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VPN scams sell you a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which may not work, might not even be an actual VPN, and is very likely to contain malware. The VPN market is full of them, and they can potentially cause a lot more harm than good — instead of increasing your privacy and security, fake VPNs do the opposite. 

So, how can you stay safe? In this article, I’ll go over 10 VPN scams you should be on the lookout for.

Table of contents

    10 most common VPN scams to avoid

    1. Lifetime subscriptions

    Contrary to what the name suggests, “lifetime” VPN subscriptions will not last until the end of your life. A “lifetime” subscription to any service, naturally, will end if the company closes or the product is discontinued. 

    In fact, it’s one of the “too good to be true” VPN scams, often pulled by third-party resellers. You sign up for a VPN thinking that this is the one-and-only time you’re paying for it, but it’s not!

    Using a VPN isn’t like buying a software license where you can download a program and use it forever. VPN providers need to pay for physical infrastructure, which requires money — money “lifetime” subscriptions wouldn’t provide.

    Hence, most such offers end up voiding relatively fast, either by the company in question closing or via some reseller-related shenanigans. Just look at what happened to VPN Land.

    1. Freemium packages

    When a free VPN service isn’t just a malware-filled trap (more on that later), it’s more than likely a “trial” version of the complete package. Such upgradeable “freemium” VPNs aren’t without their downsides.

    For one, the goal of freemium VPN packages is not to give you a satisfactory VPN experience but to get you to buy the full version. To that end, you’ll only get a subpar experience, being able to connect to just a handful of slow servers. They’re slow either by design or because you’re not the only person who took the bait, and the server is overloaded. 

    On the other hand, you may end up paying for your free VPN with ads. Free VPNs can find various ways to inject them into your daily routine, from advertisements on the VPN app itself to even opening them on your browser. Considering there are multiple ways to block ads online, you probably wouldn’t like having to see new ones. 

    1. Data logging

    A VPN service may be a cover to collect your data for sale to advertisers and other third parties. Even if your connection is secured by HTTPS, the VPN may still be recording your browsing data: your IP (Internet Protocol) address, what websites you visit and when, and how much time you spend on them.

    Since you can say anything you want online, a VPN service provider might claim it has a no-logs policy. To prove they do not collect user data, a company would have to undergo independent audits. The chances that VPN scammers would do something like that are slim to none.

    1. A suspicious amount of personal information collected

    As a privacy tool, a VPN service should require the least possible amount of personal data to register an account and use the VPN. So, if your potential VPN provider is asking for your address or phone number, you probably are getting scammed.

    Moreover, a good VPN will have multiple ways to pay for the subscription. The best choice would be paying in cryptocurrency, as that guarantees the highest level of privacy. All reputable VPN providers offer this option.

    1. Fake reviews and testimonials

    People pulling VPN scams know that many customers trust online comments, testimonials, and reviews. Faking positive word-of-mouth online is one way to lure you into a sense of safety. It’s also why all those shady free VPNs have to somehow provide high Google Play store ratings. 

    So, check not only the positive but also the negative comments. See if there are repeating phrases in the testimonials and such, as this may be the result of a coordinated campaign to make the VPN service look good.

    Be extra attentive on review sites — it’s much harder to detect such tricks there, especially when a VPN review site is usually owned directly by the VPN provider.

    1. Payment fraud

    When it comes to payment fraud, VPN scams can take many forms. Sometimes, you may be offered one price and then have to pay another, much-inflated one. Other times, a VPN provider may change the subscription price without notifying you. 

    In the most extreme scenario, you’ll pay for a VPN service and receive nothing. Since someone pulling that audacious plan is probably prepared to cover their tracks, you may even be unable to request a refund. Most often, though, the plan is to make you pay and then let you forget that it happened at all. Trustworthy VPN providers don’t use such tactics.

    1. Not working like a VPN

    We’re going to class a shoddy, non-working VPN as one of the scam types. To operate as an actual virtual private network, a VPN service has to encrypt your data and then route it via a VPN server that will decrypt it. 

    However, as often happens with free VPNs, a poorly secured VPN connection can leak your IP address, DNS address, and even WebRTC data. And some of the worst offenders don’t encrypt your data at all!

    1. Malware injection

    Probably the most dangerous VPN scam compromises your online security by installing malware on your device. An oft-cited study discovered that 38% of free Android VPNs had malware or malvertising — a deliberate attempt to bypass user security.

    How can you be safe from dangerous VPN services like these? The best thing would be to avoid free VPNs altogether. What else you can do is diligently check for reviews and user comments. Lastly, you can upload the installation file for the VPN to VirusTotal, which will check it for potential infections. 

