Beware of rip-offs: How can I spot fake shops on the internet?

Reading time: 9 minutes


Fake shops are fraudulent online shops that try to rip off customers.

At first glance, they look like normal sales platforms.

They usually offer attractive prices that seem almost too good to be true.

If you order from them, you will receive inferior goods or none at all.

Some fake shops are based in another EU country. However, as there is often no contact information, it is difficult for customers to trace them.

We explain how to spot fake shops and protect yourself from fraud and rip-offs.

Summary: online fake shops

  • With fake shops, you run the risk of receiving counterfeit products or goods of inferior quality.
  • You may also pay for an order and never receive it.
  • Your personal details can be obtained by criminals and used for fraudulent purposes (identity theft, credit card fraud).
  • Many fake shops are impossible to contact if you complain and your money is gone.
  • Victims of fraud should report it to the police immediately.
  • In the case of credit card fraud, contact the bank immediately and cancel the credit card payment via a chargeback.

What are fake shops?

Fake shops usually do not deliver goods or articles of inferior quality despite payment.

However, there are also cases where you can fall into a subscription trap.

What are the techniques used by fake shops?

Dodgy online shops are not always obvious at first glance.

We present the six most common scams used by fake shops.

The fake shop looks like the original online shop

You want to buy a designer Italian jacket and search for it online.

In the search results you see an online shop that looks like the original manufacturer.

You will notice that the prices are too good to be true.

With online shops like this, you run the risk of getting counterfeit products.

If the counterfeit comes from a country outside the EU, you also run the risk of having the counterfeit confiscated by customs.

Free offers turn out to be a paid subscription trap

For example, you have seen free samples of a French perfume online and would like to order them.

The fact that you are signing up for a paid subscription is only mentioned in the small print.

From now on, you will receive regular shipments of goods for which you will have to pay.

Websites with the following content, among others, are often affected by subscription traps:

  • Homework help,
  • Intelligence tests,
  • Recipes,
  • Software downloads,
  • Song lyrics and sheet music download sites,
  • Swap shops

Prepayment by money transfer service or bank transfer.

Be careful if you are asked to pay in advance by money transfer service or bank transfer.

There is a risk that the goods will not be delivered once payment has been made.

If there is no payment option other than prepayment, pay by credit card or direct debit.

You may be able to get your money back under certain circumstances.

Hacked online shop

Sometimes fraudsters infect an online shop with malware and take control of it.

They then use the hacked shop to offer their own products at particularly low prices.

The idea is to encourage customers to buy.

The danger: After payment, no delivery takes place and the money is gone.

Watch out for "typosquatting", which means making minimal changes to the URL.

This includes changing individual letters. So check the internet address carefully.

Dodgy holiday home agents and marketplace companies

You want to rent a holiday home via an online booking portal.

The landlord or landlady then contacts you and offers to handle communication and payment directly with you, rather than through the booking portal.

This is usually done to save on agency fees. Do not agree to this under any circumstances.

You risk that the holiday home does not exist and that you lose your money.

In addition, fraudsters may use your details to commit identity theft, debit your bank account or make purchases in your name.

The same applies to dubious online marketplaces. Again, a common rip-off scam is that you are offered payment away from the platform in order to supposedly save costs.

Online credit card fraud

Although paying by credit card is relatively safe because of the identity check process, there is no 100% protection against credit card fraud.

You should therefore be careful when and where you give out your details.

Especially in fake shops or on websites infected with malware, you run the risk of criminals spying on the information you provide.

  • Check your credit card statements regularly.
  • If there are any irregularities, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.
  • Ask the credit card company if the unauthorised amounts can be charged back.

How can I spot a fake shop?

Dodgy online shops are becoming increasingly professional at misleading consumers.

However, there are some clues that can help you spot a fake shop.

Price is too good to be true

Compare the price with the original brand.

If the offer is too good to be true, better leave it alone.

Free offers

First of all, nothing in life is free. This also applies to the Internet.

So do not be fooled by "free offers".

Read the terms and conditions carefully.

Many scammers like to hide information about a paid subscription in the small print.

Secure payment methods do not work

Avoid paying via money transfer services or instant bank transfers.

If it is a fake shop, the money is gone.

So be wary if the merchant offers several payment methods, but only cash or instant bank transfer works.

Missing or incomplete Legal Notice

Check the imprint before you place an order.

If it is missing or incomplete, this could be a sign of a fake shop.

Compare the address given in the shop with the address of the company's registered office.

You can also use online mapping services to enter the address and check whether the online shop is located at the address given.

You can also use the European Business Register to check the company.

Don't just look for positive feedback

Look at reviews and ratings from other customers.

Be sceptical if there are only positive reviews.

This could be an indication that the good reviews have been bought.

Always read the negative reviews as well.

Bad German on websites

Read the text on the website carefully. Criminals often use translation tools.

If the content contains a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes, this could be a sign of a dubious online shop.

Copied privacy policies with another company's address can also be a red flag.

Data misuse: Requesting personal information

If you are asked for personal information that is not required for a successful transaction, be wary.

For example

If you are asked for your bank details when registering for a newsletter, do not provide them.

Fake and dubious product seals

Check the authenticity and existence of quality labels.

Some of the best-known labels in the EU are Trusted Shops, and the European Trust Mark.

These are common across Europe and stand for quality.

There are many other seals and labels. 

You can find more background information on the quality and assessment criteria of the different labels here.

Have you fallen into the fake shop trap? What you can do

Have you already fallen into the trap and become a victim of online fraud? File a police report immediately.

Take screenshots of the fake shop and make copies of your bank statements.

This will help you to prove any irregularities and account movements.

    Tips for scam victims

    Here are more tips on how to fight back if you have been ripped off:

    • Contact your bank immediately and try to get the money back as soon as possible if you paid for the purchase by bank transfer. Once the money is in the recipient's account, it cannot be reversed and is gone.
    • If you paid by credit card, the credit card company is your contact. Check the different complaint periods and ask for a chargeback. The money will then be credited back to your account.
    • Write to the company if you have fallen into a subscription trap, and object to signing the contract.

    Fake reviews: How to spot dubious reviews on the internet

    The purpose of product reviews is to help consumers make a purchase decision.

    Most online shops use the 5 star system. However, not all reviews are genuine.

    Many dubious shops buy positive reviews to make it look like they are serious.

    So always be sceptical and read both the positive and negative reviews for a product.

    Review sounds like advertising

    Be wary of reviews that sound more like advertisements than real feedback.


    Product launch: many positive reviews in a short time

    If a product is launched and receives many positive reviews in a short period of time, even though the brand is relatively unknown, this may be an indication of fake reviews.


    Check reviewer profiles

    Look at the rating profiles that have rated the product. If the profile has a large number of positive reviews for products in a short period of time, be careful.


    Read reviews carefully

    Be wary of only positive reviews. Many online shops only publish comments with a 5-star rating.

    Some critical users get around this by giving 5 stars, but the review is negative.

    It is worth taking a closer look.

    Read independent test reports

    You can usually find comprehensive test reports on a specific product category.

    These can give you a good overview, especially if you are making a big purchase.

    Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.