Don't let your website seem like a scam - especially when it isn't: a striking example of poor website design:
Internet ScamBusters #36
This month's issue will be a bit different. We have an interesting feature article for those of you who have Web sites about how you can avoid having your visitors perceive your site as a scam. Our colleague, Dan Janal, describes our adventures with an interesting site making a very serious mistake.
But first, a couple of resources and news snippets:
One of the most common questions we get asked when we do radio, newspaper and other media interviews is "what are the best ways to protect yourself against getting scammed online?"
We thought you might be interested in our answer of the three best ways to protect yourself:
- Use common sense. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut feelings - especially when you have a bad feeling about an offer or a company.
- Don't ever respond to a bulk email. At least 95% of these "spams" are scams.
- If you want to buy something at an online auction, always check the references of the seller, and only buy from sellers who have good references. Almost all good auction sites have buyer and seller rating systems. If the item is more expensive than an amount you could comfortably lose, consider using an online escrow service. There is a fee, but it might be worth it to you.
There is an interesting article on the 1999 NFIC Top Ten Telemarketing Frauds:
The Nigerian Fee Scam is being very actively circulated right now. Don't fall for it!
There are a lot of email hoaxes going around. For example, check out this one on bananas. (Yes, you can still eat bananas.)
Finally, we've added a search feature to the Internet ScamBusters site so you can quickly find exactly what you're looking for. It's the second item down on the nav bar on the left.
OK. On to the featured article.
Don't Let Your Web Site Design Make Your Site Seem Like a Scam - Especially When It Isn't: A Striking Example
By Dan Janal
You might have a very real business, but if it lacks credibility, you're going to lose business you could very well have banked on.
Here's a case in point.
A friend sent me a note about a new service he learned about via an advertisement attached to an email newsletter he receives.
The company, Findcash.com, (www.findcash.com), claimed that he could be owed money from a long forgotten bank account. The company said it has a database of 11 million people in the U.S. and Canada who are owed unclaimed money by the government, which accepts the money from bank accounts, "insurance companies, employers, government agencies and other sources after it is unable to be returned to the rightful owners (due to factors such as an address change or the death of the owner)."
The email asked him to go to the site and type in his last name. The site would search its database and show a list of people with that name and their addresses. If your name popped up, congratulations, you have money sitting in an account somewhere with your name on it!
All you have to do is send the company $10 and they would give you access to the database that tells you which financial institution had the money, the account number, as well as instructions for contacting the agency responsible for distributing the money.
Since finding free money on the Net is one of the oldest scams in the book, red flags shined in his face and sirens sounded in his ears.
Ah, but who can resist the lure of free money - especially when it is yours to begin with?
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? That's when my friend sent me the information and asked that I check it out, since I wrote a book about online scams called "Risky Business."
I checked out the site and it looked pretty good. The database worked fine. I even found the name of a relative who is owed money! So far, so good.
However, I looked at the link to "What people say." I expected to find a list of happy people saying what a great job the company had done and how much money they found.
Instead, they printed quotes from magazines such as Reader's Digest and Money. But those quotes talked about how much money is owed to Americans in lost or forgotten accounts. The testimonials built the case for lost money, but not for the company. Any company could have pulled these quotes. I wanted to see direct evidence that this company was credible. I didn't find it.
The link to "about us" told about the size of the database and how people are owed money. It didn't mention a word about where the company was located, when it was founded or who the officers are. For all I know, the company could have been started yesterday by a group of teenagers in Bosnia! That lack of information destroys credibility.
So I went higher up the scam ladder and sent the material to my colleague Dr. Audri Lanford, who runs the Internet ScamBusters website, http://www.scambusters.org/, and publishes the free newsletter. If anyone knows if there's a scam going on, it is Audri, who has been quoted in Forbes, ABCNews and Wired magazine. She agreed to check out the site and even put up her own money to do a search.
She said the site appeared to work as promised. It delivered what it promised: the account names and numbers of the lost accounts, along with information on how to get the money. (The company doesn't actually get the money for you, which is okay.)
In the final analysis, the company was legit, but the tools it used on its site to build legitimacy weren't on target.
Does your site suffer from the same problem? Do you do a great job of selling features and benefits, but a lousy job of proving those claims? If so, you might be losing out on business that is begging for your help.
Fortunately, this is an easy mistake to correct. Simply ask your clients for testimonials and post them to your site. Testimonials should be one or two sentences long, contain a claim of how your service helped them in a demonstrable way (i.e. "I made a $5,000 sale after reading your book!"), and include the person's full name, not mysterious initials (i.e. "J.S. of Kansas City").
If you follow these rules, you won't risk losing any business!
Copyright 2000 by Dan Janal. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Editor's note: Dan makes some very important points. Although most of the amounts in the database are small, some are over $10,000. It certainly seemed to us too, that any site that had helped people get back $100 to $50,000 (or more) should be filled with glowing testimonials.
Don't make the same mistake!