Summer is gone and back to school shopping is in high gear for many parents and students.  Much of back to school shopping, like other shopping, is done online and people are constantly looking for bargains from trusted companies such as Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods.  Scammers are constantly setting up phony retail websites.  Some of these phony websites are for totally made up companies that you have never heard of, but which are offering tremendous discounts on popular goods while other phony websites are counterfeit websites of legitimate online retailers.  Unfortunately, it is very easy for scammers to construct phony websites with legitimate appearing logos of companies you trust.  Recently the cybersecurity software company Trend Micro announced that it had found more than 205,000 phony websites touting back to school sales.

So how do you determine if you are on a legitimate website?


Look at the URL.  If you are making a payment, you would want the URL to be preceded by https rather than merely http.  The “s” means that your communication is being encrypted and while even some phony websites may go the extra step and use encryption, most do not and so this is an easy way to spot a scam.
Sometimes carefully checking the domain name for a counterfeit website will provide an indication that it is a scam.  If the domain name has nothing to do with the real name of the company, you can be confident that is a scam.  I would caution you however that merely because the name looks legitimate does not mean that it is.  Often scammers will create phony, but very legitimate appearing domain names.
Many phony websites originate in countries where English is not the primary language and therefore if you find numerous grammatical and spelling errors, you can be pretty sure it is a scam.
The Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report is a terrific free service where you can type in the URL and learn if Google’s research indicates it is a scam.  Here is a link to it.
You can also use which is a free service that will tell you who owns a particular URL and how long it has been in service.  If your Walmart website has only been around six months and is owned by someone in Nigeria, it certainly is a scam.  Here is a link to Whois
Finally, look for reviews of the particular site and Google the name of it with the word “scam” and see what comes up.
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