How-to: Spot a Fake Shopping Site

The disparate and unregulated Internet can often look like the new Wild West; so how do you spot a fake shopping site?
I came across a site offering replacement laptop parts at prices one third that of the next nearest competitor. 

Knowing there are traders in the far East with access to warehouses and traders, maybe it was a genuine bargain? Looking into the rest of the site, the product list was huge. This was not a specialist. On the home page it claimed to be a men's and women's fashion site. The suggested product categories in the page footer appeared to be a random category generator. This was not a specialist. Searching on random products across technology, sports, home wares, apparently they had everything for almost immediate dispatch.

Alarm bells began to ring. The scam-shop questions echoed in my head.

  • Prices to cheap to be true? Then they probably are.
  • What does it specialise in? Everything or nothing?
  • Everything is in stock? That's not physically possible.
  • The site has an unusual name you've never heard of? Check it in your favourite search engine. If Google hasn't heard of it either, be suspicious.
  • Does it have any customer reviews or recommendations? None? Why not?
  • Does it have any link-backs from other sites? Customers, experts, review sites, directories?
    • The site in question had only link-backs to itself. No one - I mean no one - linked to it. If it's an established trader and such good value you'd think lots of people would spread the word.
  • Who runs it?
    • Check the About Us page. You should find some facts on who operates and owns the site, along with the registered domicile of the company. In this case, there was nothing, just some marketing waffle about "premier retailing experience and excellent customer service." But who are you? Where are you?
    • Not a clue. No phone numbers either, just a customer service email address. Very reliable.

Interestingly, doing a product comparison on something else produced another promising online shop in a different livery that looked almost identical. Guess what - the About Us was exactly the same boilerplate text. A fact-free zone.

Needless to say there was no way I was putting my credit card details into either of those. Tempting though it was. RC