10 Red Flags to Watch Out For When Picking a VPN in 2022

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I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years while reviewing VPNs, to the point where I can easily identify red flags that could lead to issues over time if a user isn’t careful. 

For example, does the VPN allow the user to make anonymous payments with cryptocurrency? Or, has the service been audited by a third-party security expert to back up any claims? You’ll have a better chance of choosing a great service if you know exactly what to look for, as well as what to avoid

Of course, ticking a few of the boxes doesn’t necessarily mean that a virtual private network (VPN) isn’t worth it, but it should act as a warning sign if they’re a repeat offender. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is used to create a secure tunnel between your device and the provider’s servers. All data sent to and from your device will be encrypted, helping to improve online privacy

You’ll be assigned a new IP address, which gives the appearance of connecting from anywhere around the world depending on the server location selected. (It also allows the user to access a range of previously blocked online content like Netflix.)

However, there are a variety of red flags that you should look out for before you sign up for a subscription.

Get a reliable VPN that will keep you safe and anonymous online.

VPN Red Flags

Many of the VPN red flags mentioned below aren’t especially problematic in isolation. However, they begin to paint a picture about a provider if they check off multiple boxes, especially if they’re lesser-known or use a freemium VPN model

1

Lack of transparency about the service

The first aspect to look out for when researching a VPN is their level of transparency in terms of what they have to offer. Another way of thinking about it is: what do they have to hide, and why isn’t this information freely available?

Transparency can relate to anything from the number of servers on offer to their methods of encryption. Of course, these are both important, and the most reliable VPNs will proudly display the strength and size of their network to potential customers. If you’re struggling to find answers to simple questions it’s never a good sign. 

2

No audit to back up claims

An audit is when the VPN calls in an external company to test aspects of their service in order to see if they measure up to their claims. This means that an audited VPN is often more trustworthy by default, depending on exactly what the audit has confirmed. 

Examples of trustworthy auditing firms include Versprite and Cure53, while audited VPNs include the likes of NordVPN and ExpressVPN. Some go a step further by publishing the results online.

An audit can be used to prove that a VPN is sticking to its promises, which is important if they’re handling important user data. Ideally, they will have undertaken repeated audits, rather than relying on a report produced years before as evidence.

3

Questionable ownership

Who owns the VPN, and are they open and honest about their setup? Is the provider owned by a parent company with further competing companies in their stable? Do they have a LinkedIn page, and can you see their staff and management? 

In other words, do they have questionable ownership, or do they give the appearance of being a normal business? 

You should also pay attention to the location of the VPN, which will play into what jurisdiction and laws a provider is subject to. Depending on where the VPN is based, the country could be a part of various surveillance alliances like the Five Eyes.

Five Eyes: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand

Nine Eyes: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and Norway

Fourteen Eyes: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Sweden

Remember, it’s probably not a good idea to select a service owned by a company that has a collection of VPN providers in their stable. (Especially if they neglect to mention the fact anywhere on their website.)

4

No money-back guarantee

You always want to check if a VPN offers a money-back guarantee of 30 days or more. This gives users assurances to test out a service before fully committing. A shorter guarantee would imply that they don’t have faith in the quality of their service, and expect the average user to quit soon after testing it out for the first time. 

Others are a bit more sneaky, such as only offering a guarantee for first-time subs or failing to note that a new subscription will be charged at full price when the current term ends. If it seems like a scam, stay away.

5

Free VPNs

Any completely “free” VPN is a major red flag to me, especially if it’s only available on a mobile platform like Android. There are many inferior services that pretend to provide the benefits of a reliable VPN, although they’re really only interested in selling off user data to the highest bidder. Others simply exist as a vessel to provide advertising to their users. 

Another factor to consider is that the average free VPN has ridiculously slow speeds and a lack of servers to choose from. Their IPs are likely to be banned by streaming services, and support will be non-existent. 

A VPN is one service that I wouldn’t scrimp on. Rather than a free provider, I’d recommend either Tor or one of these top freemium VPNs.

6

No anonymous payment options

As we mentioned up top, it’s a good idea to look for options to pay anonymous, whether it be via crypto or gift cards? (Mullvad will even allow you to send in money via their postal address.)

As the majority promise to provide you with anonymity, it makes sense to ensure that they have less information about the user on record in case anyone starts asking for information.

