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Global Economy

Unmask fake shops with one click

At first glance, they look like legitimate offers. But those who buy from fake shops usually never see their money again. The operators can usually not be traced because they work with forged or stolen data, or because they are located far away on other continents. The consumer center NRW assumes that with just one fake shop, depending on the degree of professionalism, millions in sales can be achieved. Huge harm to consumers.

And it can get even worse: some fake shop operators steal the identities of their buyers. They then sometimes use the data that consumers enter when ordering for their own purposes. For example, to shop with this data yourself. But the bill ends up with the original fake shop customer, warns the consumer center, for example.

Scammers becoming more professional

Identifying fake shops is difficult, they are now mass-produced on the Internet. "We work with professional templates from which fake shops can be created within minutes," says Oliver Havlat, who heads the "Fake Shop Finder" project at the NRW consumer advice center: "These templates are becoming more and more perfect." According to Havlat, fake shops can no longer be recognized by poorly translated texts or the lack of an imprint: "You have to check a large number of criteria in order to get an idea of the trustworthiness of the shop."

The consumer advice center now offers users help with their "Fake Shop Finder". "First, the fake shop finder compares the domain, i.e. the Internet address of the shop that the user entered, with the database of already checked Internet addresses in the fake shop finder itself," the expert explains the process. In addition, it is compared with the most important fake shop lists and lists of real shops. "In addition to checking whether there is an imprint and the EU dispute settlement notice on the shop pages, the fake shop finder also checks how old the domain is and when it was last changed, whether there is a VAT ID on the shop page specified and whether this ID is also valid."

In addition, the finder collects the shop's ratings from the most important rating platforms and checks certain technical features in the source text that consumers themselves can hardly check. "From all the results, the fake shop finder then calculates the probability of whether it is a fake shop or not," says Havlat. The offer is available on the website.

Funding from the state

The state of North Rhine-Westphalia funded the development of the fake shop finder with 250,000 euros. "Consumers need an independent and easy-to-use way to quickly check whether the online shop they want to shop in is possibly a fake shop," a ministry spokesman explains the state's subsidy.

In any case, consumers should observe rules when shopping online. The most important thing is to check the offer for plausibility, recommends the consumer advice center. "Is that really a realistic price for the product I'm interested in? If I compare prices and a shop stands out with an extremely low price, that should make me suspicious. Especially when it comes to a product that is sometimes sold elsewhere is no longer available," says Havlat.

Pay attention to reviews

The expert also recommends paying attention to ratings on external platforms: "Trustedshops and Trustpilot are only the largest, there are numerous others. Does the shop have a seal from such a platform and is the seal also linked to the shop's profile on the rating platform ?It should be if it's real."

And: If there are only 5-star ratings, then that is unrealistic. Other points can be: Is there an imprint? And is there the address given there and a direct contact option, for example by telephone or at least by e-mail?

And finally: "What we always advise is to take a look at the available payment options," says Oliver Havlat. "In the case of fake shops, various payment options are often initially offered on the website. Later, in the ordering process, only payment in advance is left. If that's the case, we advise: stay away."

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