What exactly are fake VPNs? When it comes to the world of the internet and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), it can get really tricky knowing what is genuinely going to keep you secure and what is a total hoax designed to make money. It’s important to be able to spot a scam and determine if a VPN is fake.
Knowing the ins and outs of your VPN provider is crucial to maintaining Internet privacy. As of late, more and more fake VPNs are being released to the market making it easy to be swindled by a scam provider. This is especially true with “free VPNs”, which is why it’s important to understand the difference between a free VPN vs paid VPN.
For now, I’m going to cover the dangers of using a fake VPN as well as what you need to be looking for to differentiate between a genuine VPN from a fake one.
Fake VPNs | Why They’re Dangerous
Obviously, the word fake doesn’t sound quite as good as the word real, but what makes a fake VPN dangerous as opposed to just annoying? There are a few things to consider here:
#1 A Fake VPN Will Sell Your Data
Many VPN users use a VPN to hide Internet activity from ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that sell user data to third parties.
Technically speaking, VPNs are capable of doing the same thing, as all your Internet traffic is being directed through the VPN provider’s servers.
Free VPNs act just like your ISP and log the data being streamed through their servers and sell it off to third parties like advertising firms. Others will direct your traffic to advertisements and profit off of sales commissions.
Yet free VPNs selling off your data is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers of using a fake provider.
#2 Fake VPNs Steal Your Bandwidth
In some cases, fake VPNs have been known to use your connected devices to create a botnet – a collection of Internet-connected devices that are infected and controlled by a third party without the knowledge of device owners.
Once part of the botnet, your Internet’s bandwidth can be sold off to be used as a dedicated server for funneling Internet traffic.
Routing traffic through dedicated servers is the largest overhead cost VPN providers have to pay. It makes sense that the “free” and “fake” VPNs try to find ways to avoid paying this cost.
Take, for example, how Hola VPN circumvented this cost by routing traffic instead through its users. In so doing, Hola VPN took advantage of customer’s Internet service that they paid for to allow users outside of the US to watch Netflix or Hulu.
#3 Fake VPNs May Inject Malware on Your Device
A privacy and security analysis by CSIRO found that nearly 40% of free VPNs inject malware into your device.
In case you weren’t sure…that’s not a good thing.
Once injected into your device, your fake VPN provider can use your data to target you with ads and spam emails, hijack your online accounts, steal your banking details and even lock your devices in exchange for ransomware.
#4 Fake VPNs Often Don’t Encrypt Your Data
A genuine VPN encrypts your Internet traffic by using state of the art encryption technology to ensure privacy and security. Some VPNs even develop their own encryption protocols, such as the Chameleon protocol by VyprVPN for example.
Many fake VPNs, on the other hand, do not encrypt your traffic. This ends up exposing your Internet activity to third parties and hackers. Even those that do encrypt traffic only utilize 128-bit encryption, which is obsolete and insecure.
Fake VPNs | How to Spot Them
Ok, so now that we’ve covered the fact that “fake VPNs” are dangerous, the next step is to figure out how to spot them. Despite the danger of fake VPNs on the market, spotting them isn’t as hard as you may think.
Before subscribing to a VPN, you’ll want to review the essential VPN features to look for and ask the following questions:
1. Is the VPN Provider Transparent?
As you route your information through your VPN provider’s servers, you need to be able to trust that they will not mishandle your data. Although it is really uncommon for VPN providers to be completely transparent (they’ll all tell you it’s “for your safety”), genuine providers will level with you on a number of details.
Consider things such as:
- How long as the company been in business?
- Where can you read reviews? It it only on their website or is there an unbiased website to find them?
- What kinds of VPN encryption do they use? Fake VPNs often do not list what encryption they use.
2. Can You Trust the Claim: “We do not log user data”?
There is no way to independently verify that VPN providers do not log user data. ALWAYS take this claim with a grain of salt.
You should also ask yourself how the VPN makes its money. If it does not charge an annual fee, it’s likely that the provider not only logs user data but also sells it off to third parties.
Even with paid VPNs, you’ll want to read through their terms of service to determine what data they do collect and how they use it.
3. Does the VPN Have Multiple Customer Support Channels?
Quality VPNs have quality customer support. Period.
This comes in the form of direct chat on the provider’s website, quick turnaround times for email support, along with community forums and FAQ pages. Facebook will even give you data on how fast they will respond to customers.
Test your intended provider’s customer support prior to subscribing to see how fast they respond. Check any customer support claims on their social media accounts as well to get a thorough picture of how they interact with customers.
I always tell people: it’s not if you have an issue with your VPN, it’s when. How their customer support responds is super important!
4. Does the VPN Have Active Social Media?
Good VPN providers have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media pages. They should also be very active on these accounts in sharing content that benefits its customers and replying to comments.
**Pro-tip: Check how old the social media accounts are. If they were launched in the past few months, then it’s probably best to avoid that VPN provider.
5. Does the VPN have a Dedicated Mobile App?
If no, then look elsewhere. Developing a good app for iOS and Android takes both time and money. Any legitimate VPN service will have an app and not having one is a huge red flag.
If you’re being forced to manually input settings on your phone or download a file that will automatically change your settings, I suggest you run as far from that VPN company as possible.
Can I trust the reviews on the Android / Apple App Store?
The aforementioned CSIRO report found that many of the fake VPNs reviewed had glowing reviews on app stores.
Of course, these reviews had either been falsely generated by the VPN company or had been paid reviews. How can you tell the difference? Truthfully…it’s almost impossible.
Do not solely rely on these reviews in your decision to use a VPN. Do more in-depth research.
Final Thoughts | Spotting a Fake VPN
With growing legions of fake VPNs surfacing on the market, you should stay up to date on the danger they pose and how to spot them.
Look at their about page to see how transparent the company is.
Check their social media accounts to see if they’re active in using the platform and responding to customers.
Try out their customer support to see how fast they respond and if they’re able to answer your question using fluent, easy-to-understand English.
Remember that the best VPNs will protect your information from third parties. Don’t let the opposite happen by falling victim to a fake VPN.