A reader wrote in, asking about whether an unfamiliar online tool store was legitimate or not. His friend came across a listing for a Milwaukee cordless power tool combo kit, and it smelled “off” from the start. But could there be a chance it was a good deal?
Here’s some of the questions I ask:
How old is the website? ICANN Whois (and other such services) can give you a domain’s registration info. Scam stores tend to be very young, with recent domain name registrations that measure in days or weeks.
Scam sites don’t often last long – once people start coming forward about being ripped off, the site is taken down and a new one takes its place at a different domain.
This is the FIRST THING to check. There are some scam stores that operate on existing domains, and I presume that they purchase these domains after their previous owners let them expire without renewal, but at least 9 out of 10 scam stores operate on brand new just-registered domains.
Is there a phone number to call? Smaller stores might only have an email address, but any listed information is better than a contact form. Unfortunately, there could be fake phone numbers as well as fake addresses.
Do the social media links work? Broken links to Twitter? A Facebook link that goes back to the home page? It’s a red flag when a modern brand or retailer doesn’t have any social media presence..
Does the URL match the product? The above screenshot of a Milwaukee Tool cordless power tool combo kit listing was found at a domain: [redacted.com]/matelass-leather-tote-p42.html.
Does it look like a scam? The site I was asked about looks like it was put together in an hour using boiler plate templates. Don’t let the prospect of a deal trump your gut instincts. Unfortunately, scam stores can vary wildly in appearance, and they can be especially convincing when browsing on a mobile phone.
Does the branding match the URL? In this case, the logo doesn’t match the domain name. Scam store fronts also tend to have very varied top-level categories.
Look at the info pages. If a store only lists tools, but the return policy mentions items needing to be returned unwashed, unworn, and with tags attached, something’s fishy.
Legitimate stores will often have established social media accounts, verifiable contact information, an established domain name, realistic pricing, and will often “feel” right. When in doubt, you can usually also search online forums for discussion or deal posts tied to the store.
An online store might feel right and still be a scam, or it might be legitimate and still give off some wrong feelings. Use your judgement, and if you aren’t sure, ask us, or anyone else that can provide you with an objective outside opinion.
The danger here is that many otherwise reasonable shoppers throw caution and good judgement to the wind if there’s the prospect of an incredible deal.
Countdown timers or low quantity warnings can lead to a sense of urgency, but they’re artificial. Tactics like that tend to force rushed and emotional purchasing decisions.
Every now and then I need a specialty tool or product, and have to order it from an unfamiliar store. Even if you are 100% certain you’d never fall for a scam store, hopefully these questions and strategies can help you learn more about stores you might not have heard about before.
This post was first published on July 17, 2018, and updated on September 1, 2021 with minor changes and republished to help increase awareness.