How to spot a scam website

25 January 2011

Clearly it's not that easy to spot a scam website - thousands of ordinary consumers are willing to trust their personal and credit card details to them. When we debunked Splatt at Christmas, it was never one detail that raised suspicion, but several of them. Major retailers make mistakes too, but rarely several at the same time.

This week, avid reader Sam has asked us to investigate MegaSalesOnline.co.uk. We can't say it's an outright scam, but we can say we'd be wary about shopping with them - there are lots of errors and details that make us uncomfortable about the trusting the site.

So what should you look for when you find a retail website offering an insanely good deal?

1. If it's too good to be true, it probably is
Yes, it is possible to ship iPads from the US and sell them as a loss leader in the UK - but you need to stop and think for a moment before buying one. Lots of scam websites use the same tactics to lure in customers, and the most successful is simply to offer a bargain that's hard to resist. Splatt offered massively discounted Uggs and iPads - neither was ever received by the thousands of customers who ordered them.

2. The website looks and feels strangely familiar
This is a simple confidence trick. We've seen several websites that lift design elements from more popular brands; sometimes they'll register a name that sounds confusingly familiar to an existing retailer - it's all to reassure you that you're doing business with a genuine business.

3. Terms and conditions are cut and paste...
Major retailers will pay solicitors thousands of pounds to have their terms drawn up, only for everyone else to rip them off. A quick check of their website will sometimes reveal one or two instances were somebody forgot to change the names.

4. ...and so is the content
One reason we're unsure about MegaSalesOnline.co.uk is that they've lifted some of their content direct from Currys.

Bitterwallet - Mega Sales Online

5. The website's address is a virtual office
Plenty of companies use virtual offices, and it wouldn't be unusual for overseas retailers to establish a UK presence in this way. But if they're using a virtual office as their address for returns, be very wary - you can't operate a warehouse from a virtual office.

6. There's no trading history
A quick Google will either confirm or deny any claims made on the site about trading history, but you should you can also check whether the company exists with Companies House and see how long they've traded for. You can also see when their domain name was registered; any company that starts fiercely promoting itself despite only existing for a month or two is worthy of suspicion.

For example, Splatt claimed to have been trading since 2001, but there wasn't a single article referring to them on the internet - perhaps that's why they deliberately passed themselves off as a company with a similar name that had a trading history.

7. Click their links
You should always be wary of sites that put in the minimum amount of effort into looking genuine. Click all the links on the homepage to see where they lead; many may be inactive - they're only there to look the part. Plenty of sites will offer online customer support, but their chat facility will be frequently or always offline.

8. Use of stock photography

Look at the sites for M&S or Littlewoods, and you'll see tens of thousands of pounds spent on original photography to not only sell the goods but to promote the site. The other guys obviously won't do that, and that's another reason we're dubious about Mega Sales Online - lots of stock photography, very little unique branding. Also, their Facebook group is liked by two people, one who claims to be the company's administrator. Pooja Shah only has 26 friends, a very dubious info page, and a reverse look-up of her profile picture suggests she's also a Bollywood actress.

9. No secure servers
When you enter personal or payment details into a website, you'd usually expect the site to use a secure server, so that your details can't be stolen - you'll see a padlock appear or some other change of state next to the site's domain name. Secure servers cost money, however, so our friends usually won't bother.

10. DIY e-commerce software
There are plenty of free e-commerce packages for small businesses, but you don't expect sites selling items worth several hundred pounds to be using them.
Bitterwallet - Mega Sales Online

11. Google it
If you have a suspicion, chances are other people have first-hand experience, so Google the name of the company plus the word "scam" or "complaints" to see what others are saying. If it is a scam, you'll usually find a lot of activity in forums like MSN or HotUKDeals.

