The Tells of a Dodgy Online Retailer

Online shopping – especially bargain hunting – is becoming a popular alternative to traditional retail. While many popular websites do have your best interest in mind, there are some dodgy salesmen out there who are only concerned with making a quick buck. These modern day snake-oil salesmen disguise themselves as outstanding businesses offering rare deals and low prices, and unless you know hot to spot them you could fall for the hustle. Today we explain seven easy ways to spot cyber criminals trying to cheat you out of money.

Check Wholesale Prices Of The Item

One of the quickest ways to spot a shady online huckster is to make a realistic assessment of the “rock-bottom deal” you think you’ve found. There’s a lot to be said for bargain hunting, but you should always be cautious when a website is the only one of its kind to have the item listed for 90% off. Generally speaking, there is a wholesale cost of the item on top of which retailers (both online and off) add their own profit margin. Therefore, the absolute lowest you should ever see an expensive, big-ticket item is at its wholesale cost.

No retailer wants to take a huge loss on costly electronics or designer fashion. The lesson to be learned – If Versace sunglasses cost $500.00 from the Versace warehouse, and $600.00 everywhere else, stay far away from the small website claiming to have authentic pairs for $45.00.

Check Online Customer Reviews

When in doubt, check for testimonials. No – we don’t mean the testimonials that appear on the retailer’s website, as these can easily be forged by the website owner. Instead, go onto Google and search for the name of the retailer you are hesitant to buy from. If they have a history of ripping people off, you can bet there are some angry enough to rant about them online. Read through forums or blogs that contain mention of the retailer and see if the customers have either good or awful things to say about their experience.

Additionally, you can check out the reviews on Sitejabber, to see what other customers are saying about any particular online business. If the site you are scrutinizing is a scammy company, there is a good chance someone has already reported them on Sitejabber.

Unless You Subscribed To It, Ignore It

Some legitimate online retailers let shoppers choose to receive offers from them in the future – a safe and useful practice when you find a store that sells stuff you really like. However all too often we receive emails from retailers we’ve never heard of telling us of the amazing deals they offer on their site. Sometimes these could be referrals from a retailer you do subscribe to, but other times they come from fly-by night scammer looking to make a quick buck from some unsolicited email.

These people use programs (or even manual labor) to prowl across the Internet and harvest massive lists of email addresses from anywhere they might exist. Your Facebook profile, forums you may have written on, your blog – if your email is out there, it isn’t hard for dedicated sellers to find it. A safe rule of thumb is: if you didn’t ask for it, just ignore it. If you are still captivated by the contents of the message and have special reason to believe it might be from a legitimate source, run the accompanying website through the other checks in this article to see how it fares.

Improper Use of Grammar and Spelling

This tell is one you need to use some judgement on, after all even the Sears catalogue contains an occasional typo. However, frequent spelling mistakes and consistently poor use of grammar are signs that whoever wrote the content is probably from outside of the country, or took very little time proof reading what was written. In either case, very few (if any) reliable, legitimate online enterprises would allow flagrant disregard for the English language on their home page. If you encounter this, run.

Check Out the WHOIS Profile

This is an old-school tell, yet few people think to check it out before trusting a new online retailer. A WHOIS profile is a public record of information that anyone who buys a website address must fill out. Many people with nothing to hide fill them out with truthful information. However a surefire tell of a shady website is a corresponding WHOIS profile that contains clearly fake information (such a listing 555-5555 as a phone number, or Fred Flinstone as the Web Administrator).

Alternatively, some website owners choose to hide their WHOIS information using a privacy guard, such as PrivacyPost. There are a number of totally clean businesses who use PrivacyPost for reasons other than scamming people, however it should serve as a warning sign when you cannot even contact the people you are about to send money to.

In order to look up a WHOIS profile, simply visit and key in the web address.

Avoid Payment By Western Union or MoneyGram

You should never purchase items online that require you to pay with instant wire transfers like Western Union or MoneyGram. Credit card payments and PayPal transfers are all easily trackable, and thus avoided by scammers – not so with Western Union. As privacy advocacy blog “” explains, “These money wiring services don’t require your bank details like Paypal or escrow services do, and can’t be traced to a verified receivers address like when accepting credit or debit payments. Additionally, you can pick up your money from anywhere in the world that has the respective store, making it a scammers paradise.”

Ask yourself why a company in 2010 cannot find a way to accept a credit card. This tell is one that should be heeded under almost all circumstances unless you have indisputable reason to believe you are safe.

Check Privacy Seals and Certifications

Privacy seals usually appear at the bottom of a page, or during the onset of the checkout process, and provide reassurance that the company you are dealing with does not resell your credit card information or attempt to rip you off.

Common privacy certifications come from Verisign, TrustArc, and the Better Business Bureau. These seals can be a positive signal about the quality of an online business, but be aware that some scammers can just rip the privacy seal graphic and paste it on their site without actually being certified, but you can check for this by clicking the seal. Certified websites will show an exclusive certificate provided by the company.