How to spot a fake website in South Africa

 ·27 Aug 2023

Cybercrime is becoming increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, with fake websites bringing in unsuspecting victims to scammers.

Simon Campbell-Young, co-founder of Digimune, a distributor of Norton antivirus software, said that South Africans must remain informed to identify deceptive websites.

“If you know what to look for, you can identify and avoid most fake websites,” Campbell-Young said.

“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.”

Fake websites are designed to look as real as possible, with even the URL seeming 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,” Campbell-Young said.

“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.”

Legitimate websites can also become victims of malware infections through vulnerabilities in their coding or being compromised via hacking attacks.

If a website is infected, it can contain viruses or scripts that run automatically when the site is visited, capturing any sensitive information that is entered.

With this in mind, Campbell-Young has provided a checklist to verify that a website is legitimate before entering your personal information:

  • 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 insufficient 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 on the website to ensure it’s authentic.

  • Use intelligent tools such as Safe Search and Antivirus Protection. These tools provide secure browsing and real-time security against various threats such as malware, online scams, fake websites, and phishing emails.

“The consequences of falling prey to these scams are too costly,” he said.

South Africa has seen a significant increase in cybercrimes in recent years, with the Sophos’ The State of Ransomware in South Africa 2023 report noting that 78% of South African organisations faced a ransomware attack last year – higher than the average 66% recorded amongst global respondents.

Furthermore, in South Africa, the increased intensity of load shedding and the new work-from-home methods have elevated the amount of cybercrime.

Read: New agreement to crack down on cybercrime and corruption in South Africa

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