The VPN market is full of scams, malware, and fake VPNs, but there are still many legitimate VPN providers available such as NordVPN, which is truly committed to protecting their users' privacy online. Making a wise decision and looking out for red flags before you decide to purchase a VPN is essential if you want to ensure your security on the web.
Different ways that VPNs try to scam users
In my experience of reviewing VPN services for quite some time, I’ve observed that there are generally 9 different ways that VPNs try to scam users. These scams run the gamut all the way from lying about their privacy policies or using deceptive language to appear more trustworthy than they really are.
Here are the 9 common types of VPN scams:
1. The false promise of a “Free VPN”
You need to remember an old saying: "Nothing is truly free in life." This line is very much relevant and valid for VPNs.
It would help if you watched out for a common scam that is related to free VPNs. Free VPNs perform opposite functions as compared to paid VPNs that are indeed reliable.
Indeed, security is never a guarantee. However, when you purchase a good VPN, there is a satisfaction that a VPN provider will never sell or distribute your private data. But when you consider the example of a free VPN like Hotspot Shield, they log in to your internet activity. Moreover, they even sell data to 3rd parties to gain from the advertisements.
Free VPNs are quite dangerous for injecting malware into your system, and they even cannot encrypt your data.
Indeed, free VPNs can also be classified as a fake VPN. There is a need to consider more for the identification of a fake VPN and separate it from a genuine VPN.
For an essential reference, "fake VPN'' is known as a VPN that is totally against privacy and security concepts.
Some of the other fake VPNs are even quite hostile. Remember that trust is an important aspect when availing of the services of a VPN. Though with fake VPNs, they can affect you with negative ads, spam emails, or even ransomware threats.
The paid VPNs provide significant transparency levels in their goals to the users. They communicate the right things to consumers.
2. Never follow the VPN Reviews on Apple & Android App Stores
It is vital for any user that they must never trust ratings and reviews on mobile app stores. The example of Betternet VPN requires consideration in this regard.
This free VPN service had more than 12.2 thousand ratings on the Apple App Store and 4.6 stars.
Though, unfortunately, for all those 12.2 thousand users who ranked Betternet, they had no idea at all that Betternet was indeed amongst the worst VPN providers out there according to a research by CSIRO.
Betternet was doing all the wrong things, such as leaking users' IP addresses, selling data to 3rd parties, not ensuring transparency on encryption, and many more shady activities.
Thus, before selecting a VPN, it is imperative to research the reputation of the provider on multiple platforms such as App Store reviews of different providers as well as social media reviews and the verdict of expert reviewers.
These can help you learn about the pros and cons of a given VPN in a fuller way since you’ll be relying on multiple different sources rather than making judgement on the legitimacy of the VPN based on the reviews from any single platform.
3. The “zero logging policy” trap
You should always remain skeptical of policy statements such as, "we do not log, collect data, or store any valuable information about the user." Unless the provider is independently audited by an organization and the VPN provider clearly specifies everything they do or do not log rather than giving an oversimplified blanket statement, there is a high probability that the VPN is lying to you.
It is unfortunate that many VPNs even claim that they do not log private information of users but still claim to do so to promote their service. The main problem for the consumers is that, in their busy schedules, they can’t realistically verify these claims and are likely to make a hasty decision based on their hunch.
Therefore, before selecting any VPN provider, even for strongly recommended ones like NordVPN, it is necessary to read the fine print of their privacy policies and terms of services. It is important to analyze any contradictory statements for no-logging policies carefully.
4. The claim of being the fastest VPN in business
We feel quite skeptical of those VPNs that deny all forms of data logging, because every provider has to collect at least some information from the user in order to deliver their service and offer tech support effectively. At the same time, we need to remain cautious for providers who claim to be the fastest VPN in the market or have the best encryption level.
Speed can vary considerably based on various factors including the base connection speed you are receiving from your ISP, the distance between you and the VPN server, the type of protocol etc. VPN providers that claim to have the fastest speed in the market are simply overlooking the fact that speed is something that’s not in their control for the most part.
So if a provider’s branding is based on claims of being the fastest without explanations of what “fast” actually means in the context of a VPN, it’s a good chance you are being lied to.
5. VPNs that have questionable pricing
It is essential to not get trapped for those scams that either require you to pay a large amount of money or an amount too small. Both extremes are potential red flags. If you feel like the pricing is suspiciously low or large, trust your gut and refrain from buying the VPN, especially if it is not that well-known.
It is also important to review the fine print in pricing because there are often grammar mistakes in the product description. This can immediately create doubt on the legitimacy of the service. After all, why would a legit provider allow grammatical mistakes in their descriptions?
An important step is to ensure the provider is genuine and then subscribe to the service only after you’re completely satisfied as to their authenticity. A lot of VPN services will provide you a monthly or an annual pay bill. A valid or legitimate VPN service can cost you between $50-100 per year.
6. VPN Websites without SSL
It is quite ironic that there are some VPN providers that don’t even use HTTPS for their own web domains. You obviously can’t expect a VPN to protect your privacy and offer security when they haven’t even bothered to set up SSL certificates to encrypt information on their website.
So if you see a VPN provider that cannot encrypt their website, any promises of anonymity and a high encryption level are likely to be false.
7. VPNs that provide “Lifetime Subscription”
Be wary of VPNs that advertise Lifetime Subscriptions on third party websites. When visiting sites like Gdgt and StackSocial, there are numerous advertisements for products containing lifetime subscriptions.
Usually, the VPN provider will provide you excellent service for the first and second months. However, when the refund date of the lifetime subscription passes, the VPN will then lower the bandwidth and speed.
Good VPNs will always charge subscription fees to recover their overhead costs, so there’s no obvious revenue stream for a provider offering lifetime subscription. As such, you have to be extremely wary of such providers because they will probably A good VPN will at least charge $49 a year.
8. VPN self-promotion and astroturfing
If you frequent places like Reddit, 4chan, and other online forums, you will run into shills that promote VPNs they are affiliated with. These people get a profit for every VPN sale they can make and they pretend to be entirely unbiased and unrelated to the VPNs they are promoting during discussions in these online communities.
Trust is an essential factor in the VPN industry. You cannot only blindly trust any user that randomly claims to have used a VPN and found it to be the best they have ever used.
So, it is wise to always cross-check whatever information you’re receiving from strangers online and read up reviews from trusted sources before believing anyone and shelling out money for any VPN.
9. VPNs that require a lot of private information
VPNs are supposed to protect user privacy, not compromise it. If a provider is asking for too much information while you’re signing up to their service, it is generally a red flag and indicates their logging policy is not too privacy-friendly.
Another valuable tip is to consider a VPN that usually accepts Bitcoin as payment for subscriptions. This helps in keeping your identity anonymous and avoid giving private information to the provider while signing up.
It is a shame that VPN providers, the very vanguards of online privacy, often take to sketchy and fraudulent practices that end up scamming the users. It is imperative for you to remain vigilant when shopping for a VPN online and do your research before you decide to invest in one. It might take a few more minutes of your time than if you just clicked on the “buy” button and started using any random VPN you came across, but if you’re careful enough, it can save you a lot of pain later.
As a general rule, you’re highly likely to be safer with well-reputed and leading VPN brands such as NordVPN because these companies survive on user trust and will do everything in their power to inspire that trust through fair practices.