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  • Writer's pictureMartin van Zeelandt / TCD

Fraudulent websites, and how to deal with them...

We live in unprecedented times. That's a phrase you hear and read about everywhere nowadays. COVID-19 has made us all look at the way we live, and we had to adapt to this rather unusual virus that has swept the world. You might think it's a hoax, or you might even think that the information provided by your government is wrong, but whatever you think of it, it's a dangerous and deadly virus. And you don't want to catch it. But it also has another side effect that sadly emerges during times of need: fraudulent websites. How do you deal with those? How can you check if a website is fraudulent, and can we protect ourselves from them?

It's difficult. It's not easy. People who create these websites are in it for the money, and will do everything to squeeze every penny out of your pocket, and get away with it. It's similar to those trying to get your details via fraudulent e-mails. Spam, with a virus hidden inside of it. That's not a new thing: e-mails like those have been sent since the early days of the internet, and we have become used to them. We see them nearly on a daily basis, and we delete them straight away. But with websites it's a bit different. Unless you check for signals. And if signals are showing you anything out of the ordinary, stop, and close the page!

Firstly, check the validity of the page. On any website you can check if the connection is secure. You can do that, by clicking (in Chrome) on the lock symbol on the left of the website link. As an example, I've clicked on my own website, to show you what it says about my page:

You don't need to be an internet wizard to find out if the page you are on, is secure. Security is key. We need to know if the page we are visiting, isn't going to use our details, and destroy our lives online. So check that first. Another indication of a secure website is the actual URL: does it start with HTTPS:// ? You can see that it's secure, due to the added S after HTTP. But people have also tried to go around those security features, so what else is there to check, before committing to a purchase?

Check online reviews. Check if a company has had some feedback. Feedback is important. Again, it also has some flaws: companies buying 'reviews', so they look legitimate, and the product they are selling, looks absolutely amazing. But look deep down inside: if a product has only good reviews, but after reading the description, you know it's a simple product, not THAT amazing, click the 'close' tab. Nothing is that good.

But don't get too excited and think that, if there are bad reviews, that the company isn't valid. It could simply be that this product is faulty, and that other items they sell are genuinely good. So search for the company as a whole, and check if they do deliver. Are they good with their customer service? Do they deliver on time? How is their general approach? Things you would like to see, when you go into a general store.

Obviously the companies you know which have stores all over the country do not count. They have got a reputation to uphold, so they will have invested a lot of money to make sure that their online service is up to date, and follows the rules and regulations, set up by their government, or even the EU, or America, or Asia. I'm not familiar with any rules or regulations there, so you might need to check them first. But from a UK perspective, there are many rules and regulations to follow.

Websites do know how to look legitimate, everyone can build a descent looking website, like the one you are on. We are not looking at websites like MySpace's designed websites. It can all be made easier, so whatever you are after, there's a platform for you to build a website on. But the reputation is to be made. And it takes time. You won't become a highly respectable website within a few days. Reputation has to grow, and you will fall from time to time. You will make mistakes, but you have to deal with them in a good way.

Back on track. So you've checked if the website is secure. You don't want your credit or debit card details to be online, for everyone to see. Fraudsters will use those details to purchase items on your behalf, and you wouldn't even notice them, until you check your bank account online and you hear that a purchase has been made, or money has been transferred. Once that has happened, it will become a struggle to retrieve the money via your bank. Banks do have guided help in what to do, once your account has been used for fraudulent activities. But you could beat them, and only use secure websites, and check if the reviews are good.

Your bank could even help you. As an example: I received a text from my bank (Santander) to report a payment, which I made, but they saw it as maybe fraudulent. Here's the text from them, taken out some details obviously (for GDPR reasons):

You follow the steps provided by them. Check if the number you received this text from, is indeed your bank's number. If you don't even feel like it's a legitimate number, always contact your bank. Report these kinds of activities immediately, so they can act on it. They've got a dedicated page set up on their website, how to report this, and how to spot them. Banks have a duty of care, and will step in, in case they see a transaction doesn't look alright.

Lastly, the only thing you need to do, is follow your guts. Do you think it's OK, or not? Do you think it's all OK? Check prices on other websites? Do they sell the item at a much higher price? What's the 'standard' price on other websites? If a product has an average price of (example) £300, but they are selling it to you for only £25, you might need to scratch your head twice. Is it really that good? How can they sell it cheap? You can use your feelings, and maybe let this one pass. Do the right thing. The downside of online shopping, is that you do not see the actual item, with a price tag. You cannot confront the cashier with the price stated on the tag. You cannot have a physical interaction with someone.

And, as an added bonus, if this company has got stores, why not go there? It might a trip worth it. You can see and feel the item, and inspect the quality. Or maybe pay a few pennies more, but with the knowledge that you will get the item. Don't fall into the trap in ordering an expensive item, and have a box delivered with a brick inside of it. Don't do that. Every penny that goes into those people's pockets are our hard earned pennies, and should not travel from hard working people into sleazy people's pockets.

Another thing I just realised: ask friends and family. If you are looking for an item, ask if they have got any ideas. They might have bought from a specific company, and they can always provide you with decent feedback. They can always give you feedback, be it positive or negative. Give them a ring, and ask. There's no harm in asking. They could also provide you with names to stay away from.

If you have fallen into the trap, I am sorry to hear. But you can do something about it. Report it to your bank, report it to the provided (for example Ebay or Amazon), and write a review online. Make sure others are aware. Sharing is caring, and it will open not only your own eyes, but others too. It will only become harder. The future will be a bit more difficult for us mankind, seeing as we rely on the world wide web. But as long as we stay focussed, and rely on our own instinct, we can hopefully stay outside of those dodgy hands. Grabbing thieves.

Money isn't everything in life, but it certainly makes sure you stay alive. So don't let it be taken away from you. Keep your details secure, don't share passwords, or your debit/creditcard details. Keep your online identity safe.

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