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.
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.
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.