How to Spot a Phony Website

Savvy scammers go to incredible lengths to create authentic-looking websites in an attempt to gain access to your personal or financial information, or just steal your money. Here's how to protect yourself:

Don't Click It, Search It
If you're unfamiliar with a company, do a quick Google search of the domain name. A legitimate company's website will appear at the top of the results, along with links to that website from other websites. If only the domain comes up and no other search results appear, it might be suspicious.

In a similar vein, do not click links in an email unless you are positive about who the sender is and what they're requesting. Hover over the button or link in question to see what the actual URL is. If it's slightly off from the name brand website (for example, instead of www.apple.com, it's something like www.apple-itunes.com) it's likely a scam.

Authentic Sites Tout Security
Any online retailer that requires you to input credit card information should have an up-to-date SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. Legitimate sites are happy to showcase their efforts at encrypting your data and ensuring your information is safe.

On the flip side, most fraudulent sites will not bother to buy an SSL certificate because they know they'll be shut down within a few months.

To check a website's security status, look for the "https" at the beginning of the URL, and also click on the padlock or info icon in your browser's address bar.

Bad English Is a Bad Sign
Misspellings and awkward phrasings can be a tip-off that it's not a legit website.

Beware of Ad Overkill
If the site you visit suddenly bombards you with ads, redirects you to another page with ads, or requires you to take a survey to proceed, "x" out of it.

No Contact? No Contact.
A website that doesn't include contact information for the business is an automatic red flag. Similarly, if an online retailer doesn't have a shipping and return policy featured on its site, don't shop there. You should always be able to directly contact the company and understand what happens once you order their product.

Check Reviews
If you've never purchased something from the company, look for customer reviews online. A lot of negative feedback may indicate they aren't reputable.

Finally, follow your gut. If it looks even a little off, find another website that follows all the rules above.