How to Identify Fake Online Agencies

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Everybody thinks they are smart enough to recognize a fake online agency when they see one, but scammers are getting more innovative every day. 

The recent BBC story on Madbird, a fancy digital design firm, was quite shocking. 

The ‘company’ had more than 50 remote employees, with most of them hired on a commission-only basis for the first six months. 

But after a few months, the recently hired employees discovered that many of their online coworkers were fake, they wouldn’t be getting any pay as no project deals were finalized, and the founder was a pathological liar who fabricated his entire online persona.

Crazy stuff. 

To avoid getting scammed by these dodgy remote agencies, here’s what you need to do.

Trust Your Instincts

Imagine a company that: 

  • Has decades of experience in the industry
  • Offers every type of service under the sun
  • Promises results in a very short time
  • Boasts 24/7 quality customer service
  • Charges below-average rates

Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it probably is. 

You see, any company worth its salt takes pride in its work. 

It won’t provide all kinds of services. Instead, it will usually offer specific services in niche industries. Why? Because it knows what it’s good at and doesn’t want its name tarnished by subpar work.

These types of companies will be upfront with you about the actual time it will take to achieve meaningful results. 

And since they know how much value they bring to the table, they won’t come cheap.       

So trust your gut when it tells you there must be some kind of catch. 

If your instincts are wrong, well, it doesn’t really matter—plenty of other fish (agencies) in the sea. 

But if they are correct, you get to avoid seeing your hard-earned money go poof.  

Search for the Company’s Office Address

Gone are the days when these fake online organizations used a P.O. box or some other mailing system instead of a physical address. 

Nowadays, they proudly disclose a traceable office address to look more authentic. This makes sense because the majority of people wouldn’t think about verifying the office address. If it’s mentioned then it must be real, right? 

Wrong! You should always track the office address. It’s how an employee of Madbird first discovered the scam. 

She wanted to see what the commute would look like when the pandemic was over. But alarm bells started ringing in her head when Google’s Street View only showed a block of flats, which looked nothing like the sleek workspace featured on Madbird’s website.

She immediately contacted a real estate agent who had a listing at the same address to confirm her suspicions. And lo and behold, Madbird’s global headquarters turned out to be purely residential.      

Perform a Reverse Image Search

Did an agency’s digital portfolio impress you very much at some point? Hate to break it to you but it could have been stolen from somewhere else on the internet. 

To see if the work actually belongs to the agency in question, you can perform an online reverse Google Image search. 

This can help you find the:

  • URL where the image was originally published 
  • Other pages on which the image was uploaded 
  • Same types of image

The process is very simple and can be completed in a matter of seconds. 

All you have to do is:

  • Open the browser on your PC or Mac 
  • Go to the Google Images main page
  • Click on the camera icon in the search bar
  • Either paste the image’s URL or upload it from your computer

Now you’ll be able to determine if the work actually belongs to the agency.  

You can also use this method to see if the individuals working at the agency are real or not. 

Just copy and paste their headshot image’s URL into the search box and see if similar photos show up. 

Get in Contact With Their Clients

These days, it’s a standard marketing practice to feature glowing testimonials on a website’s homepage. 

This encourages trust. After all, if so many seemingly real people are happy with the product/service, the agency must really know what it’s doing, right? 

Not exactly. Why? Because you can easily fake these testimonials. 

Just download a stock image of some male or female, edit it a bit, add some praise for the agency, give this fictional character a fake name and company, and voila! You’ve got yourself a ‘genuine’ testimonial.         

To verify an agency’s authenticity, contact its testimonials.

Search for their websites or LinkedIn accounts and ask them about their experience with the agency.   

And if there are no testimonials on a website, ask the agency to tell you about some of their former clients. 

A fake agency will more than likely use ‘breach of privacy’ as an excuse in this scenario. But genuine organizations will be more than happy to talk in depth about their success stories.      

Check the Site’s Domain Authority

A fake online agency will have a fake website. And a fake website will have a crappy domain authority (DA). 

DA is a search engine ranking score created by Moz. It is widely used to calculate a website’s chances of ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs).

Generally speaking, it shows how much trust a website has with search engines like Google. 

The DA of a newly created website will be 1 while the DA of a website like Facebook is 100.  

To minimize the risk of falling for a scam, I recommend working with online agencies that have a 30+ DA. 

Does this mean a website with 30+ DA is always safe? No. 

Are all websites with a DA lower than 30 fake? Also no. 

So why is an agency with a 30+ DA more trustworthy? Because getting to 30 takes a lot of time and hard work. 

And I don’t think that the people behind these scams have a lot of patience or diligence.


Image Credit: cottonbro; Pexels

Abdul Mannan

Writes about business and tech. And sips a lot of tea while doing so.


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