Virtual private networks (VPNs) are great—if you’re using a legitimate service. VPNs add an extra layer of security to your Internet browsing by encrypting your data and masking your IP address so you can surf the Web anonymously. Plus, all of this extra security comes at a low monthly fee (or a one-time fee if you only need it when traveling).
Related article: Scammers trapping users via fake VPN services after anti-privacy bill
6 Quick Checks To Spot A Fake VPN Service
However, new scams are always cropping up and trying to take advantage of individuals seeking privacy and security. Don’t fall for these fake VPN providers. Start by verifying the service with the following tips.
1. Read the About Page
Start by taking a look around the service provider’s about page. How long have they been in business? What type of language do they use to describe their service? If their offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid VPNs that use unsubstantiated claims like “fastest,” “most secure,” and “most private.”
2. Test Their Customer Support
A legitimate VPN service will provide plenty of opportunities to contact support because they care about their customers. Look through their website to see what type of support is offered, such as a phone number, contact email, live chat, FAQs page, and community forum. Some might even feature a Twitter support page.
Don’t be afraid to run a test on their support options to see how fast they respond—if they respond at all. Be wary of support that seems like it’s not coming from a real person. If all you receive is a form response, you’ll want to proceed with caution.
3. Check Their Social Media Presence
The lack of a social media presence should raise a big red flag. Search the provider’s website to see if they have any links to a Twitter or Facebook page. Scroll through their profile to see when their page launched. It’s never a good sign if their page only launched in the last week or so.
Be sure to check how often they post and whether or not they respond to comments or Tweets. If you don’t see real customers interacting or they are interacting but getting no response, you may want to move on and research a different VPN service.
4. Research Online Reviews
Online reviews will tell you a lot about the legitimacy of a VPN service provider. Start with a simple Google search, and then explore multiple review sites to see what people are saying about the service. Always look beyond the company’s website since it’s easy to fabricate those reviews.
Not only will you be looking for information about other people’s experiences, but you’ll want to pay attention to how far back the reviews go. If the only reviews you find have been posted within the last month, it’s a good indication that the service is brand new—and perhaps untrustworthy.
Be wary of services that only seem to have good reviews written about them. It’s possible that these are fake reviews designed to make the company look legit.
5. Check Their Logging Policies
If you run across a VPN that keeps a log of your data, keep running! This essentially defeats the purpose of a VPN because if they’re tracking and storing information about the sites you’ve visited and files you’ve downloaded, your browsing is no longer private or anonymous.
That said, most VPNs like HideMyAss! keep a log of some data, such as the duration of the connection or bandwidth used. That type of logging makes it so they can improve their service.
However, your VPN provider shouldn’t be logging information beyond that, such as the websites you visit or the IP addresses you’re using. If you can’t find information on their website that mentions the company’s log policy, check out this list of over 100 VPNs that don’t keep logs.
6. Review Their Pricing Structure
If you want to enjoy the security benefits that virtual private networks offer, expect to pay a fee for it. Usually, it’s a small monthly subscription fee, but you should never rely on free VPN services to keep your data safe. Most likely, these free services are stealing your data and selling it to third parties or redirecting you to their partner sites to profit off the sales commission.
Like free VPNs, lifetime VPN subscriptions shouldn’t be trusted. For one, these “lifetime subscriptions” usually don’t last long—maybe a year or two. Second, it’s an unstable business model. To provide proper on-going support and security, VPNs need to constantly be bringing in revenue. That comes through monthly subscriptions. Lifetime subscriptions, on the other hand, would rely solely on attracting new customers. So, what happens when the influx of customers drop? The cheap VPN service turns to selling your data to third parties and advertisers the same way sketchy free services do.
Keep in mind, these types of services might actually provide some of the features you’re looking for rather than simply taking your money and running. However, with the risk of compromised data, a free or “lifetime subscription” service is best to avoid.
Also keep an eye out for a refund policy. Most legitimate VPNs will offer a money-back guarantee between seven to 30 days so that you can test out the service risk-free.
Choosing the right VPN is important if you want to keep your information private online. The above mentioned tips will help you steer clear of fake VPNs looking to take advantage of you.