How To Identify Fake Websites: Your Comprehensive Guide

March 8th · 9 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Fake websites: What are they and how to stay safe

Ah, the internet— a treasure trove of information, entertainment, shopping, and everything in between. Who doesn't love the freedom of accomplishing virtually (pun intended) everything online these days, right from the comfort of our own home? From paying bills and running errands to enjoying online shopping and connecting with friends around the globe, you can do it all online.

Despite the joys of watching cat videos and doing business online, there’s a dark side to this digital realm that everyone needs to navigate cautiously. Scammers use fake websites to steal your cash and, in some cases, even your identity.

| In 2020 Google Found a Record Breaking - Two Million Fake Websites |

In this article, we'll walk you through the labyrinth of identifying fake websites and reveal their tricks. We’ll also give you some tips and the knowledge needed to protect yourself in the vast and sometimes treacherous terrain of the online world. Buckle up, you’re in for a bumpy ride!

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What are fake websites?

First things first, before we get in too deep, let's clarify what we mean by "fake websites." Fake websites are basically cleverly crafted sites that masquerade as legitimate sources. Rather than delivering a service, information, or anything else you would expect, fake websites are a way for cybercriminals to deceive rather than deliver. They come in various shapes and forms, from phony online stores selling non-existent products to clone sites mimicking legitimate companies like banks and government organizations. The aim? To lure you in, trick you into sharing sensitive information, and in most cases, take your hard-earned cash.

How fake website scams work

Fake websites don’t appear out of thin air, and you don’t just magically find yourself visiting them - rather, you click a link that leads to one. Wait, what? Why would I click a link that leads to a fake website? The answer is both bizarre and wild. Get this - the prelude to finding yourself on a fake website is usually through fake ads, receiving phishing emails, texts (smishing), or phone calls - all designed by scammers to bait you into visiting these sites.

Yep, that's right, scammers follow a two-step approach. First, they entice you into their trap, and once you've taken the bait, they move on to the next phase – directing you to their deceptive websites, where the main part of their scheme takes place. Namely, stealing your passwords, login information, credit card numbers, cash, and even your identity. Let’s look at some examples to illustrate how this plays out.

Falling for a fake website scam

Text messages

Have you ever received a text message with a link that mentions that a USPS delivery requires a response from you? Don’t click the link! Scammers have been sending out thousands of these text messages claiming to be from the USPS, asking recipients to claim a package. These texts are part of an international phishing scheme that's designed to steal personal information from recipients. If you click the link, you'll be redirected to a fake scam site. Once there, all of your sensitive data will be exposed to the scammers. Ouch.

Fake advertisement

Let’s say you’re a frequent online shopper and stumbled upon what seemed like the deal of a lifetime: a new pair of Air Jordan sneakers for a jaw-dropping price. Your kid has been begging you for them, and the discount is 50% off of the retail price. Eager to save some bucks, you quickly click the ad, and then you’re navigated to a Nike website - that looks identical to the real one, same fonts, colors, brand, and logo. You’d never know the difference.

You see the Jordans, pinch yourself because you can’t believe the low price, add them to the cart, and enter your payment details. Days turn into weeks, and those shiny new sneakers never arrive. You can’t get a hold of customer service, and soon you realize you’ve fallen for a cleverly disguised fake website. Money gone, and no shoes.

Fake vs legit online shopping sites

Phishing emails

Imagine getting an email claiming that your bank account's been compromised, and you need to reset your password. You click the link in the email, and it navigates you to what appears to be your bank's official website (but it’s actually a fake). Without a second thought, you enter your login details, unknowingly handing cybercriminals your precious banking information on a silver platter. That’s how easily it is to fall for these websites that look identical to real ones. Sneaky, right?

There are over 2 million fake websites out there, making it clear that illegitimate sites are one of the most common ways cybercriminals steal people's info. Think about it - scammers can create thousands of different sites imitating brands like Home Depot, Best Buy, Amazon, a Netflix login page, or, as seen in the previous example, a USPS mail delivery reminder. Utilizing this large range of options gives scammers unlimited ways to trick you into providing your personal details, like credit card numbers, addresses, social security numbers, and more.

