I registered a new domain the other day, and literally within 24 hours I was receiving emails from people offering to help me build a website.
That should probably be your first and last clue not to do business with them if they are spamming you within 24 hours of registering a domain name. But in case you are tempted, or maybe they contact you several weeks or months after you register a domain name, here's some tips on how to tell if they are legit or a scam, or just incompetent.
The first one that contacted me claimed to be from www.clickingz.com
The first thing you should do is pull up their website. If their website looks like crap, what are the chances they are going to make your website look better? And in my opinion, that site looks VERY outdated. Another thing to note is that at the bottom of the site the copyright says 2002-2008. Which either means the last time they updated the site was in 2008, which is a long time to never update a website. Or it means they've forgotten to update the copyright notice, or don't know how to make it update automatically. Either way that's not a good sign.
However, to be fair, one point in favor of clinkingz is that they have been around for several years. Most scammers change their names as often as most people change their socks. So clickingz might not be a scam. They just might not be very competent.
For comparison, another email i received claimed to be from www.webdesigncup.com
Their site certainly looks nicer when you first view it - but after about 2 seconds you'll realize their entire site consists of just one big giant image with zero content. There's no contact info. There's no links to any of their work. Literally the only text on the website is their domain name. That's a HUGE HUGE red flag.
Another thing you can check to get some idea of how long they have been around is to go to www.networksolutions.com/whois and type in their domain name.
If you look up clinkingz it says they registered their domain name in 2007. That's a point in their favor. However, their registration information is private, which to me is a little bit questionable.
On the other hand, if you look up webdesigncup, it says they registered their domain name on Sept 27th 2013. Big red flag there. And their domain information is also private - another red flag.
The other thing to look for on these sites is contact info. If there's no contact info listed, as is the case with webdesigncup, then don't contact them. Clickingz at least has a phone number and address on their site - another point in their favor.
If they do have contact info, plug it into google maps and see where they are. In this case I have a feeling the above business address is just a mail drop and not an actual office. There are several international shipping and mailing business at that same address. Plus you'll notice their suite number is 13389. If you look at that building on google maps i doubt there's thousands of offices there. Most office buildings either number their offices sequentially or number them sequentially with the floor number as the first set of digits. So my guess is 'suite' 13389 is nothing more then a mail drop that forwards to where ever they are actually located. In this case i have a feeling they are outside the US, due to the international shipping at that location. And the email i received from them was sent from some where in India.
There's nothing wrong in itself hiring someone in India. There's plenty of competent people there. But I wouldn't want to hire someone who's lying about where they are located.
Another thing to look for is if they have links to any of the websites they've done - or I should say claim to have done. In the case of clickingz, they have a link to compass-hs.com which they claim they did. And that site certainly looks better then clickingz own website. However, if you scroll to the bottom of many websites, you'll often find a link back to whoever designed the site. In this case, compass-hs links back to someone entirely different then clickingz. Does this mean clickingz lied? I don't know - they might have done a website for compass and then compass might have hired someone else to make a new design at a later date.
But it does say clickingz hasn't update their site in a while if they are linking to a design that's not theirs.
Another website they link to is firstchoiceyc.com - this design is not that great. And again - the bottom of the site says someone entirely different designed the site for them. In fact every site they linked to that I went to, none of them linked back to clinkingz, several of them linked to other sites as the designers.
So is clickingz a scam - i'm not sure. There does seem to be some questionable stuff about them. But the fact that they appear to have been in business for several years and do list an address and phone number gives them a little bit of legitimacy. Assuming of course that the address and phone number actually work. I did not try calling or mailing them to test that.
Scam or not, I wouldn't bother contacting them for design work as they effectively have no current portfolio of work and their own website is badly in need of a redesign.
In the case of webdesigncup, my guess is that's a scam. Their website has nothing on it. There's no contact info for them. There's no links to any work they claim as their own. And the domain appears to have been created less then a month ago. I can't imagine a company claiming to do web site design would have no design at all on their own website. A single background image is not a website design, that's just wallpaper.
So to summarize my ramblings:
1. Always look for links to past work and try to verify they really did the work. If you are unsure, try contacting whatever website they claim as their design and asking them if they did really design the site for them.
2. Look for contact info and google their address - see if they are located anyplace that looks shady.
3. Do a google search on their domain name, email address and phone number and see if you find discussions about them.
4.Look up their domain registration to try and determine how long they have been in business. The older the domain name the less likely they are scam artists. And if their domain registration is not private another point for not being scammers.
5. Lastly - if they emailed you out of the blue without you contacting them first, that's spam. And I wouldn't really want to do business with someone who spams. But that's up to you.