How to identify fake shopping websites: A comprehensive guide

August 14th · 8 min read

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

Risky business: What's really in your cart?

Who doesn’t love online shopping? Getting everything you want and need from the comfort of your laptop or mobile? Yes, please. It's super easy, and you can do it while sitting on your couch eating pizza. Plus, there are no pesky salespeople asking if you need assistance every 42 seconds.

According to a 2023 study, more than 70% of Americans (that’s a huge 268 million!) do their shopping online, spending on average $3,500 per year (per capita). With products like mullet headbands and toast-shaped nightlamps at our fingertips, it’s no surprise that online shoppings popularity is set to increase in the next few years. You've got to wonder, though: is it safe?

Mullet headband and toast-shaped nightlamp

Seriously though - unfortunately, the answer is no. Behind every great fortune, there is often a crime, and whenever there’s money involved, there will always be sketchy criminals trying to ruin the fun for us all. Online shopping is no exception, and scams are on the rise. Big time. And cyber criminals? They're working round the clock to create new devious ways to get their hands on your personal information and cash. But have no fear, in this article, we’ll cover fake shopping websites, how to spot them, and ways to avoid falling for them. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to utilize online security tools like Guardio to keep your online shopping experience safe. Let’s go window shopping!

| American's lost more than $1.9 Billion to online scams

Online shopping has revolutionized the way we buy goods, offering extraordinary convenience and a vast array of choices. Yet, as we indulge in the digital marketplace, lurking in the shadows are cybercriminals eager to exploit our trust. The rise of online shopping scams is alarming, and cyber thieves are constantly refining their tactics. So what can we do in a world where fake websites are becoming increasingly sophisticated? First off, let’s define what a fake website is because knowing is half the battle.

What’s a fake website?

At its core, a fake website is an expertly crafted deception, meticulously designed to take advantage of unsuspecting visitors. The goal? To steal personal information, trigger malware downloads, or sell non-existing goods. Unfortunately for us shoppers, cloning a legitimate website to create a fake doppelganger is disturbingly simple.

By copying content and images from real sites, cybercriminals can trick shoppers, making them believe they're browsing a trusted website and about to buy that snazzy luxury handbag. Scammers might even go as far as offering huge discounts on items that are normally super expensive, making shoppers even more enticed to click the buy now button.

For example, let’s say you want to get your hands on a new Michael Kors handbag. While you’re casually browsing the web, surprisingly, an ad pops up - offering 40% off the fall collection. OMG, it’s like the shopping gods heard your prayers. But you’re a cautious shopper, so you diligently check the link to make sure it’ll take you to the real Michael Kors website. The URL is "MichaelKors-Handbags (.) com", seems legit right? Wrong! While the URL does look like it’s coming from the real Michael Kors online shop, it’s not. The lengths that these scammers will go to is shocking, and if you click the link (and don’t have browser protection), you’re in trouble.

You’ll find yourself on what's known as a "look-a-like" website - same branding, images, logos, and even fonts as the genuine Michael Kors site. To grab one of these 40% bargain handbags, you'll have to hand over personal info, like your name, address, and credit card details. And I mean, why wouldn’t you give those details? You’re about to make a purchase and want it to be delivered to your house, right? Nope, you’re actually about to give away your details to cybercriminals.

Fake vs legit online shopping sites

How to identify fake websites

Whenever you navigate the web a little caution and knowledge go a long way. Here are a few tips to help you spot the difference between genuine and fake shopping website.

1. Secure connection

Secure websites prioritize the privacy and security of user information. They will typically have "https://" at the beginning and display a padlock icon, indicating a secure connection. These are the sites that are less likely to be fake, while non-secure websites use the "HTTP" protocol instead of "HTTPS” and leave sensitive data vulnerable to interception and misuse. In simple terms, make sure you look for the lock icon in your address bar, that’s how you'll know you’re safe!

Secure vs. Unsecure

2. Check the domain name

Scammers use spoofing methods where they create deceptive domain (URLs) names to mislead or confuse people. Typos or slight alterations in well-known domain names are common spoofing techniques often used in fraud and phishing attacks. For example, instead of, or instead of Always double-check the URL. When in doubt, Google it out. Do a quick search for the company name, and make sure you check their reviews.

3. Organization validation

Authentic websites often possess certificates that vouch for their legitimacy. Remember that lock icon we mentioned in point #1? By simply pressing it you’ll be able to view the certificates and ensure the legitimacy of the site.

4. Content quality

Legitimate websites take pride in their content. Beware of glaring spelling errors, pixelated images, or a conspicuous absence of terms and conditions and privacy policies.

How to check if a website is legit

Making sure a website is safe, secure, and authentic is extremely important. Follow these steps to stay safe:

1. Do your homework: A quick online search can reveal reviews or news articles about the company and website, offering insights into its credibility.

2. Contact verification: 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.

3. Online security tools: With fake websites getting more and more sophisticated, it’s important to have an online tool that will keep you protected. Guardio is a Chrome extension and mobile app that keeps you safe online. It blocks annoying pop-ups, fake websites, and phishing attempts with dangerous links.

With Guardio you get:

  • 24/7 scam protection.

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

  • Cross-platform protection (up to 5 devices).

  • Scans your device for malware.

  • Real-time identity theft protection.

  • Family protection (up to 5 family members)

Shop with ease knowing you have Guardio on your side

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Common signs of a fake website

  • Odd URLs: A dead giveaway is if the domain name seems strange or the URL is loaded with special characters.

  • Too good to be true: Exceptionally high discounts or offers that seem too good to be true - often are… To make sure a deal is legit, skip the ad or link and go directly to the brand's website. If they really are having a smash sale, they’ll be sure to promote it there.

  • Phantom social media presence: A genuine business thrives on customer interaction, typically through active social media profiles. A lack of social media presence is a definite red flag.

What to do if you encounter a fake website

Stumbling upon a dubious website can be unsettling. Here's your action plan:

Disconnect immediately

If you think you're on a fake site, immediately exit the page, and don’t click on any links or download files.

Change passwords

If you've entered any login details, change your passwords for that account and any other accounts where you use the same password.

Check your financial statements

If you've made a purchase or entered financial information, like your credit card number, monitor your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. If you notice any fishy transactions, call your bank immediately.

Report the site

Notify the relevant authorities about the suspicious website. In the U.S., for example, you can file a report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their website.

Use cybersecurity tools

Ensure you have updated cybersecurity software that can detect and block malicious sites. Consider tools like Guardio to provide real-time protection against harmful links and websites.

With its limitless choices and convenience, online shopping is here to stay. As we embrace this new age of making purchases, arming ourselves with the knowledge to distinguish between genuine and fake websites is absolutely essential. By staying informed and on guard, we can enjoy the benefits of online shopping while keeping cybercriminals at bay. Share this guide to spread awareness and ensure a safer online community for all. Shop safely!

Block fake shopping sites with Guardio’s online protection

Shop with ease knowing you have Guardio on your side


How can I tell if a website is legit? Secure connections, contact verification, and online security tools are your allies. Make sure you check all of these to make sure you’re not falling for a fake online shopping site

What are the hallmarks of fake websites? Suspicious URLs, unbelievably tempting deals, and an absence of social media presence are huge red flags.

I've landed on a fake site. What now? Protect your information, report the site, and ensure you have cybersecurity measures in place. This is where cyber tools like Guardio come into play, once installed, it’ll immediately warn you about the site and block it.

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