What exactly is 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 or steal your data. It’s important to be able to spot a scam and determine if a VPN is fake.
What is a “fake VPN”? A fake VPN is any VPN software whose primary purpose is to steal data (i.e. hackers) or track users (i.e. state actors) without the knowledge and consent of the users themselves.
To be completely honest, it’s very difficult to verify whether or not a VPN is legitimate or fake. While free VPNs are an easy target (which is why it’s good to know the difference between a free VPN vs paid VPN), studies have shown that almost 1/3rd of the top paid VPNs are owned by China. But this security risk wasn’t known until recently!
So why should this matter to you and what can you do to ensure that the data that you’re transmitting through your VPN is as secure as you need it to be?
Below, I’m going to uncover the dangers of using a fake VPN as well as what you need to be looking for to differentiate between legitimate VPN companies and those that are just taking advantage of you.
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use any of the services listed here. To be clear, I only recommend what I personally use and I appreciate your support of this free website.
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 throttle, monitor or 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. This is particularly true of free VPNs – how else do you think they make money!?
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.
4. 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. To be clear, malware is software that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to your device.
And 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.
5. 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.
How to Spot Fake VPNs (without being an expert)
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:
Is the VPN Provider Transparent?
Since 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 always 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? You should be able to find this information somewhere and if you can’t, that’s usually an indication that they’re far too young.
- 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.
Pro-tip: Compare the about page of the VPN you’re researching to the level of transparency you’ll find on the VyprVPN website. This company has my respect as the most trusted VPN provider on the market (you can watch my review of VyprVPN).
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.
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!
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.
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 a dedicated app for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS at the very least. 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.
Which VPNs Aren’t Fake? (My Experience)
This is an oddly difficult question to answer, in part because even reviews can be misleading. 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? It’s almost impossible.
Do not solely rely on these reviews in your decision to use a VPN – and this includes the VPN reviews on this website! Do your own in-depth research.
Personally, I tend to recommend three VPN companies that I’ve had more then 7 years of experience and lots of interactions with. I’ve done my own research and although I’m open about the fact that these links are affiliate links, this is what I tell my own family and friends to use.
Each of the VPNs listed above is a paid VPN service (not free), but they also all come with a 30-day money back guarantee. This means that if you purchase the service and decide it doesn’t fit your needs or doesn’t work the way you want it to, you can get a full refund with no questions asked.
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. Of the many things I talked about researching, make sure you:
- 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.