Is there a website out there designed to look just like yours? And if so – what does it matter?
Around 18,000 fraudulent websites are built every day, with scammers impersonating and misrepresenting brands. In most cases, these sites are created to trick visitors into inputting their personal and/or financial information and downloading malicious files that could put their computer system at risk. These websites cost businesses and individuals millions of dollars in repair costs, theft, IT charges and lost business. On top of that, a fake website can seriously put your business’ reputation on the line.
Whenever you spot one, the first step is to report a fake website. In this guide, learn how to tell if a website is fake – and how to take it down.
How to identify fake websites
The most common way for bad actors to impersonate a brand’s website is with a technique called “domain name squatting”. This involves registering a domain that’s based on an existing brand name. This is often done cheaply and in a matter of minutes, and once they’re all set up, scammers might use their new domain to copy your branding (images, copy, etc.) and then sell fake products or phish for personal information from unsuspecting visitors.
But how do you know if your company and its customers are at risk?
Firstly, use a domain name lookup tool to search for your domain and similar variations. Head to any websites you find to check them out. This should be something you do proactively and regularly since fake websites can emerge all the time. Don’t have the time to monitor this? Explore online brand protection services to take care of it for you.
When browsing online as a consumer, you should know how to tell if a website is fake. Websites you use often are at risk, with Microsoft, Apple and PayPal being the most impersonated websites.
Before you interact with a website, consider the following:
- Check the domain name – carry out a search to make sure you’re on the official website
- Avoid paying for anything via bank transfer
- If something sounds too good to be true (like huge discounts on luxury items, for example) it probably is
5 steps to take down a fake website permanently
If you find a spoof website with your branding, don’t panic. Learn how to take a website down easily and permanently with these steps.
1. Send a cease and desist letter to the domain registrant
A cease and desist letter should be your first attempt at resolving a conflict. Send one to the site admin or domain registrant (using a domain search service like ICANN or DomainTools) and request that they stop the illegal activity. If you don’t get a response, or get the response you want, move on to the next step.
2. Send a cease and desist letter to the CMS platform
Send a cease and desist letter to the CMS platform the site runs on. This could be WordPress, Shopify, Wix, Webflow or a lesser-known platform. You can also report a fake website to the domain registrar (such as GoDaddy or NameCheap). If the registrar isn’t the host, they might be able to help you track the host down.
3. Provide proof to the web host
When you report a website, web hosts will only remove it if you can provide proof that it’s fraudulent. Send screenshots of things that don’t seem right, such as domain name variations compared with the legitimate domain name, mis-spellings, scam links, false addresses, etc. Remember that web hosts don’t want illegal websites on their platform, so they’ll work with you to take down the site if it’s fake.
4. Be persistent
If at first, a web host refuses to take down a website on the basis of lack of evidence, continue to collect proof. Attempt to engage with the scammer via an online chat if possible, and take screenshots to catch them out.
5. Get in touch with Google
If you’re still having no luck, the next way to take down a website is to report it to Google. Google has a content removal tool that lets you report content, which Google will then investigate and remove if they deem it to be false or illegal.
The most frustrating part about taking down a fake website is knowing the scammer could create another one tomorrow, under a new domain name. Whether protecting your brand from social media impersonators or fake websites – protecting your brand online is something that needs constant attention. The FraudWatch team works 24x7x365 to spot fake websites and damaging accounts. Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can protect you and your business.