Would you be able to spot a fake website if you saw one?

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Fake website examples

Some fake websites usually use pretty shoddy design, don't you think? I mean, would you ever imagine the USPS website looking like this?

USPS Fake Website

Source: Better Business Bureau (BBB)

Spot the Fake: Which of these websites is counterfeit?

Spot the fake

Source: ABC News

Spoiler: The Beats by Dre website on the right is the counterfeit website, and the Rosetta Stone website on the right is the counterfeit website.

Key indicators of fake websites

Now that you know what you're up against, it's time to sharpen your detection skills. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

Overly attractive deals If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a deal seems unbelievably cheap or offers something that's usually expensive for a fraction of the price, say Air Jordans, it's worth a second look.

Inconsistent design elements Watch out for poor website designs, sloppy layouts, misspellings, and broken links. Legitimate businesses usually invest in a polished online presence.

No contact information Genuine businesses provide contact details, a lack of them is definitely a red flag. If they do provide contact details, but you’re still unsure, call the phone number or send them an email to verify.

Suspicious payment methods Be wary of websites that only accept unconventional or untraceable payment methods like cryptocurrency.

Protective measures against fake websites

Questionable domain names Always double-check the website's URL (address) for any suspicious or misspelled domain names. Legitimate websites typically have a consistent and correctly spelled web address.

Unsecured connection warnings Ensure that the website uses HTTPS encryption (secure website). You can check this by looking for a padlock symbol or "https://" in the web address, which indicates a secure connection.

Secure vs. Unsecure

Be cautious of pop-ups Avoid clicking on pop-up ads or windows that appear while browsing. Legitimate websites rarely use intrusive pop-ups.

Organization validation Authentic websites often possess security certificates that vouch for their legitimacy. Check if the URL of the website begins with HTTPS, where S indicates it has an SSL certificate. Then click on the padlock icon on the address bar to check all the detailed information related to the certificate. This will provide you with crucial insights into the website's authenticity and security status.

Limited customer reviews If you can't find any real customer reviews or the ones you find seem overly positive and generic, it's cause for concern.

Use security software With fake websites getting more and more sophisticated, it’s important to have an online tool that will keep you protected. So how do you identify fake websites? Well, you don’t have to, that is, if you have Guardio installed on your browser. Guardio is a Chrome extension and mobile app that keeps you safe online. It blocks fake websites, annoying pop-up ads, and phishing attempts with dangerous links.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) Whenever possible, enable MFA for your online accounts. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to provide two or more forms of verification before accessing your accounts. This makes it much harder for scammers to gain unauthorized access.

Educate yourself Stay informed about common online scams and phishing techniques. Being aware of the latest threats can help you recognize fake websites more easily.

Is Guardio the right security software for you?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was some sort of tool or gadget that could tell you each time you’re about to click on a malicious link that’ll take you to a fake website? Ding, ding, ding - The #1 tool in your cybersecurity arsenal is Guardio.

Guardio’s browser extension acts as your virtual bodyguard, warning you before you land on a fake website. With Guardio, you'll receive alerts about suspicious websites and potential malicious downloads, offering you a shield against digital threats and protection so your valuable information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Guardio gives you:

  • Peace of mind with 24/7 scam protection.

  • Blocks fake websites and annoying pop-up ads with malicious links.

  • Email inbox protection - phishing email alerts.

  • SMS filter - blocks smishing attempts (USPS scams)

  • Real-time identity theft protection.

  • Family security (up to 5 family members)

The bottom line

The internet is a realm of endless opportunities where you can conquer tasks, connect globally, and shop from the cozy confines of your home. Yet, lurking within this digital wonderland, a shadowy adversary awaits—the treacherous world of fake websites, masterminded by scammers hungry for your finances and identity.

Fake websites are like modern-day mirages, promising treasures but delivering nothing but deception. By staying alert, recognizing the warning signs, and equipping yourself with tools like Guardio, you can explore this digital realm with confidence. Remember, knowledge is your best defense against the cunning tricks of fake websites, ensuring that your online adventures remain safe and enjoyable. So, go forth, explore, and stay secure!

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