Phishing, smishing, email scams, dating scams, fraud, hacking–the realm of cybercrime has become more prevalent and sophisticated than ever before. Fake websites, designed to look exactly like the brands they mimic, have become honeypots for unsuspecting people lured there to enter their details and fall victim to scammers.

As cybercriminals continue to exploit individuals, it is crucial to stay informed and equipped with the knowledge to identify these deceptive websites, says Simon Campbell-Young, co-founder of Digimune.

“If you know what to look for, you can identify and avoid most fake websites,” he explains. “However, if a person has clicked on a realistic-looking email that tells them their bank account has been hacked or frozen, they will think out of fear, rather than logic. They don’t inspect the site. They click the link, enter their details, and that’s it – they’ve been caught.”

Cybercriminals are skilled at using advanced technology and tools to create fake websites that appear genuine, even to the shrewdest internet user. These fake websites are intentionally designed to be as realistic as possible, down to the URL, which may initially seem authentic.

“Scammers rely on us not noticing the subtle differences in the URL or the site’s design. Believing it to be real, we unknowingly enter our login information, giving the scammers access to our actual accounts,” explains Campbell-Young. “Once they gain access, their first action is usually to change your password on the legitimate website, effectively locking you out of your own account permanently.”

To make matters worse, even legitimate websites can fall victim to malware infections. There are various ways in which websites can become infected, such as through vulnerabilities in their code or by being compromised through hacking attacks. Once a website is infected, it can harbour viruses or scripts that run automatically when you visit the site. These malicious elements are designed to capture any information you enter, putting your sensitive data at risk.

However, there are ways to protect yourself from these risks. Campbell-Young suggests following a simple checklist to verify every website before entering any personal information.

* If you clicked on a link to visit a website, carefully analyse the source of the link and examine the domain name and URL. This will help you quickly determine if the URL does not belong to the company that the website claims to be. Pay attention to small spelling mistakes, added letters, or punctuation errors in the URL.

* Check the SSL or TLS certificate in the top left-hand corner of the URL bar. Click on the certificate to verify its validity. The little padlock symbol theoretically means a site is safe, but remember, it can be manipulated. Therefore, relying solely on the padlock is not enough to determine a website’s authenticity.

* Make sure to check the website thoroughly and take a look at the About Us or Information pages. Often any content that seems poorly written or does not sound right will be a dead giveaway. Also, verify the contact information provided on the website to ensure it’s authentic.

* Use intelligent tools such as Norton Safe Search and Norton Anti-Virus Protection that provide secure browsing and real-time security against various threats such as malware, online scams, fake websites, and phishing emails.

Because of the increasing prevalence and sneakiness of cybercrime, it’s crucial for users to prioritise their security in order to avoid falling victim to fraud. According to Statista, there has been a significant rise in attacks since the pandemic, with an alarming surge of up to 400 000 unique phishing websites in the latter half of 2021.

“The consequences of falling prey to these scams are too costly,” says Campbell-Young.

A report from 2022 reveals that consumers lost approximately $5.8 billion to fraud the previous year. A South African survey found consumers are losing an average of R14,253 per transaction because of banking app fraud. “Implementing protective measures and staying vigilant against these risks is not just about safe browsing; it also makes financial sense.”