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Online Fraud: Ways to Spot Fake Websites

6 mins read

Digital evolution and  technological advancement has without doubt  caused changes in almost all aspects of human endeavor. While these changes have contributed immensely to both human and social development, it has also ushered in an era of fraudulent activities online, what Nigerians widely regard as “Yahoo Yahoo” or “419” in the general sense. 

These online fraud, has been mostly associated with Investment scams, a type of online fraud that offers unsuspecting members of the society juicy investment deals only to swindle their stakes at the long run and financial identity theft, is a type of online fradulent theft where a criminal steals personal or financial information from a victim without their knowledge in order to commit financial fraud or other crimes. According to a report by, a type that is carried out by scammers to access a personal financial details of persons and use it in turn to steal their bank savings.  

These heralding issues and the possible risks online users are prone to, led the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to warn and discourage people against paying attention to messages and calls that demands access to their financial details or offers good investment deals. According to a report by  , Datarepotal, a database for global internet use, mobile devices and apps, social media, and e-commerce.

Nigeria has over 104.4 million internet users as of January 2021 and  this has even increased between 2020 and 2021 with over 19 million new users added. This enormous growth of internet users in the country suggests a wider reach for scammers, a concern that led the Central Bank of Nigeria  to warn members of the public against paying attention to messages and claims that appear questionable or juicy to be true. This reality also makes it important for members of the public to know some of these fraudulent schemes are perpetuated, especially through fake websites and enticing links. 

Fake websites: a strategy for online con-artists

Fake websites have become serious threats to online security. While  some of these websites will tempt you to provide sensitive information to steal your identity, others simply do that when you merely click the link that is usually the bait. 

Even more, according to new data by the American Federal Trade Commision, the use of social media by online fraudsters to get potential victims to click to their fake websites is on the rise. Scams starting on social media proliferated in early 2020 and are now a major issue. 

Thus as social media users increase by the day, so also is the rise of its usage by fraudsters to bait users into their websites using fake generated links. These links are sometimes attached to fancy ads or enticing  offers to market to convince unsuspecting users into falling victims of these ruse scams.

A typical example of an online fraud shared as a Whatsapp message to bait users

Some scammers even hide behind phony profiles on social media to share false testimonies to completely unfounded schemes just to convince other users. They can hack an account or join a virtual community you trust to encourage you to trust them. Nonetheless, there are multiple types of these online fraud and scams. 

Types of online Scams

  • Romance scam: Romance scammers often lure people with a fake online profile on social media. Once these fraudsters win the hearts and trust of their victims, they will claim they are suddenly in need of money for a medical emergency or some kind of personal crisis. 
  • Phishing: Is a rich source of income for fraudsters. Scammers often lure their victims on Facebook or Twitter or in a direct message, playing on human emotions, often advertising a gift or special offer.
  • Get Rich quick scams: these are false promises about investing in some Forex schemes.
  • Spoofing: Spoofing is falsifying data on caller ID to disguise who’s on the line. In a bid for authenticity, the spoofed number could belong to a legitimate government agency or a business known to you.
  • Computer pop-ups

Pop-up warnings can show up on your computer. Alarms may sound. Click on a suspicious link or open an attachment and malware — that’s software used for malicious purposes — can compromise your computer system and steal your data. Never call the phone number that appears on a computer pop-up.

  • Fake photos

Images can be stolen from the internet, altered or even forged  to lend credence to a bogus profile or website.

Knowing how to spot the red flags in these fraudulent activities is a crucial skill for online users to master, so as to know what to look for. Thus, users can protect themselves by simply  learning how to identify fake websites, and  once they know how to spot them, they can keep themselves and their computers secure.

7 Ways to Verify a Website

Pay attention to the address bar:

The first thing you want to look for on a website is the HTTPS at the beginning of the address. The S in HTTPS stands for secure and shows that the website uses encryption to transfer data, protecting it from hackers. So if a website uses HTTP,  void of the ‘S’, for ‘secure’  there is no guarantee that the website is safe. Therefore,  to be on the safe side, you should never enter personal information into a website that is HTTP.

So the difference between HTTP and  HTTPS is simply the presence of an SSL certificate. HTTP doesn’t have SSL and HTTPS has SSL, which encrypts your information so your connections are secured. HTTPS also has TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol that HTTP lacks. HTTPS is more secure than HTTP.

While HTTPS is secured under a protected platter, HTTP is widely open for scammers grasps

Check if the URL is misspelled:

According to digicert, one key indicator of a fake site is a misspelled URL. Fraudsters may change up a URL name slightly, like using amaz0n.com, or they may change the domain extension like amazon.org instead of amazon.com. Nonetheless, the key thing here is to try to find the differences and check well to confirm if you are on the right website. 

A typical example of a fake Amazon  website. Squared red, ‘Amazon’ is misspelled as ‘Amazonx’ to lure users into giving away their personal information

No privacy policy or terms and conditions:

Those long terms and conditions documents that most people skim over? They often contain important legal information about how the business that you’re dealing with is going to protect your personal information, and how they’re liable to keep you safe during your transactions.

Scam websites generally won’t have these, since they’re unlikely to be read. Try looking in the website’s footer. If you can’t easily find privacy information, the website you’re on could be trying to scam you.

Look for a lock:

The padlock on a website means that a site is secured by an TLS/SSL certificate that encrypts user data.When you go to a site that has a padlock icon next to the site name, it means the site is secured with a digital certificate. This means that any information sent between your browser and the website is sent securely, and can’t be intercepted and read by someone else while the information is in transit.

A typical example of a site with a security lock and the one without

Run site through a website checker:

Use a website checker to verify if a website is secure. A secure website check can let you know any vulnerabilities on the site, if it is using encryption and what level of verification a site has. The Website Checker also analyzes the website to see how well equipped it is for secure usage online, and gives you details about the site.

 A typical result of a website analyzed under ScamDoc website checker

Double-check the domain name:

A lot of fraudulent websites will use a domain name that references a well-known brand or product name. But won’t be the official website, for example:

website domains such as www.ipadoffers.net or www.discountnikeclothes.com should raise alarm bells. 

Check Whether the Company Has a Social Media Presence:

Most legitimate companies have some level of a social media presence. Fake websites sometimes have the icons for Twitter or Facebook, but the graphics don’t actually link to a real account. Read company reviews on such platforms and see if you can find real employees of the company on LinkedIn.

Conclusion

Online users can make it harder for scammers to carry out their tricks if they secure their social media privacy settings; limit what they share publicly, and be wary of clicking links and deceitful  online investment. Online fraud is real but online security protocols are also feasible. 

The researcher produced this fact-check per the 2021 Kwame Karikari Fact-checking Fellowship partnership with JAY 101.9 FM Jos to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country

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