8 Signs a Company May Not be Legit

Every so often you come across a commercial website offering a great price on a service you’re interested in. But if it’s not a big brand how do you know it’s a legitimate company?

Here are some things you can look at to make your own mind up.

1 Generic Email Address

If a company is established enough to be running a website, an office location and have collected a portfolio of satisfied clients, it’s unlikely that they would use a free, generic email address.

I started out thinking this wasn’t a big deal, maybe a new company might use gmail etc; but I spoke to some freelancers. They gave me a resounding “no”, while gmail might be the email tool you use, you want a business specific email address as soon as possible.

2 Invalid Office Address

The screenshot at right shows an office address listing that is incomplete – Boulevard Haussmann is 2.53 kilometres long without a building name or street number this address is incomplete. This image was taken from a site that has now been taken down because the business was a fraud.

If a company provides only a PO Box or the address is a rented office space I wouldn’t automatically think the company was not legit – but it would be a red flag. And the bigger the company was claiming to be the bigger the red flag.

This is relatively easy to check – put the address as given into Google and see whether the company comes up listed at that address from other sources (ie; not the company’s own website). Or use Google Maps, if the country the company claims to be in allows Google Street View you’ll see the building. (Try putting 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway into Google maps to see how this works).

3 Inconsistencies on the Website

These two screenshots are both taken from the same website;

Here are the links to the quotes; 300 international expats vs 1000 satisfied clients.

I’ve also seen examples where the company claims to have thousands of employees but only lists one small office – I know with remote working on the rise this is increasingly possible but it’s not likely. And if a company has done it successfully there will be articles about how famous they are for having a remote or virtual workforce.

Legitimate companies work hard to make sure the information on their website is up to date and correct. Gaping errors like this cast doubt on the credibility of the company.

4 External Inconsistencies

It’s always interesting to check when a company, or the company’s domain name was registered. In the case of Asia Expat Guides, who claim to have been operating for four years, the domain name asiaexpatguides.com was only registered in February 2013. Given that the target audience is geographically distributed it seems unusual that they waited three years to create a website.

For many countries the company registration database is open and free for a basic search so it’s relatively easy to check that as well. The Singapore business registrar allows you to search for registration results, but you’d have to pay to see a detailed report.

Here is the result of a search on “Asia Expat Guides” from the Singapore business registrar, the first four digits of the registration number correspond to the year of registration.

So the company Asia Expat Guides Pte. Ltd. was only registered in Singapore this year.

5 Fake Twitter Presence

Most companies are now active on Twitter and a legitimate twitter account will have;

  • a branded avatar (not the newbie egg)
  • regular tweets
  • a following that matches the company size
  • real followers

The first three any company can solve rather quickly, the last one they cannot fake. And it turns out it’s not that difficult to figure out who are real followers – and there’s a tool out there which makes it even easier. Here are the results for AsiaExpatGuides;

Probably everyone has a follower or two that score as fake. But 82%? The only way you can build such a poor quality following is to buy followers. In this case 1300 of them.

Again a legitimate, reputable company should not be doing this.

6 Zero LinkedIn Presence

LinkedIn has become the social media platform of choice for professionals, the proportion of people using LinkedIn from any one company will vary per industry and per country – here’s a breakdown of user demographics from 2012.

So if a company only states that they are a “global finance service company” I’d expect thousands of LinkedIn search results (remember the search results will include people who no longer work at the company; my current company returns 6x the number of current employees). For a small professional services company that states it has one or two hundred employees and that hasn’t been operating that long the number might be closer to 1x existing employees. Check – but be aware that unless you’ve changed your account settings those people will be able see that you’ve viewed their profile.

7 Fake Customer or Partner Lists

If you have doubts about a site look for customer references or lists of partner companies, and consider contacting those companies. Large companies will be doing business with thousands of other companies so sometimes it’s hard to research but I have always been happy to looking into companies that use our name on their site – it’s part of protecting our company name.

In all the enquiries I have checked it has been a minority that turn out to be legitimate partners, no more than 20%.

8 Suspicious Testimonials

One way for a company to gain credibility is with customer testimonials, but what if those testimonials are fake?

I wrote about my research into the testimonials on the Asia Expats Guide site a while ago. When I first looked at their site there were many testimonials which seemed a little off; perhaps it was a student from Pakistan using very American slang, or that the photo didn’t really look like someone with the amount of experience stated in the testimonial. So I decided to dig.

I looked at Linkedin, not everyone uses it but I found that among sixty testimonials not one name matched a profile and also had a photo match. So I did an image search; just using the URL of the actual image in Google’s image search. And found that most of the images used by Asia Expat Guides were lifted from other public sites. This only works where the image is very similar or identical to an image used somewhere else on the internet.

So Brent Keith’s image has a URL http://asiaexpatguides.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/test61-148×117.jpg, but an image search shows that he turns up a quite a different site, with the name Grant Hallstrom.