    1. Fake VPN apps

    Fake VPN apps, above all, pose a risk of stolen confidential data like online identity or banking information. Your information can then be sold to third parties or exploited in other malevolent ways.

    The worst part is that these fake VPN apps may be very difficult to spot. They try to appear as genuine services, usually replicating actual apps, which makes it really hard to identify them as scams. On top of that, they run the malicious operations in the background without you even noticing it.

    However, they’re mostly just another “too good to be true” scam, advertising ultra-fast speeds, no logging, complete anonymity, and other outlandish features. Commonly, the fake VPN app will be free of charge and promise no ads or bandwidth limitations, which should be a telltale sign that it’s a scam.

    1. Cracked VPN accounts

    A cracked VPN is a premium VPN service that’s offered for free or sold at a much lower price than on the official website. You might think that as long as you’re getting an actual VPN, there’s no problem. However, that’s far from the truth.

    Cracked VPNs are actually real accounts stolen from legitimate users who have paid for the subscription. And, if the original user decides to change their password, you will lose access. 

    These VPNs aren’t only illegal and unethical but also completely unsafe! You can usually find these offers on dodgy “reseller” pages or forums, where you may have to download an unverified file or click a link, which exposes your data to various risks. 

    So, to protect your information and your wallet, it’s always best to purchase services from the official websites.

    How to detect VPN scams and stay protected

    Detecting a VPN scam may not be the easiest of tasks, but some general tips will help you stay protected:

    • Research thoroughly before purchasing a VPN. Try to focus on keywords, images, and domain names that are usually used in VPN scams. Check online forums where people report fake VPNs and share their experiences and tips.
    • Try to identify clickbait and social engineering tactics. Research as much as you can about clickbait ads, social engineering techniques, and how scammers take advantage of human psychology. You could even take a social engineering course to learn all the tricks scammers use and how to spot them.
    • Never share unnecessary personal information. Signing up for a legitimate VPN won’t require too much sensitive data. Avoid services that ask for detailed home addresses, phone numbers, or Social Security details.
    • Use strong passwords, password managers, and two-factor authentication. Using unique passwords, signing up for secure password managers, and setting up two-factor authentication can greatly improve your online security and prevent scammers and hackers from getting access to your accounts.
    • Safeguard your devices with antivirus software. If you actually fall for a VPN scam, installing an antivirus on your devices can detect and remove viruses that you may get from a fake VPN app.
    • Remember the “too good to be true” rule. If you’re unsure whether a VPN is a scam, simply avoid the offers that seem unusually good, including free services, mind-blowing features, and lifetime subscriptions.

    Is Surfshark VPN a scam?

    No, Surfshark VPN is not a scam. In fact, it’s one of the leading VPN services in the world. To prove the legitimacy of its services, Surfshark has undergone various independent audits — it passed the MASA security audit, got approved by the Cure53 server infrastructure audit, and the no-logs policy was verified by the Deloitte audit.

    In conclusion: avoid VPN scams 

    VPN scams are all the more insidious since they promise you increased security but deliver the opposite result. They rely on VPN users not having that much experience in online safety tools. Therefore, you should conduct thorough research to find reliable VPN services.

    Start by researching our VPN
    We offer a 30-day money-back guarantee
    Surfshark

    FAQ

    Are free VPNs scams?

    Not necessarily — most of them are probably just massively inferior to premium VPNs in speed, server variety, and other features. However, many are definitely suspicious, if not outright scammy. 

    How can I get a free VPN?

    To get a free VPN, you should do your due diligence by checking reviews, looking at the images, keywords, and domains, reading about other people’s experiences on forums, etc. Basically, choose the one that looks least likely to be a VPN scam. However, even if the free VPN isn’t a scam, it may be selling your data to third parties, so it’s always best to choose premium VPN services.

    Is there a monthly fee for a VPN?

    Technically speaking, premium VPNs have a monthly fee. But in practical terms, if you get a two-year VPN subscription, you’ll pay the lump sum upfront. This will be a lot more economical than getting a monthly subscription that you renew every month. Monthly plans are always more expensive. 

    Do VPNs steal your information?

    If you use a legitimate VPN like Surfshark, you can be sure your information won’t be stolen. On the other hand, if you subscribe to free VPN services, you may expect your sensitive tada to be collected and sold to third parties without your permission or knowledge. Always conduct thorough research before getting a VPN service.

    Are VPN services trustworthy?

    There are many VPN services that are trustworthy. However, most of them have a service fee. Free VPNs, on the other hand, are usually of poor quality, not secure, and shouldn’t be trusted. Some of them are downright scams, so be sure to attentively check a service before signing up.