you’ve digested these tips on spotting fake websites and shopping securely, why not check out one of our previous guides? In these articles we’ve covered tips for safe online shopping, uncovered the best ways to spot online shopping scams, and revealed how to check website safety.)
Top shopping sites are usually well‑known and trusted by many users, and they will have a large user base and positive reviews from those users, explained Sarogini Muniyandi, Senior Manager, Threat Protection Engineering at F‑Secure.
So, sticking with the trusted retailers that you have made a purchase from before is always a good start. Also, be aware of the misspelling or typo-squatted sites to avoid landing on the wrong/scam website by checking the page’s URL address. And always ensure you know it’s a legitimate shopping website before placing an order, as a little research about the website could potentially safe you from falling victim to an online scam.
An ad on Facebook with good comments from users does not necessarily mean the shopping site is trustworthy, warned Abdullah Al Mazed, Senior Technical Product Manager at F‑Secure.
On social media scammers can impersonate someone else to create fake product ads. Better to do a little bit of research online if it’s a shop you are ordering from for the first time.
Virtual credit/debit cards are becoming increasingly popular, said Ash Shatrieh, Threat Intelligence Researcher at F‑Secure.
And it is strongly recommended to use them when shopping online, especially for less-known websites, as they contain disposable information (like card numbers) which can be used only once, which means fraudsters can’t use them for fraudulent transactions later on.
If you are visiting an online shop that was established recently, or it is your first time making a purchase on this particular store, be extra cautious, said Khalid Alnajjar, Threat Data Researcher at F‑Secure.
Creating new web stores, including fake ones, is getting easier and can be done in a few hours — especially with the aid of AI. To reduce the risks of falling for fake websites, search for any warning cues. If the company does not provide details about themselves, does not exist in official governmental registrars, or the domain has been created in the past few months, you should be suspicious.
You cannot control what each legitimate shop will do with your data, nor how well they will protect it, Fennel Aurora, Product Management Community Lead at F‑Secure cautioned. “The only way to truly avoid annoying leaks is by never giving them the data in the first place. The three key tools for this are:
It used to be relatively easy to spot fake websites: just look out for bad grammar or the missing said Joel Latto, Threat Advisor at F‑Secure.
lock icon in the address bar. However, this advice — while still commonly shared — is outdated,
Criminals are able to create very convincing fake stores, and they are using every trick in the marketing playbook to promote them through ads and social media posts. There’s no
one thing to look out for anymore. Instead, we have to stay alert (and have a healthy amount of suspicion) throughout the purchase journey, from the moment you see an ad to the point of making a transaction.
If the online shop’s prices are too good to be true, they probably are, explained Mika Lehtinen, Director, Research Collaboration at F‑Secure.
Legitimate shops tend to sell products at competitive prices. Whereas fake shops may offer products at prices that are noticeably lower than the prices of legitimate shops, in order to lure people in to make a purchase. If you encounter a shop with exceptionally low prices, pay extra attention to other potential indications of a scam.
With the rise of shopping apps, keep in check the apps you download and remove them when they are no longer needed, said Calvin Gan, Senior Manager, Protection Strategy at F‑Secure.
Always ensure that the apps are downloaded only from the official store (such as Play Store, App Store, Huawei Gallery). Any shop which requires you to download their app beyond official stores should be treated as suspicious and it is recommended not to install them.
F‑Secure’s Browsing Protection (included in F‑Secure Total) enables you to evaluate the safety of shopping sites and prevents you from unintentionally accessing harmful URLs.