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Website Seals of Approval: Can You Trust Them?

Teresa Chen

The abuse of well-known seal of approvals seems to be the latest ruse used by online fraudsters. Leveraging reputable names that existed long before anyone heard of the Internet is a blaring reminder that even trustworthy seals are not off limits to scammers. In fact, linking to reliable sources of reviews and certification is proving to be an essential part of any fraud strategy today.

A recent string of fake websites tricking car shoppers serves as the latest example. America Auto Sales, a glitzy site listing used cars at discounted prices, appeared to be an authentic channel where many consumers could find great deals on previously owned vehicles. The website not only held an extensive inventory of repossessed cars, but seemed to be 'certified' with reviews from reputable sources. America Auto Sales even had an "A" rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a longstanding goldmine on business reliability.

And so the story goes — the website turned out to be a scam, in yet another case where gullible victims fall prey to the bad guys. Sadly, online buyers lost thousands of dollars and the authorized dealerships were left to deal with the aftermath. The real America Auto Sales was slammed with over 1000 customer calls as a result of stolen identity.

Sure, we're all aware of the customary tricks to steal a company's identity as is evident in this story. What's interesting is now scammers deploy the usage of trusted authentication services such as BBB to further deceive unsuspecting victims. We've seen this type of behavior in other industries, such as online pharmaceuticals as well. In numerous occasions, illicit online pharmacies sport a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) certification, a program governed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to ensure the legitimacy of online pharmacies. Many consumers use the VIPPS certification to confirm the validity of pharmacies to shop safely for pharmaceuticals online. However, similar to the online auto scams, fraudsters are plastering the VIPPS seal onto their fake websites, implying a false association to fake their credentials.

Fraudsters are smart. They will do whatever it takes and are clearly not above usurping seals of approval. This is where consumer education comes into play as it serves as the first line of defense against any fraud and deception. Most recently, BBB posted an article highlighting best practices to red-flag fraudulent websites. These types of best practices enable consumers to make well informed decisions and ultimately avoid rip-offs like the recent car scams. They serve as a complementary and critical component to any brand protection strategy. Whether its educating consumers on how to verify online pharmacies or on how to tell the difference between a counterfeit coupon from an authentic one, consumers need to be equipped with the best information to outsmart the fraudster.

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