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The Risks of Copy-Cat Websites


Recognizing and avoiding online scams, such as look-alike or counterfeit websites, is vital for safe internet use. These deceptive sites are designed to look almost identical to legitimate websites, tricking unsuspecting users into providing personal information or making purchases. Interacting with copy-cat websites unknowingly can prove to be risky. In order to stay safe online, learn how to spot these look-alike websites with the tips below.

What Are Spoofed Websites and Their Risks?

Spoofed websites are fraudulent sites that mimic the appearance of legitimate ones. They often replicate the design, logo, and even URL of well-known websites to deceive users into believing they are on a trusted site. The primary risks associated with spoofed websites include:

  • Theft of personal information: These sites often aim to collect your personal details, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.
  • Financial loss: If you make a purchase on a spoofed website, you may never receive the goods or services you paid for. 
  • Identity theft: Information stolen from spoofed websites can be used to commit identity theft and other types of fraud.
  • Malware infection: Some spoofed websites may install malicious software on your device, compromising your security further.

How You Might Encounter Spoofed Websites

Spoofed websites can appear in various ways during your online activities. While it's often difficult to recognize the fake advertising or search result, being able to trace back how you ended up at that website could help with determining how safe the site is. 

  • Facebook Marketplace ads: Scammers often use social media platforms to promote fraudulent websites with enticing offers. Extremely high discount percentages or items that pertain to a recent online search are intended to make you curious enough to click their link. Anyone can purchase an ad on Facebook and scammers are well-versed in how to avoid detection from any screening processes.
  • Google search results: While these results won't often be on the first page of search results, those who are seeking out hard to find (or high priced) items may find themselves looking at more than those top suggested websites in an attempt to find a deal. Scammers can use current shopping trends to lure people to their fake websites, so be aware when looking for that hot item that's selling out everywhere.
  • Phishing emails: Scammers may send emails with amazing sales discounts, prompting you to click on a link that leads to a spoofed website. Even if the email appears to come from a legitimate company, avoid using links in their email. Instead, always access their websites via bookmarked links or searching for their official website. If the offer you were notified of is valid, they will be promoting it on their website.

How to Ensure You Are on a Valid Website

To protect yourself from spoofed websites, always verify the legitimacy of the site you are visiting:

  • Check the URL: Ensure the web address is correct. Look for slight misspellings or extra characters in the URL.
  • Look for HTTPS: A legitimate website should have a URL starting with "https://" and a padlock symbol in the address bar, indicating a secure connection.
  • Verify contact information: Legitimate websites will have clear contact information, including a physical address and customer service phone number.
  • Beware of deals that are too good to be true: Extremely low prices or unbelievable discounts are often red flags. 

What Happens If You Fall for a Spoofed Website?

If you accidentally make a purchase on a spoofed website, you may experience several negative consequences, including:

  • False purchase error notifications: The financial institution you use for payment might catch the fraud before the purchase goes though. That failed payment may trigger an email stating that your purchase did not go through, prompting you to provide your payment information again. 
  • Additional scam attempts: Scammers might email you with more "offers" or demands for payment. By using your email address they can send you emails from other spoofed websites that are under their control, disguising their scam under a different name.
  • Non-delivery of goods: You may never receive the items you ordered or the items that arrive will be counterfeit, not what you ordered, or damaged. Some scam websites will send something, to attempt to fight against any chargeback claims by stating they shipped your item.
  • Further fraud: Your payment information could be used for additional fraudulent transactions.

What to Do If You Purchased from a Copy-Cat Website

If you believe you have encountered a spoofed website or fallen victim to one, it's crucial to act quickly:

  • Contact your financial institution: If you used an account associated with First Northern Credit Union, call us immediately for assistance in securing your account and reporting the fraud. If you used any other form of payment, reach out to them by using the number on the back of your card. If you have the ability to freeze your card through a mobile app, consider that option to prevent further fraud while you wait to talk to any customer support.
  • Report the site to the FTC: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can investigate and take action against fraudulent websites.

Staying informed and cautious can help you avoid the pitfalls of spoofed websites. Always double-check the authenticity of websites before making any transactions to protect your personal and financial information.

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