Date First Published: 26th March 2023
Subtopic: Threats To Individuals
Difficulty Level: 3/10
Learn about how to tell if a website is legitimate in this article.
Are you wondering whether the website you are visiting is legitimate or a scam? There are lots of signs and online tools that indicate whether a website is legitimate or a scam. Especially before buying online, it is important to make sure that the website is legitimate. If it wasn't, you might end up buying something that you never receive. Below are the 10 ways to tell whether a website is legitimate or not.
The domain name says a lot about whether a website is legitimate or not. It consists of the connection protocol (http:// or https://), the custom name (e.g. "youtube"), and the TLD ("com", "net", "org"). Even if the connection is secure, the following signs indicate that a website is illegitimate:
If you see the padlock icon in your address bar, it means that the connection to the website is secure and it uses HTTPS over SSL/TLS to encrypt data so that it is unreadable to anyone monitoring the connection. Most browsers will draw attention to sites that do not use the padlock by displaying a 'not secure' warning in the address bar. Without the padlock, all information is sent in plain text and could be read by someone that is monitoring the connection. As a result, sensitive information could go to the wrong person and it could cause a data breach. The reason why the padlock is a sign that a website is legitimate is that the HTTPS security certificate is not something that an illegitimate site would bother with.
However, the padlock sign does not mean that a website is legitimate as websites that are not legitimate can still use the padlock, so don't rely on the padlock itself to determine whether a site is trustworthy. Instead, you should look at the site name and check that it matches the name of the site you are expecting. The padlock sign just means that the connection to the website is encrypted.
Take a look at the content of the site. If you notice a large number of spelling and grammatical errors on the website or awkward phrasing, it is more likely to be an illegitimate website. This is because lots of mistakes suggest that the website has been rushed by someone without them properly proofreading their work. However, good spelling and grammar do not mean that a website is legitimate as websites that are not legitimate can still have no spelling and grammatical errors, so don't rely on good spelling and grammar itself to determine whether a site is trustworthy.
Nearly all websites have some ads to make money, but if the website is flooded with ads all over the page, the ads suddenly play sound without your permission, or they cannot be differentiated from the content, then the website is not likely to be legitimate. The following types of ads can indicate that the website you are visiting is a scam:
There are lots of popular review websites where users can share what they think of another site, the quality of a product, and whether the site is legitimate. Trustpilot and TripAdvisor are examples of popular review sites. But, be careful when looking at the reviews. If they all look the same, are all posted within a very short time span, are vague and do not go into much detail, or contain lots of spelling and grammatical errors, then they might be fake. Even though popular review sites have been taking action against fake reviews, they cannot detect every possible fake review and there still might be some fake reviews on them, but they are the signs of a fake review.
This method of checking whether a website is legitimate or not might not always work as there might not be any reviews on Trustpilot, especially if the website has been recently launched.
It is not recommended to rely on the reviews on the website itself to determine whether a website is legitimate. Scam sites often fill their reviews section with fake positive reviews, made-up names of people, photos from random sources, and text that is copied word-for-word from other websites. On websites like Trustpilot and ScamAdviser, the reviews cannot be deleted by the company itself, so checking reviews on external sites is a better way of getting a clearer idea of what other people think about a website.
Carefully look at how the website is designed. If it contains lots of awkward layouts, low-resolution or blurry images, the elements have a lack of contrast, or there are lots of design errors on the site, like broken navigation or design inconsistencies, this suggests that the website has been rushed and is unlikely to be legitimate. Scammers do not want to take long to build fake websites and move quickly from website to another.
When buying online, always consider whether what the site offers is too good to be true. Does it offer products at extremely low prices? For example, does it offer an iPad that normally costs £300 for £100? You should be wary of offers like this. Some websites use ridiculously low prices to get people to quickly buy fake products that they will never receive. They might claim to offer one thing, like an iPad that normally costs £300 for £100, but put what they actually offer, like an accessory for an iPad in very small text, which will mislead people.
You can use a site checker, like ScamAdviser, Google Transparency Report, Norton SafeWeb, or Sucuri SiteCheck to help give an idea of whether a website is legitimate. These consider multiple factors and once the check is finished, it will display an overall score. They use complex algorithms to generate the score. Whilst they can give you an idea of whether a website is legitimate or not, no site checker is 100% accurate, so do not rely on a site checker itself.
The domain age is how long the domain name has been registered. Checking the domain age is useful as it helps give an idea of whether the website has been running for a good amount of time. Scam sites often have a very young domain age as they are put up early and rarely stay up for long periods of time because customers start posting negative reviews and they get negative feedback on social media, leading to people staying away from the website. Finding out the domain age of a website is easy. You can perform a WHOIS lookup, which will tell you how long the website has been active.
If so, it is important that you tell me as soon as possible on this page.