A shield with the text “VPN” on it and red horns and a tail, implying devilish dealings or a VPN scam.

VPN scams sell you a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but it may not work, might not even be a VPN, and is more than likely to contain  malware. The VPN market is full of them, and they have the potential to cause a lot more harm: you’re buying a VPN to increase your privacy and security, and fake VPNs do the opposite. So this article will teach you about eight VPN scams to be on the lookout for. 

Table of contents

    1. Lifetime subscriptions

    “Lifetime” VPN subscriptions will not last until the end of your life – though I won’t insult your intelligence by implying you thought so. And naturally, we all understand that a “lifetime” subscription to any service would end if the company closes or the product is discontinued. 

    Instead, 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 isn’t! It’s not like buying a software license where you can download a program and use it forever. VPN providers need to pay for physical infrastructure. And all of that 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 subpar experience, only being able to connect to 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 that we as a species have developed 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 website you visit, how much time you spend on it, and when. 

    A VPN service provider might claim it has a no-logs policy – you can say anything you want online. Therefore, a company has to have undergone independent audits that would prove they do not collect user data. This is something VPN scammers would be very unlikely to do. 

    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, a scam is likely being pulled on you.

    Moreover, a good VPN will have multiple ways to pay for the subscription. The most obvious 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. After all, all those terrible free VPNs have to get those high Google Play store ratings. 

    So check not only the positive but the negative comments as well. See if there are repeating phrases in the testimonials and such, this may be the result of a coordinated campaign to make the VPN service look good. It’s a lot harder to detect such tricks when it comes to reviewing sites – especially when a VPN review site is unlikely to be owned directly by the VPN provider. More often, they both are owned by the same company (sadly, we’re not allowed to name names). 

    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. 

    At the most extreme end, 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. Though most often, the plan is to make you pay and then let you forget that it happened at all. Reputable VPN providers don’t stoop to such tricks. 

    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. Some of the worst offenders don’t encrypt your data at all. And without encryption, a fake VPN is a proxy at best, making it a less secure and the worst VPN in the actual VPN industry.

    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 one be safe from dangerous VPN services like these? Not going for free VPNs would be the first step. Another thing you could do is diligently check for reviews and user comments. The last thing you can do is upload the installation file for the VPN to VirusTotal, which will check it for potential infections. 

    In conclusion: avoid VPN scams 

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

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    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 conduct a great deal of research and choose the one which looks least likely to be a fake VPN scam. 

    Is there a monthly fee for a VPN?

    Technically speaking, premium VPNs have a monthly fee. But in practical terms, if you get a VPN subscription for two years, 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.