Fake adverts: how to spot them and protect yourself
As long as the internet has been live, scams have plagued users
Phishing, ransomware, and fake online stores are some of the more well-known scams. But recently, fake adverts have come to the fore. In 2020, a Which survey found scam adverts had tricked one in 10 people. Only 35% of respondents trusted ads on social media feeds as a result. Worryingly, 42% were unable to tell whether an ad was fake.
The government’s impending Online Safety Bill is set to cover fake advertisements. Yet you should still get smart to them in the meantime. Learn how to spot them in this guide.
1. Check the domain name
Before you click on an ad, check that the name of the domain it links to is legitimate. An eBay advert, for instance, should point to https://www.ebay.co.uk/, not ebbay.co.uk, eebay.com, or any other similar URL. Scammers often take over these similarly named sites to trick skim-surfing web users.
2. Do some research
If you have never heard of the domain name before, search for the name (not the URL) online. Use keywords like ‘is X legitimate’ and so forth. These should bring up results and discussions between other web users. It will let you know whether to trust the site or not.
3. Trust your instincts
You can often spot fake ads a mile away. Check if the language of the advert is what you would expect. Are there spelling or grammar errors? Is the imagery not relevant or of poor quality? Is there an over-reliance on stock imagery? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, the ad may be fake and is best left alone.
4. Preview the true URL
A really simple way of checking the authenticity of an ad is to look at the exact URL. Hover over the ad on the desktop, and the URL should appear at the bottom of your browser. If it’s a long and confusing list of characters and numbers, it’s likely to be fake.
5. Download a VPN
Using a virtual private network (VPN) can protect you online and enhance your privacy. They work by directing your internet connection through an encrypted and secure server. Malware is then unable to attack you, and bad actors cannot access your data.
To get the benefits, download free vpn extension or whichever browser you use while on your phone or PC. Make an account, log in, then fire up the VPN for protection.
6. Report it!
Most social media sites offer a way to report fraudulent adverts. Report any that you think are fake – you’ll be doing other internet users a big favour!