Scammers and Spoofed Websites

Scammers and Spoofed Websites

You’ve possibly seen a number of spoofed websites while browsing on the internet without realizing what they were. Today’s cyber criminals are becoming much more sophisticated, and it’s very important to be able to identify these bogus sites to protect your identity, credit cards, bank accounts, and possessions.

Website Spoofing

Website spoofing is the act of creating a fake website to impersonate a personal, e-commerce, banking, business, or organizational site. 

It often looks very similar to the actual one, copying some or all of the design, colors, fonts, layout, images, and logos to look legitimate. The URL can also be nearly identical, with just a character substitution, or it can combine a company and brand name to appear genuine. Sometimes only the letters at the end of the address are different from the company name (for instance, “.co” instead of “.com”).

In other cases, a template or a different site design is used. If the spoofer wants to target more sites offering the same service or information, he can copy the first site and make some minor changes, such as the URL and contact number.

Many spoofed websites can appear authentic, at first glance. They can even have a padlock in the address bar, indicating the website owner obtained a security certificate referred to as SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), or TLS (Transport Layer Security) encryption. TLS is the later version of SSL, although both terms are used. The URL with a security certificate will begin with https://.

The padlock only tells you that a website sends and receives information from your browser over an encrypted connection. It doesn’t tell you the site is legitimate. In 2015, less than half a percent of spoofed sites had a padlock icon. Now, over half of all spoofed sites have one. Criminals are highly motivated to provide padlocks today because major browsers will display a “not secure” warning in the address bar for sites without TLS encryption.

How to Recognize a Spoofed Website

There are still ways to tell if a website is fake:

  • The URL is misspelled with an extra or substituted letter or character, or is quite long.
  • There are spelling mistakes, obvious grammar errors, incorrect punctuation, and awkward or strange sentences.
  • The website has contradictory information. For instance, it lists a Texas phone number but refers to “New Yorkers” in the content.
  • Often, the spoofed site is missing identifying pages. Most legitimate sites will have basic pages, such as “About us” or “Contact us”. A missing “About us” page should raise a red flag because legitimate companies want you to know who they are. Missing contact information is also an indicator of a spoofed site. There should at least be a physical address, a phone number (preferably a landline), and an email address. If there’s only a cell phone number and no other way to contact them, watch out!
  • There are no pages showing legal information such as a privacy policy and a disclosure section on how data is collected, stored, and shared.
  • Very few or no reviews, either on the site or elsewhere on review sites.

Appliance Repair Scams

Appliance repair companies are often the target of scammers using spoofed websites. When something goes wrong with a major appliance, the homeowner searches the internet for a company that repairs their brand. When he lands on a site that looks reputable, he either fills out a contact form with his email, address, and phone number, or calls the number on the site.

Either method results in a phone call with the company representative, who assures the person they’ll take care of the repair. The representative schedules an appointment, often the next day, and gets personal information that includes a credit or debit card number. A small service fee is charged right away that is supposed to get deducted from the final repair bill.

Calls to the fake service provider can have a number of possible outcomes:

  • The repairman doesn’t show up, and the company either doesn’t answer phone calls, or “has no record of the appointment”. The homeowner is out the up-front service fee, and the scammer has his financial information.
  • The company sends out a phony repair person who demands to be paid up front. He then leaves without starting the repair or doesn’t finish it. The customer is then out the service fee and the up-front money.
  • The homeowner leaves the repairman alone, and when he returns the repairman says there’s major damage. The damage has actually been caused by the repairman to inflate the bill.
  • The repairman tells the customer the repair is something very serious, when in fact it’s a simple one. He performs the simple fix and installs unnecessary expensive parts to increase the customer’s costs.
  • The repairman asks the customer to pay up front for a part because it’s a specialty item, hard to get, or on back order, and he wants to get it quickly. Then he either never comes back, or if he does, he asks for more money.
  • The repairman spends a short time on the job but doesn’t install any new parts. He leaves after receiving money for the “service” and doesn’t deduct the initial service fee from the bill.
  • The company sends out a phony repairman without an appointment, who says he’s from the appliance manufacturer. Don’t believe it! Appliance manufacturers don’t send out uninvited “repairmen”. 
  • The repairman claims he’s certified to repair your appliance but has no such certification or even a license. When asked, he claims no license is needed for this repair. His “repair” damages the appliance and voids the warranty. 

How to Avoid Appliance Repair Scams

  1. When you buy your appliance, ask what’s included in the warranty, its length, who makes the repairs, and what fees you’re responsible for during the warranty period. It’s more difficult for criminals to scam you when you have this knowledge.
  2. Use the contact phone number or website address in your warranty paperwork to help locate authorized repair companies in your area. The company you found online should be one of these.
  3. Do your research before hiring a repair company you found on the internet. Contact your local Better Business Bureau, check for any reviews online, and ask for references.
  4. If making payment, use a credit card. The charges can be disputed if a fake company has taken advantage of you.

If You’re a Victim of a Spoofed Website

  1. Stop any credit card payments to scammers and dispute any fraudulent amounts charged.
  2. Cancel any compromised debit or credit cards.
  3. File reports with your local police, Better Business Bureau, and Attorney General of Texas.

The internet is a great way to find products and services quickly but, in the words of Sergeant Esterhaus (for those of us old enough to remember who he is), “let’s be careful out there”.

C&W Appliance Service has been providing the very best in appliance maintenance and repair for more than 60 years. Our toll-free landline number is (855-358-1496). When your major appliances need repair or maintenance, call us or complete our online service request form.

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