You can check the other examples of Asia Expats creating fake testimonials in my earlier blog post.

I really encourage everyone to be smart about this, it’s easy to create an online presence for a fake company, but there will be cracks in the facade, and there are easy ways to check.  If you can’t find good resources supporting a company’s reputation take your money somewhere else.


Image Illegal 

Scam File; Asia Expats Guide still lying

I posted last week that Asia Expat Guides used fake testimonials on their website to which I got this rather interesting response.

Which is a fair point, sometimes people do look alike. I had a very confusing conversation with a woman in a hairdresser’s once, I was convinced she was a former colleague. Turns out, we’d never met.

This is not sixty of those cases. I’m not confusing a likeness, I am saying that Asia Expat Guides has copied photos from around the internet, invented names, and created a glowing review of their own services.

This is unfair on the people whose photos were stolen, it’s unfair on people considering Asia Expat Guides’ services; it’s lying, it’s fraud.

Here’s a slideshare of some of the ones I’ve identified so far, including the those Asia Expat Guides have removed. You’ll see a screenshot of the content Asia Expat Guides invented, alongside a screenshot of the image from the original site, with a link to that site.

Despite my blog post and tweets throughout last week, Asia Expat Guides continues to use photos of people assigning random names and endorsements to them. It’s clear that permission was not given. It’s also clear that they have done this knowingly, since they’ve removed the endorsements of some of people that I have pointed out.

But the fake testimonials remain, so I am presenting here a selection of the testimonials Asia Expat Guides publish with screenshots of the real person that I could track them down.

(If the slideshare isn’t presenting well on your screen, here’s the direct link; Scam File: Asia Expat Guides )


PostScript September 2018, Asia Expat Guides website is now offline

Scam File; Lying Testimonials Online

With more and more business being done online websites will often add customer testimonials to their sites, a real face and a real story add credibility.

Unless those testimonials are fake.

I recently received an email from Asia Expat Guides promoting their expat services, helping people relocate into Asia. I went to their site and started checking out their testimonials. First surprise – there were a lot of them; 64 in total. Seemed to be a wide range of people from lots of countries, but something about the sameness of the testimonials raised a red flag.

I found very little online using the names and information given so I started digging into the images; here’s where it got really interesting.

“Jeff” is really happy about the help he got moving to Vietnam, only he turns out to be John Franklin, of John Franklin Ministries, in Kentucky, USA.

“Eugene” has a lot of spare time now that the cleaning of his apartment is sorted out in Vietnam, so much so that he’s apparently started moonlighting as John Price, the Director of the International School Monaco. Hell of a Commute.

Ibrahim is finding it so much easier to get around in China and chat with his neighbours, luckily he found time for an interview, looks like the interviewer was confused though – he keeps calling him Samir Ahmed.

Jessica’s worked really to get this job and is loving the challenges and excitement of the expat life. It was a refreshing change from her job as Rosanne Paul, Real Estate agent.

I’ve checked every image from the testimonials, sixty of which I could track to a real name,  none of them match the information Asia Expat Guides provide.

Asia Expat Guides say they’ve helped hundreds of expats; if that’s true why couldn’t they find 5 or 6 real people to write a testimonial?

They also say they’ve been in business for four years. Four years – and the website domain was only registered this year?

I smell a rat. A big one.


PostScript September 2018, Asia Expat Guides website is now offline


all other images taken from Asia Expat Guides 07/08/13

Scam File; Advanced Fee Fraud or The Nigerian Scam

Anyone with email must have seen the forward fee fraud emails, promising you a large win in an email lottery – if only you’d pay these fees. They’ve become known as “Nigerian scams” or sometimes “419 scams” after the part of the Nigerian penal code that covers this fraud.

The format of the scam has a long and dishonorable history, starting well before the internet with a version known as the Spanish Prisoner.

The emails are typically poorly written, and most people ignore them. But not all – and in 2009 (the most recent credible report I can find) the estimated total amount of money defrauded was 9,387,810,000. That’s the low estimate. It’s equivalent to 2.9% of Nigeria’s GNP for the same year. It’s more than Apple’s revenue in 2009 – and they had significantly higher costs of operation.

So if the emails are so bad, in some cases laughably bad, who falls for it? Only the most gullible.

In fact the we’re asking this the wrong way around, it turns out that the scammers are deliberately creating emails that act as filters. The scammers are targetting those who are gullible and who have limited experience online, they therefore create emails that people with online experience will ignore. Even indicating the nationality “Nigerian” is done deliberately – to warn the non-gullible off. Which makes sense, if you’re a criminal on the internet lying about your name, some lottery or inheritance and producing fake documents showing the money in an account, telling the truth about your nationality has to serve some purpose.

image online fraud /Ivers McGraw CC BY-NC-ND 2.0