How to Check a Web Site is Genuine
There are many reasons why you might be concerned about a website not being what it seems. The most likely reason being that there is a significant amount of money involved and you’re looking at unfamiliar web sites. Perhaps you want to find the best place for your savings or the best place to invest a windfall or something you want to buy or sell etc.
We’ll concentrate on financial organisations, but the guidelines largely apply to all websites.
When you get to searching online, there is a huge number of finance organisations online and many criminals who create fake websites that sometimes look exactly like the ones for genuine businesses.
How do you tell which websites are genuine and which are fake?
The starting point is to ignore unsolicited emails, text messages, cold calls etc. – these are very likely to be fake and should be discarded.
1. Does the website have the correct Internet address e.g. marksandspencer.com rather than markandspencer.com or markandsspencer.com etc. Scammers often pick Internet addresses very similar to famous company websites and copy those websites.
2. Does the website have correctly spelled, well written text and quality pictures? Scammers sometimes copy genuine sites but often they don’t bother and just put badly created stuff on screen to con people who don’t check at all.
3. Major grammatical errors that suggest the website text wasn’t written by a professional copywriter.
4. Most businesses will also feature images of their products, so check if any pictures fit in with the rest of the site and haven't just been added at random to fill space.
5. If an offer looks too good to be true – it’s FAKE.
More Detailed Checks
If you want to check more thoroughly whether a website is genuine then you need to spend a little more time. Try the following:-
1. Check the Internet Address
Scammers sometimes create duplicate sites with just a tiny change to the address, hoping to catch out the inobservant e.g. "Amaz0n" or "N1ke".
Domain extensions like ".biz" and ".info" are not generally used by large retailers or financial institutions. Also “.ru” means a Russian based website and these are frequently used by scammers.
2. Look at Basic Content
Lots of misspellings and poor grammar are a give-a-way it was written by a scammer and possibly translated from another language.
Poor quality photos and graphics, bad layout, mismatching colours etc all indicate lack of effort at production of the website.
3. Check the Trust Badges
A trust badge is a symbol placed on a website to indicate it is trustworthy as determined by the giver of the trust badges e.g. McAfee Secure, BBB Accredited Business, TrustWave, SecurityMetrics andVerified Merchant.
They have various criteria that must be met in order to get the trust badges, but many scammers simply copy them to their websites so you need to check the website of the trust badges and see if the relevant website is listed as trusted.
If as soon as you open the webpage, it is redirected to another address, that can indicate a problem although it does sometimes happen for legitimate reasons.
5. Check the Company
Scammers tend to either not bother making registered companies or they make one, use it then cancel it quickly.
You can check records of registered companies at Companies House online. (https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company)
If a company doesn’t exist then assume it a scam or if the company name is new then it may be a scam.
You can learn a lot by calling a company. If there are no contact phone numbers then maybe there is no real company. If you get a professional response then you can ask questions to seek reassurance that it is a valid business.
6. User Reviews
There are lots of popular review websites that share user experiences, both about the quality of customer service and products, and warning against scams. These include:
If the reviews are positive and realistic then that’s a good indication of a safe company to deal with.
7. Check Anti-Scam Services
There are a number of web sites that you can use to check if a web site has malicious content.
Open the Google Transparency Report webpage at https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing
Click the "Search by URL" field. It's in the middle of the page.
VirusTotal’s free website security checker at www.virustotal.com/gui/home/url inspects sites using 70 antivirus scanners and URL/domain blacklisting services to detect various types of malware and other computer threats.