5. March 2021 | Service tips

Beware: fake shop - how to unmask fraudulent online shops

Online shopping instead of shopping on the high street. It's not just since the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic that consumers have preferred relaxed online shopping to bricks-and-mortar retail. But among all the official online shops and sales platforms on which shoppers can fulfil their every wish, ranging from designer clothes and handbags to luxury watches or high-tech gadgets, there are also plenty of fake shops on the internet.

It's not easy to spot these fake shops. Sometimes consumers may think they are shopping on a brand's official website, but are in fact looking at a copy of that website. The fraudsters sell fake, low-quality goods at original prices and pretend to have delivery problems in order to stall buyers when the goods don't arrive. Because these online shops look very professional thanks to product images and descriptions copied straight from the web, consumers often have no doubts about the authenticity of the merchant involved. In our guide we show you how you can detect fake shops and protect yourself.

Has somebody moved house? Check the web address

If the address shows inconsistencies, for instance due to an unusual domain extension, you should take a closer look. For example, instead of ".de" it might say ".de.com". However, these discrepancies are often difficult to identify, because endings such as ".com/de" are not unusual for online shops and can distinguish the German website of a company with international operations.

No choice? Payment methods need diversity

Initially such fake sites may offer consumers a choice of payment options, such as by credit card, Paypal or bank transfer. However, when it comes to finalising the purchase, the choice narrows down to a single option: payment in advance. In this case you should refrain from making a purchase. Even if it is not a fake shop, "money first, goods later" is the most consumer-unfriendly option. You can find out here which payment methods are available for online shopping and which ones are particularly secure.

When a bargain isn't a bargain: beware of offers that look too good to be true

Not every special offer has a fake shop behind it, and of course not every fake shop can be revealed by offers that are too cheap. But if a shop offers a lot of products at suspiciously low prices, caution is advised. After all, as soon as a bargain beckons, shoppers often jump at it without taking a closer look, especially when it comes to particularly in-demand products such as branded luxury goods or electronic devices.

Certified and approved? Check seals of approval

Seals of quality are intended to inspire trust. However, fake shops often use fictitious seals of approval or adorn themselves with awards without ever having acquired the corresponding certificate. If clicking on the seal of approval doesn't take you to the website of the body which issued the seal, you should immediately be suspicious. For more information on what constitutes a reputable seal of approval you can click here.

Don't follow the lemmings: reviews should be carefully scrutinised

Especially when it comes to high-priced products, customer reviews are an important decision-making criterion for consumers. Although it is always advisable to gather information about a product in forums or test reports, reviews found in the online shop itself can also be helpful. However, you should be suspicious if a product only has five-star ratings or if the praise is excessive. For example, do some research in forums to find out what experiences other buyers have had with the product or shop in question. You can find out how to find your way through the maze of online reviews by checking here.

Get out your magnifying glass: it pays to read the T&Cs

Nobody enjoys reading pages and pages of terms and conditions. However, especially if you are feeling suspicious, it's worth taking a look at the small print. A clear warning sign is ungrammatical terms and conditions that have obviously been run through a translation programme. In this case - or if the T&Cs are missing altogether - you should avoid buying anything from this shop.

Be formal: take a look at the legal notice

No legal notice, no purchase. A complete legal notice contains contact details such as an email address and a telephone number that customers can contact, as well as a complete address for the company and a named authorised representative. Shops based in Germany must also include a reference to the commercial register and the corresponding number.

What to do if you have become the victim of a fake shop

If you have already paid in advance, contact your bank as soon as possible to recover the payment. How much time you have depends on the time of day and day of the week of your purchase, as well as your bank's policies. In the worst case, stopping a payment is only possible for a few hours or even seconds after the purchase. Payments by direct debit, on the other hand, can be reversed up to eight weeks after collection. In any case, document and save all receipts, i.e. the purchase contract, the order confirmation as well as a screenshot of the offer and, if applicable, emails sent to you by the online merchant. If you have fallen for an offer from a fake shop, this is a criminal offence of fraud. In any case you should have your case checked by a consumer advice centre and file a criminal complaint if necessary.