Small Firms Lose Thousands to Business Website Fraudsters

How to spot a business website design scam: Internet Scambusters #883

Business websites are an important way of promoting a venture and selling products, especially for small and newly founded businesses.

Scammers know this and pose as website designers to steal their cash. Or they target the designers themselves with fake orders and advance fee fraud.

In this week’s issue, we’ll tell you how the crooks operate and how you can spot them before they get your money.

Let’s get started…


Small Firms Lose Thousands to Business Website Fraudsters


If you’re self-employed, you probably either have a business website or have been convinced that you need one to help promote your service or product.

True. But where do you go to get a good website that makes the right statement about you and your business?

If you’re lucky, you already have enough basic skills to tackle it yourself, especially as there are now so many templates and simple software programs to help.

But if that’s not you, or you don’t have the time, you’ll likely turn to professionals to do the job for you. And there are plenty of them out there.

But beware. There are also a lot of scam artists claiming to be website designers and developers who generally don’t know the first thing about creating a site. They just want your money.

The National Consumers League (NCL) recently reported receiving dozens of complaints from people — individuals and businesses — who have fallen victim to this kind of website fraud.

For example, the owner of a small clothing business in Texas said they’d paid $5,000 upfront for a website, complete with online shopping, to be built within seven days. That’s a pretty tight timetable for a complete, functional e-commerce site.

And so it proved. One month later, the business owner was still waiting. After unsuccessfully trying to contact the so-called developer both by email and phone, the owner realized they had lost their money.

“Sadly, we have received dozens of complaints detail(ing) similar stories with small business owners reporting losses from $2,500 to as much as $50,000,” says NCL.

Avoidance Actions

However, applying a little commonsense can help most would-be site owners from falling victim to this scam:

  • For a start, the old adage that says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” is the first rule to apply. That might apply to the Texas example we mentioned, where the crook promised to deliver in an incredibly short time. It’s also common to come across a scammer who’s promising to provide a fantastic site for a knock-down price. By doing some research and comparing prices and times, you should be able to identify these crooks. If you go for low and fast, you’re probably heading into a scam.
  • You can also find out what others are saying about the firms you’re considering. If they don’t have any reviews, be extremely wary. You can ask the potential provider for client references but be sure those references are genuine.
  • Check the firm’s own website. Does it look good? Are there spelling and grammar mistakes? And what contact information does it provide? There should be a genuine street address and phone number that you can try before you buy.
  • There are now several websites and organizations that also produce scores and complaint details about all types of creatives — for example: TrustPilot.com or the Better Business Bureau.

Of course, applying all of these measures doesn’t guarantee you won’t get caught out. If that happens to you, you can report it to the NCL, via their Fraud.org website. The organization will then share your complaint with more than 90 law enforcement and consumer protection organizations.

Another Angle on Website Fraud

Genuine website designers and developers are also, themselves, potential victims of scams.

For instance, Austin, Texas, designer Alex Wright recently reported receiving multiple potential orders that, he says, had enough weird similarities to trigger alarm bells.

These come-ons often conceal advance fee scams (sometimes called third-party payout scams), which frequently target creative professionals.

The typical pattern is to receive a work order, followed by a fake check, part of which has to be forwarded as a money transfer to a supposed third party. In other cases, the crook uses a stolen credit card to make the payment, with the same request for a money transfer to someone such as a project manager, who is really the scammer.

Either way, the victim ends up out of pocket, sometimes to the tune of several thousand dollars.

The money-wiring request is the first, well-known sign of a scam. You should never wire money to someone you don’t know because where it ends up is untraceable.

A second red flag, says Wright, is that the scammer may mention a budget upfront. This is highly unusual, he says, because clients normally play their budget cards pretty close to their chests.

And a third warning sign is if the supposed client provides too much detail in the first request. In this case, they’re trying to make their request much more legitimate by going into great detail.

Usually they copy and paste descriptions from other legitimate work-commissioning sites. In one case, a scammer actually sent Wright a sitemap of how he wanted his website to be structured.

Red flag number 4 is the usual one about poor English, often lacking punctuation and using the wrong tenses for verbs — or containing misspellings.

Other potential warning signs are:

  • The potential client claims to be running a business but uses a generic email address such as those from Gmail or Yahoo.
  • You receive several similar requests, using the same kind of language and providing very similar amounts of information.
  • If you submit a bid, it is enthusiastically accepted without any negotiation or requests for further clarification or time scales.

You can read Wright’s full report here: Avoid Web Design Scams. It includes a whole host of examples of the type of messages the scammers use.

So, whether you want a business website or you design them, be very wary before committing any of your time and money.

Alert of the Week

Do you have an account with the ride-sharing service Uber? If so, watch out for a call asking you to verify your log-in credentials.

It’s a straightforward ID theft phishing scam. The crooks may even send a message by text with a link to a phony sign-on page.

Uber never requests account verification by phone. And if the sign-on page isn’t at this address — https://www.uber.com/global/en/sign-in/ — then it’s a scam.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.