How to identify Fraudulent eCommerce Website?

There has been a huge upsurge in eCommerce activities in India: at both ends; customers are buying online more than ever before, and sellers are selling online at varied eCommerce platforms. eCommerce was already on the rise and the pandemic has fueled the raging fire in all imaginable ways possible. Buyers are more confident buying online and embracing the model of buying almost everything on the web. Legitimate sellers are doing whatever they can to showcase their products online at various platforms like selling products on third party seller platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Etsy etc. and/or on their own websites.

This eCommerce revolution has been boon for everyone, people now have options of buying everything online, right from a puny pin to a massive aeroplane that too at competitive prices. However, all of this comes at a cost. Like every other industry, eCommerce has its own cons (pun intended). Cases of online fraud, forgery, impersonation are rising steeply which hampers the customer experience in many detrimental ways, so much so that people severe their ties of buying online anything at all.

Here is a checklist for an informed buyer to look upon before making any purchases. Although, this list is no respect an exhaustive one, we can vouch for the fact that you will definitely find yourself in a position to make an educated decision when you shop online next time.

  1. Same prices for almost all goods being sold:
    1. This happens when the seller is trying to sell an illegitimate item (a substandard product that does not match its photograph and/or description) by using attractive images (which is copied from legitimate seller websites) in order to lure customers. When the customer receives the product, they find it does not resemble the said product at all.
    2. Prices are kept same so that they are able to sell anything and everything at low prices by making fake commitments.
  2. Cash on Delivery (CoD) as the only payment option at checkout:
    1. Fraudulent websites cannot accept online payments (most of the times) since the payment gateway services do a background check and call the seller to understand the nature of their business before authorising them to accept payment using their gateway. Examples of payment gateway include RazorPay, PayU Money, CashFree, PayPal, CCAvenue, Stripe among many others.
    2. Moreover, if the customer finds that they have been conned, they may raise their complaint to the gateway directly which in turn blacklists of the seller from future transactions.
    3. Henceforth, such fraudulent websites accept only Cash on Delivery at checkout which requires no third party (apart from the courier company) to obtain funds from customer. In that case, a customer may raise request with the courier company which might not prove helpful since the industry is highly deregulated and is least bothered with the legitimacy of the contents of the package (since they claim that their duty is to get products from Point A to Point B, take cash if it is a CoD order and tender the product to consignee)
  3. Broken URLs (yielding 404 errors):
    1. A sure-fire method to decipher if a website is fraudulent or not is to surf their pages and links. A fake website uses readymade templates to design website, which might have expired or non-linking hyperlinks which will lead you to a 404 (Not Found) page.
  4. Generic and disproportionate photographs for products:
    1. Product photographs make up a big chunk of eCommerce shopping experience and it has been found that product photograph can make or break the deal. According to Justuno (an eCommerce analytics company), 93% of consumers consider visual content to be the key deciding factor in a purchasing decision.
    2. Fake websites use product photograph of some other highly reputed website without their consent to show off products which they are not even selling.
    3. Look out for distortion, or irregular photograph dimensions because fraudsters often copy the image from other eCommerce portal and remove the logo and watermarks. To achieve this, they crop the images due to which the dimensions become highly irregular.
  5. Fake Promises and/or Commitments:
    1. 24/7 Customer Support (which is highly unlikely for standalone eCommerce websites, even our website does not offer such a service). Remember that most legit websites promise a prompt response in 24-48 hours via text, call or email.
    2. 30 Days Money Back Guarantee: Again, this is highly unlikely for a standalone website to offer.
    3. Too many reassuring icons and promises can actually mean otherwise. It is like a thief showing all sorts of tantrums to come forth as a person of trust
  6. Fake phone numbers/ unresponsive email:
    1. Fraudsters know that when a customer does not receive/receives a fake product, they will try to contact the seller. To circumvent communication, they use non-responsive email IDs and phoney phone numbers (again pun intended)
    2. Try at least one of them if you are not sure of the website, ask questions about their products and line of services to ensure that their team is responsive.
  7. No Social media/generic social media presence:
    1. Maintaining a social media presence is next to necessary for any brand/website to prosper in a long run. Fraudulent websites have no/fake social media presence
    2. Try searching for them on platforms like Facebook and Instagram and browse through their content (if they exist at the first place). One can get a really fair idea of they are trying to fake it.
  8. Fake and old reviews:
    1. Reviews are dharma for any online platform. If a website has no reviews, there are fair chances that it might be fake.
    2. However, fraudsters are a step ahead. They implant fake reviews in their website, which can often be pinpointed by the date, language of writing and the fact that the same review appear for every product on the website. They are written in a conspicuously fake manner, in short, precise and broken English.
  9. Cheap Colour Schemes of the website:
    1. Generally, fraudsters make websites in a makeshift pattern; they sell certain fake items for a short period of time after which the website becomes dormant. After some time, they might venture into selling something new and target a different audience.
  10. Lesser product details:
    1. A fake website might not have all essential details of the product being sold.
    2. Again, the language of the content written can give away an image about their legitimacy.
  11. Find discrepancies and conflicting information:
    1. Like they commit to a 24/7 call support but there is no contact number available anywhere on the website.
  12. A very generic/non-existent “About Us” page
    1. “About Us” page lets customers know what the website is about, what they stand for and what the intend to do in the market. This is one of those important pages which instil confidence in a buyer.
    2. Fraudsters put generic, copied information without really putting in a thought of what they should be presenting there. A lot of these fake websites do not even have an About Us page to get started.
  13. Advertisement only on Facebook:
    1. A legit website might advertise on various platforms, including Google. Advertisement on Google requires a lot of certification and processes to be followed, which makes it next to impossible for illegitimate buyers to advertise on Google Ad network.
    2. Facebook has slack directions on advertisement, partly because of the fact that they want to earn from everyone, even from a fraudulent organisation which might pay FB for advertisement to lure innocent customers to their platform.
  14. Check the legitimacy or reviews of website on Google, Quora and if possible, search for their physical business location on Google Maps.
    1. A legitimate business, generally declares its physical business location and the company name which can be looked up on Google
  15. Do a Whois Lookup, and find who owns the domain (the website name):
    1. A Whois lookup allows you to find the owner of the domain.
    2. This method might not work most of the times, because nowadays domains are sold with a privacy package which redacts the name of the domain purchaser from the Whois Lookup inventory for privacy issues (it is a very general practice and even the legitimate websites do the same)
  16. Domain age:
    1. Upon a Whois lookup, one can find when the domain was registered, which gives away the age of the domain. A relatively new domain might point that it was bought very recently to do illicit activity, however this is not a sure-fire method since a lot of people around the globe are buying new domains to set up their legit businesses.
  17. Perform a Google search for the name of the website along with the words like “scam” or “fake”. This way you will quickly find out if someone else had a bad experiences with the website.
  18. : Use this google tool to access a record of websites that might have had a history of security breaches
  19. Reverse search their written and photographic content on Google:
    1. These websites are like parasites, they live off of the content (literature and photograph) of other websites, which can easily be found out by doing a quick Google reverse image search or just by copying and pasting any written content on the website to the Google Search bar. If the content sure elsewhere too, steer clear and do thorough research.

Note that this list is focussed more towards eCommerce segment, wherein when a person buys something online: 1. They may not receive the products altogether, 2. Receive the product, but it is scandalous one, not as described and something entirely different than what was promised. 

It is important to make an informed decision while buying online. There are always antisocial elements trying to make a fast buck out of people’s innocence. It is imperative that we stay alert, while enjoying this eCommerce revolution which is bound to get better in coming years.