How to spot a fake VPN

Shanan Carney 5 May 2017

You need a VPN now more than ever, but how to tell if it’s legit? Here’s Avast’s guide to finding a solution you can trust.

With the FCC chair’s recent push to dismantle net neutrality, on top of last month’s rollback of FCC regulations that would have protected online privacy, interest in virtual private networks (VPNs) is probably at an all-time high. Targeted marketing, based on your online searching, viewing, shopping – everything – habits, is already prevalent. These new changes will most certainly result in companies’ scrutinizing and selling your data even more aggressively. And the death of net neutrality means these same companies can use that data to determine which streaming services you use, for instance, then charge you a premium to access them.

Bottom line: where you go and what you do online is being watched. Today. The record of these clicks is valuable information, readily available to the highest bidder. And the situation is only going to get worse for consumers and better for advertisers, ISPs, and online businesses.

If that rubs you the wrong way, you’re not alone. That spike of interest in VPNs? It’s because a VPN proxy essentially cloaks your online activity. Given this increased need for information about online privacy, we’ve already discussed the implications of the FCC regulation rollback and how VPNs can help, as well as what a VPN connection is and how to choose one. And now, because there’s no shortage of online scammers ready to profit off any new consumer need, we’re sharing tips to help you avoid VPN providers that not only won’t preserve your internet privacy, but will take advantage of your need for it.

Beware the legion of fakers … and know that they move fast

The thing about phonies is they're really good at what they do. They can whip together a good-enough website in hours, counting on people’s ignorance of the facts (which we’re here to combat!) and sometimes fraudulently  piggybacking on known brand names, trying to earn instant trust. Fortunately, watchdogs abound, keeping an eye on this sudden onslaught of fake VPN providers, and even exposing some, such as Motherboard’s recent revelations regarding the fraudulent MySafeVPN.

Trust your gut and do your homework

Does the offer seem too good to be true? Did it appear in your inbox seemingly out of nowhere? Listen to those nagging voices, and also beware:

  • Superlative, unsubstantiated claims. If a VPN is positioned as the “fastest,” the “most private,” the “most secure” and both their website and your Google search for third-party professional evaluations of the product comes up empty, move along.
  • Meager customer support. Does the service provide adequate and varied support channels? Do they offer chat, a community forum, or FAQ pages? Do they offer support via Twitter, for fast responses via social media? As a test, ask a question to see how quickly you get a response, and if you get one at all.
  • Lack of social media presence. Does the provider have a Twitter account? A Facebook page? If so, did it launch last week? Does it look like a human tends to it? Have real customers interacted? If you aren't answering yes, then say no.

We also found these 7 red flags valuable, for even more in-depth info. Honestly, you can never educate yourself enough about products you rely on to keep yourself private and protected online.

So how can you finally choose the right VPN?

Did you know you can perform digital tests to check VPNs’ claims, including sending pings out on traceroutes? Very cool, but we have an even simpler term for you: reviews. Read what your fellow consumers have to say about how good a VPN provider’s privacy protection is. After all, a major upside of our cyber society is access to the hive mind, right? Only together can we defeat online predators.

And finally, make sure your VPN providers are actually security experts, like we are here at Avast. Our Avast SecureLine VPN was developed by a team that’s been focused for more than 2 decades on keeping people safe online. We don’t take for granted that online privacy will remain a right unless we secure it and fight for it. And you shouldn’t, either.

Image: Jens Kreuter

--> -->