As a web host, it behooves you to ensure that the website owners who select you for their hosting services are above-board in their online business dealings. However, the Internet is a world full of gray areas. Some websites may not abide by practices that you yourself agree with, but at the same time, they aren’t technically doing anything illegal. However, more unscrupulous companies may outright try to take advantage of consumers with website spams and scams. These activities may constitute breaking multiple laws in the country in which you live.
Here is an overview of the types of activities in which dishonest websites typically engage, a list of red flags to watch out for when taking on a new website for hosting, and some information on any legal liability you may be taking on when knowingly web hosting companies of this nature.
Common Website Scams
These days, most people thankfully already know not to send money orders to Nigerian princes upon a randomly emailed request. Unfortunately, as people become wise to one scam, others simply pop up in their place. Many scammers are becoming increasingly elaborate in their schemes, often using websites that look absolutely legitimate. These scams can range in severity from selling a user’s email address to spam mailing lists, to outright identity theft, which can take someone years and years to correct. Here are some common scam websites to keep an eye out for and avoid hosting:
“Work From Home” and “Get Rich” Scams
To be clear: There are numerous, completely legitimate work-from-home companies out there. These businesses simply hire independent contractors who work remotely, typically receiving a 1099 tax form each year. Their employees are either mailed paper checks or, more commonly, paid through a service like PayPal. However, the lure to work in your pajamas has allowed a surge of fake work-from-home websites to flourish recently.
How can you tell the difference? Any established company, regardless of how it employs people, should already have a reputation online. Check the Better Business Bureau, for starters, to learn more about any company offering work-from-home opportunities. How long has the company been in business, and more importantly, how much is it promising to pay its employees? We have all seen ads with outrageous claims like “Make $ 500 per hour working from home!” and the like. The overwhelming majority of companies who advertise like this are scammers.
How does it work? In short, there is no job waiting for the hopeful applicant, nor will there be. Instead, the scam site will sell the user a “kit” or a “program” or something of that nature to entice the user to learn more about the job, or promise the user details on how to access to the job within the contents of the kit being sold. The scammer then takes the user’s money and runs.
Other Common Scams
Unfortunately, there are plenty of other common scams online. Among them are fake charity websites, which usually look and sound just like real charities you are familiar with. Users get confused and donate to a scam website, rather than to the real deal. There are also investment fraud websites of every type imaginable, promising you unrealistically large returns on minimal investments. These include Ponzi and pyramid schemes, to name a couple of examples. These websites steal money from honest people, plain and simple.
Accepting New Websites: Red Flags
As a web host, you need to be thorough in your inspection of all new websites applying for hosting with you. Sometimes a scam site is very obvious and easy to reject; other times, it may not be so simple to tell. Here are some big red flags to help you focus on. While this list does not make you an expert and there are often exceptions to every rule, this is a good place to get started.
Language use – If the company claims to be North American in origin, it is expected that English will be the language of the website text. While some of us are better writers than others, it is usually quite easy to pick out someone who is writing English as a second language. Be wary of websites that claim to be Canadian or American, yet can barely string a sentence together without tremendous problems in sentence structure, spelling errors, and grammatical issues. You can also try to double-check the location of a company by checking its contact information; pay attention to the country codes of any phone numbers listed.
“Coming soon” or “under construction” websites – If you are receiving emails from a user at a particular domain address, but when you go to visit the website itself, it claims to be under construction, this is often a big red flag. This is especially true if the company claims to have been in business for some time. Anyone can create some semblance of a website in a matter of hours or days; it makes no sense for any business to be losing money in this way. Chances are, they keep the domain perpetually “coming soon” or “under construction” to avoid scrutiny and eventual shutdown, as they are scammers and make their money in other ways.
Companies utilizing free hosted sub-domain websites, or free domain redirects – Again, there are exceptions to every rule, but in today’s market, there is no excuse for any legitimate website not to own its own domain name. Scammers often use free hosted sub-domain websites, or free domain redirects, because it helps shield their true identity. In this way, they simply hop from domain to domain. You do not want to host a website of this nature.
Liability: Who is Responsible?
It’s common sense that if you should come to recognize you are hosting a scam site that is stealing money from unwitting users, and you deliberately avoid taking action to separate yourself from this site, you yourself are also being unethical in your business practices. That being said, it’s difficult to address web host legal liability with the broad brush strokes that would be necessary here, as different laws apply to different countries throughout the world. However, it is entirely possible that should the scam site wind up being sued in a court of law, your web hosting company could also find itself in some legal hot water.
Eventually, you may have to face fees and fines if you keep knowingly hosting a scam site. Is it really worth the risk? Unless you have a law degree and gobs of excess cash on hand to fight off lawsuits down the road, the answer is probably a big “no.”
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