VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) provide an array of benefits. Primarily, they allow you to remain anonymous and secure when you are surfing online, by providing an encrypted tunnel through which your data can travel. That said, not all VPNs are secure or even legitimate.

The value of VPNs

The secure digital “tunnel” prevents any snoopers or hackers from accessing your data. At the same time, you can cloak your IP address so that you can access geo-locked content providers, such as Netflix USA, BBC iPlayer when you are abroad, Hula and Amazon Prime.

VPNs also allow you to torrent and use P2P networks safely, by making sure your ISP or any authorities cannot access your user data and identify you as an individual.

There is a huge number of VPN providers on the market and new services come online all the time. Some of the most trusted providers include NordVPN and ExpressVPN. However, although the majority of services are of high quality, there are some which are essentially just scams. Here are seven things you should look out for.

1. The “free” VPN scam

Every internet user dreams of finding a service that is truly free – but there are almost no VPNs that are truly “free.” Usually, these services simply collect user data and sell it on to third parties. There are free VPN apps available for download, but remember that they must all make money somehow.

Read more: Free VPNs leaking your data

2. The lifetime subscription scam

Although there are some free VPN services, most users will prefer to pay for a trustworthy and supported service. A good service will provide software and application support and advanced features that allow you to access locked and censored content while staying anonymous online.

So how is it possible to get such a great deal on a cheap “for life” subscription, given the high costs involved?

Well, that’s exactly the problem. Rather than being a straightforward scam, lifetime VPN subscriptions are usually just a desperate attempt to get money. And desperation is rarely a good sign.

3. Fake VPNs

Growing interest in the services that VPNs provide has led to a wave of new customers on the market. In response, fake VPN providers are cashing in.

These scam companies charge for the subscription without offering any service at all. Rookie users in particular trust that they are buying a genuine service and then have no way of knowing that they are being scammed. To avoid this, never use a new VPN without any track record. Look for details on their performance and read their user reviews.

4. Fake VPN websites

Scammers and phishers are extremely adept at creating fake VPN websites that look incredibly similar to official VPN provider domains. Fake ExpressVPN and NordVPN scam websites are particularly popular among fraudsters and hackers due to the high level of trust these providers have garnered among VPN users.

One example of the fake VPN website scam was nord-vpn[.]club. On 8 August 2019, hackers launched a malware site that was a practically identical copy of the official NordVPN website. What’s even more surprising is that the clone site also sported a valid SSL certificate.

Using this NordVPN scam website, the attackers deployed infected NordVPN installers to deliver the Win32.Bolik.2 banking Trojan to unsuspecting victims’ computers. Unfortunately, thousands of users have visited nord-vpn[.]club before it was identified as a scam website.

How to recognize a fake VPN website

To avoid getting your computer infected with malware from a fake VPN website, always make sure to:

1. Double-check the domain name

Most fake VPN websites will use a domain name that references the official brand name of a top VPN provider. The nord-vpn[.]club website we mentioned above is one such example. So if you see anything other than https://nordvpn.com/ or https://expressvpn.com before clicking on a link, don’t go there.

…Unless you live in a country that blocks VPNs. In that case, always ask the customer support team of the VPN provider in question for an alternative download link.

2. Avoid offers that are too good to be true

See a ridiculous ExpressVPN discount or an incredibly low-priced NordVPN subscription on the homepage? It’s probably a scam website. Fake VPN websites will try to entice budget-conscious users with extremely low prices to get them clicking without thinking. Don’t.

3. Don’t listen to fake “representatives”

Legitimate VPN customer support representatives will never ask for your password, personal information, or credit card details. If you get a “support ticket” email from a “representative” that asks for any of the above, it’s a VPN scam sent by a phisher. When in doubt, always contact customer support via an official channel like email or social media. To learn more about protecting yourself from phishers, read our in-depth guide on how to identify phishing emails.

5. Bad VPNs

Some apps simply don’t protect your data at all by virtue of being bad. They leak, they log, they have features that don’t work as advertised, they readily share data with third parties and so on. Avoid them like the plague.

6. Fake claims

A lot of VPN companies claim they are:

  • Offering the fastest VPN in the world
  • Not collecting or storing any type of personal and identifiable data
  • Guaranteeing leak protection

Test statements like this carefully before you sign up for a VPN, especially if you haven’t heard of the company or had it recommended. There are tools that exist to check VPN leaks. Test your speeds too to see if the VPN is fast. Look carefully at the small print in the privacy policy.

With your data being so valuable and sought-after, it is well worth taking the extra steps to avoid having it stolen. Always look for a VPN provider that is truly transparent, convenient, honest, reliable and trustworthy. You can start by checking our list of best no logs VPN providers.

7. Sham testimonials

Some new VPN services appear to have dozens of reviews which try to make the offer look legitimate. To avoid being scammed here, only look at trusted blogs. Remember that some sites will offer fake customer reviews in return for a fee.

Avoid these at all costs and only read reviews from reputable sites. We always carry out unbiased reviews of VPN services to make sure you aren’t the victim of a VPN scam.

In summary

There is a large number of VPNs on the market, and each offers something different. It’s very easy to end up being lured into a fake VPN and the easiest way to avoid a VPN scam is to follow common-sense steps:

  • Don’t’ fall for the promise of a free VPN service – nothing is really free!
  • Read reviews from legitimate sites
  • Double-check VPN domain names
  • Read the small print carefully
  • Make sure you understand the features, especially if you want to do something particular, such as access Netflix, torrent, access Facebook from behind the great firewall of China and so forth.

It’s also well worth contacting the customer services team of the VPN service that you are considering so that you can get a sense of how professional and legitimate the operation is. Remember to check out our latest VPN reviews so that you choose quality and reputable service that truly matches your needs.