TOPICS:   Complaints   Scams

24 comments

  • Jabbaman
    Interesting whois gives you this : whois megasalesonline.co.uk Domain name: megasalesonline.co.uk Registrant: Saqib Hameed Registrant type: Unknown Registrant's address: 29th Floor One Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5DY United Kingdom and first hit on google for that address points to a company called Regus.com. They seem to specialise in "virtual offices" All very fishy if you ask me... Why use a virtual office if you've (supposedly) got a dirty big warehouse somewhere firing out the goods ?
  • Daniel
    Nice article.
  • Paul S.
    That in itself isn't wholly suspicious - it may be that the management are based in virtual offices and the warehouse is elsewhere. In the case of Splatt, the returns address was a virtual office - which was suspicious. As I said, it's usually several issues, never just one - in the case MegaSalesOnline, we're unsure about the business because it's a newly registered company in virtual offices, with copy lifted from other retail sites and a name very similar to existing retail sites, no secure registration and a Bollywood actress working as administrator.
  • Paul
    @Paul Smith Order an iPhone from the site and if it doesn't arrive then we'll know if it's a legit organisation
  • The B.
    I just google it, if I can't find any reviews either way then I avoid, oh and I check WHOIS.
  • M4RKM
    this line on the site makes it really really dubious CUSTOMERS NOTICE: We are not accepting payments due to high volume of orders. Please call back by the end of Jan or you may reserve your product and we will process it in the first week of February upon receipt of the payment. --- I've never known any online retailer to shut shop because of a high volume of orders... Weird huh?
  • Smart A.
    I'd like you to investigate your own website please. When i click the links under 'The Bitter Wallett Team' most just take me straight back to the home page. Only a certain Mr Andy Dawson has a photo and he's a very strange looking individual indeed. Further investigation reveals that 'Paul Smith' is in fact a successful, yet totally unhumorous fashion designer. I doubt very much he'd find time to run a website such as this; he's probably balls deep in some supermodel somewhere.
  • It s.
    The site looks similar to Domain name: protechshop.co.uk Registrant: Waseem Shahzad Registrant type: Unknown Registrant's address: 28 Frimley Close Croydon CR0 0RB United Kingdom Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. URL: http://www.godaddy.com
  • Somansh
    Well, I think I have managed to get duped by this website. I placed an order with this website for 38 pounds and paid using my debit card. I did get a confirmation e-mail regarding the acceptance of my order but it has been more than a week now since I placed the order and neither did the receive the order nor any intimation about postage of my order or whether they have shipped it or not. I am really worried now. Can anyone please help me with this? Or tell me if there is any way to get my money back or report this incident somewhere with some anti-fraud website? I didn't know about this website and I am an international student so was clueless about this website. Please help me if there is any way out of this.
  • Concernedaswell
    I have e.mailed megasales twice and got no reply. I contacted sage pay - there should be a sage pay reference on your order form. Ring them and they will e.mail on your behalf. I am still waiting to hear from the the company after sage pay has contacted them. So fingers crossed but I am not too optomistic based on what I have read above
  • worried
    same here folks, ive ordered a iphone 3gs (site was found for me by my insurance company as they had none in stock to replace my damaged one). I ordered it last thursday and my card was charged straight away .....however the order is still showing as "processing" today. ive emailed 4 times and got no response. bit lost as to what to do!
  • Somansh
    Hi! Well, 'Concernedaswell' and 'worried' I got my money back!! All you need to do is mail sage pay and register a complaint with them and inform your bank about the fraud. I did the same and got my money back in a matter of a week or so. Also, push sage pay to remove their services from that website since they told me that they haven't got a decent amount of complaints against that website to take an action against them. Also, spread the word about this website in particular and other such websites in general so that no one else gets looted by this cheap website. Just inform your card issuer first and I'm sure you will get your money back just like I did. All the best you guys!
  • worried
    Hi, 'Somansh' i emailed sagepay a registered a complaint a few days back and today i got an email directly from the website (UK Gifts store Ltd) saying my order was cancelled and money had been refunded. I just called my credit card to check if the money had been refunded and it hasnt ....hopefully its just a matter of waiting a few days for the funds to arrive. But it looks promising at least.
  • Bob
    Hi, I have also just received the email from UK Gift store Ltd after contacting sage pay yesterday, it says i have been fully refunded but the money has not yet gone in. Sage pay said they give the supplier a few days to respond before taking action.
  • Andrew
    I have been waiting for a refund for two months, contacted sagepay yesterday with sale details, received an email today from UK Gift Stores stating refund has been made. Contacted my credit card company to see if true, money not yet received but could take a day or two to clear, so am now waiting. Luckily I am insured with the credit card if money does not get refunded. Megasalesonline has been a bad experience so please spread the word to all DO NOT BUY
  • Andrew
    Following on from yesterdays post, I have checked my credit card and still no refund received. Has anyone received a refund through sagepay or are UK Gift stores just flogging off Sagepay. Just because Sagepay is just a secure payment site, surely they should withdraw their service from UK Gift Stores to protect other users.
  • patrick s.
    This is a fraudulent site . I ordered a stereo from it and it never came . The first e-mail said their computer was down and no more were received after that . Please warn as many people as possible not to use this site. Thanks , Patrick.
  • worried
    Hi all, Further to my post on 05/07 just thought I'd let those interested know that I checked my credit card balance today and the refund has been made. @ Andrew - it took about 3/4 working days for my refund so give it till Mon/Tue maybe? In conclusion UK Gifts Store Ltd is an utter scam and had I not contacted sagepay I am sure UK Gifts Store Ltd would have just kept my money and never delivered the item. Stay away ....
  • worried
    Hi all, Further to my post on 05/07 just thought I'd let those interested know that I checked my credit card balance today and the refund has been made. @ Andrew - it took about 3/4 working days for my refund so give it till Mon/Tue maybe? In conclusion UK Gifts Store Ltd is an utter scam and had I not contacted sagepay I am sure UK Gifts Store Ltd would have just kept my money and never delivered the item. Stay away all ....
  • Andrew
    Again an update to my refund. Today a refund was made to my credit card, paid in full. This follows sagepay contacting UK Gift Stores. They replied promptly to sagepay saying that the refund has been' successful' and quoting the transaction number. It took two days for this to show on my account. The reply from UK Gift Stores was from [email protected] If this was a credible company surly the email address would not be like that. I have a possible theory that this company is taking orders, receiving the money, earning interest on that money and then finally refunding it when it suits them, causing much anxiety and distress to innocent hard working members of the public.
  • Omar
    I alos 'bought' a mobile phone from those folks. Reported to Sage Pay and just completed report to police www.actionfraud.org.uk Besides, Sage Pay now (finally!) claimed that they have closed account for that company. I would suggest that anybody suffering from same kind of lets be honest - crime should report it to police to get things sorted and prevent other people of becoming a victims.
  • Jack
    Folks, same as above. Protechshop.co.uk immediately took the money and I've heard nothing since. tried contacting them by phone (per number on invioce) - number out of order. No replies to various emails. Would strongly advise not to use this site.
  • fare o.
    I feel that is among the so much important info for me. And i am happy reading your article. However should observation on few normal things, The site style is perfect, the articles is truly nice : D. Excellent activity, cheers
  • Hostgator
    You are really a good webmaster. The site loading speed is amazing. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. Also, The contents are masterwork. you've done a fantastic process on this subject!

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