Using a VPN can greatly enhance your privacy online – providing you choose the right one. Not all services are safe, and the increasingly high demand for Virtual Private Networks means that VPN scams are becoming more commonplace.
In this guide, we'll give you all the info you need to ensure you don’t get duped by a dodgy download, including a list of VPNs you should steer clear of, and tips for spotting VPN scammers.
Unfortunately for prospective buyers, there has been a recent influx of services claiming to be VPNs despite just being proxy servers.
Proxy servers are like VPNs in that they funnel your traffic through an intermediate server before it reaches the internet – but the similarities stop there. VPNs servers are secure and encrypt your traffic, whereas proxy servers do not.
HolaVPN is a prime example of this sort of trickery – the Israeli-based company advertises itself as a VPN provider, but instead of using industry-standard VPN encryption protocols, it sends user's internet traffic through a non-secure proxy server. They also have a logs policy where a lot of your information is kept.
Proxy services advertised as VPNs like this can be avoided with thorough background checks, particularly from independent reviewers like ProPrivacy.
Free VPN scams you should avoid
Some VPNs actually hold surprisingly detailed logs of your data – exactly the sort of stuff advertisers love to get their hands on.
Not all free services do this – there are some very reliable free VPNs on the market – but it’s good to know the names of those that aren’t prepared to put your privacy first.
|Why should you avoid it?
|Another free VPN that has near full access to its user’s information, this provider stores all its log data in the UK and US, and has been infected with malware on more than one occasion. Not worth the risk.
|Free though it might be, the provider uses logs for targeted advertising and shares user browsing data. Another to stay away from.
|This free VPN has a parent firm that has access to all its data, and advertisers can cookie, track and log user’s data when they’re using the service. Definitely one to avoid.
|Aside from reportedly being a hub for malware, this VPN provider claims to perform real-time analysis for ‘troubleshooting purposes’, which is a sneaky way of admitting to some sort of logs policy.
|Known to track user data and work with government authorities, HoxxVPN is actually a proxy service attempting to pull the wool over unsuspecting user’s eyes. Sharing data with third party affiliates is commonplace.
Don’t download a VPN app without doing your research
If you’re looking for a reliable VPN and you’re worried about some of the scams out there, you’ll most likely head to a site that has user reviews and recommendations.
However, major review platforms such as the Android and Apple stores are home to a plethora of disingenuous and fake reviews, often posted by someone the provider has paid.
Other things you may consider is how long the company has been in business, the geographical location of its servers, and whether the company has a social media presence.
As was mentioned previously, sites like this one dedicate their time to publishing honest assessments of the best VPNs, precisely for this reason – so make use of trusted review sites that have a long track record of providing sound advice.
Are lifetime VPN subscriptions scams?
As the old adage goes, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Make sure you keep that mantra in mind when you see VPNs offering lifetime subscriptions, as there’s often quite a sizable catch that is not immediately obvious.
VPNs often need updating and may change their policies over time, and things like encryption protocols can become obsolete quicker than you might expect. Even worse, the VPN provider could go bankrupt, in which case you’ve just paid a significant amount for no service at all.
ProPrivacy’s full list of reasons why you should avoid lifetime subscription offers can be found in our analysis of lifetime VPN subscriptions.
Make sure you buy from official websites
Searching for VPNs can sometimes lead users into the sketchy world of online discount codes. It’s not uncommon for a discount link to send you straight through to a scam website, so it’s good to know what to look out for.
Not going through an official site, or an affiliate that reliably links you to it, is already cause for concern. A drastically reduced price on a product like this is once again – you guessed it – probably too good to be true.
Avoid VPNs that want your personal information
If a virtual ‘private’ network provider is asking for your personal information, it’s clearly not as private as they’re letting on. Scam VPN providers will often prey on prospective users at the first hurdle and demand a phone number or other details to purchase the software.
The truth is they can, and they want your information for other reasons – so don’t give it to them!
Watch out for imposters
Reliable VPN sites occasionally fall victim to imposters that generate exact replicas of providers’ pages in order to scam prospective customers.
Reliable and legitimate provider NordVPN found a site that looked identical to its own in August last year, and it was stealing visitor’s banking information and infecting their computer with malware. Although it was quickly shut down, it’s anyone’s guess how many victims it targeted.
The NordVPN case illustrates why it’s always important to check the URL of the site you’re visiting. If you suspect that something doesn’t look quite right, it’s probably safe to avoid it altogether.
If you want to avoid VPN scams then here's a quick list of actions that you can take to keep yourself safe:
- Check the reviews – what are other people saying about the service?
- Test the service – does the provider offer a free trial or money-back guarantee?
If you want to test the security of a VPN, you can use our free VPN leak testing tool to look for critical leaks.
Alternatively, if you want to find out more about VPNs, you can check out our guides below to help you find the best VPNs for you.