7

Overpromising & underdelivering

Almost every VPN service would argue that it’s the “best in the world.”

This isn’t the worst issue, not by a long shot. However, an overreliance on buzzwords and marketing isn’t a great idea when compared to improving the overall quality of the service through hard work and effort.

Almost every VPN service would argue that it’s the “best in the world.” Yet, very few VPNs actually come close to this title.

Be wary if you’re unsure if a VPN is as good as they say. We’ve reviewed almost every major provider you can name, and many have money-back guarantees or VPN deals that allow you to try before you buy. 

8

Questionable privacy policy

A privacy policy essentially outlines what a VPN plans to do with your data. Of course, a number of services have been caught lying in the past or have quietly edited their documents while hoping that nobody would notice. 

A recent example of a strange privacy policy decision would be WeVPN, which was accused of copying ExpressVPN’s privacy policy after a Reddit user noticed extreme similarities between the two.

I’ve checked out the WeVPN privacy policy myself, and at the current time of writing, the sections seen in the image above are essentially the same, down to using capitals for emphasis with specific words. 

Once again, an audit is better than taking a privacy policy at face value.

9

Poor support and budget websites

Take a quick assessment of a VPN’s website, and ask yourself: Does the VPN website look like it was made in 1997? Do the buttons work properly, or does it have the appearance of being put together as quickly and cheaply as possible? 

I’d be wary of any low-budget sites with spelling mistakes and errors, as it shows they lack care or attention to how it looks to customers. If they can’t be bothered to develop their site properly, what does that say about their VPN service?

Make sure to check out their support options. Some claim to have 24/7 customer support but will use a bot for generic responses outside of normal office hours. Premium VPNs like IPVanish tend to have better support, as they make enough money to hire staff. 

10

Poor encryption & slow speeds

VPN encryption is important as it relates to your personal data and how it’s taken care of. Ideally, the service will clearly display the available encryption protocols and features that are on offer on their website. It would also be great to see multiple protocols, such as OpenVPN, WireGuard, or even a proprietary version.   

In terms of usage, slow speeds and fewer servers are likely to be a warning sign that you’ve signed up with an inferior provider. 

For example, the majority of VPNs will slow down your connection to an extent due to the nature of the protocols used to encrypt data. However, if speeds have slowed to a crawl no matter which server you’ve selected, it’s more likely an issue with the provider’s service overall.

Top 3 VPN Providers for October 2022

While no VPN is perfect, some come pretty close. We’ve listed three of our top VPN selections that perform very well when it comes to privacy and security. You won’t find many – if any – red flags with these providers.

NordVPN 

NordVPN is a premium provider that has transparent ownership and is based in the privacy-friendly region of Panama. The VPN took part in the industry’s first-ever audit, which tested and verified its no-logs policy. (It was performed by the respected PricewaterhouseCoopers AG.) 

With over 5,200 ultra-fast servers in 60 countries, NordVPN offers many optimized servers for things like P2P traffic, obfuscation, and Double VPN. It will unblock a range of international streaming platforms, and is one of the best VPNs that work with Netflix.

pros

  • Transparent ownership & audited
  • Lots of extra privacy features
  • Expansive server network

CyberGhost 

Another viable option is CyberGhost. They’re based in Romania which is a positive, although they are owned by the same parent company as Private Internet Access – Kape Technologies.

They have over 7,600 servers to choose from in 91 countries, which is one of the largest VPN networks you’ll find.

pros

  • Accepts cryptocurrency as payment via BitPay
  • Supports torrenting and P2P
  • Fast, secure, and easy to use

Surfshark

Finally, SurfShark is another company based in a privacy-friendly region, this time the British Virgin Islands. The BVI is a self-governing British territory that does not fall under 5, 9, or 14 Eyes Jurisdiction.

Surfshark unblocks Netflix, with access to over 30 regional libraries, and additional features that include MultiHop and NoBorders mode. Also, the split-tunneling feature (Bypasser) allows the user to use both a VPN and non-VPN connection to increase speed and conserve bandwidth, and they accept anonymous cryptocurrency payments via CoinGate and CoinPayment.

pros

  • Based in the British Virgin Islands
  • Multiple third-party audits from Cure53
  • Free 7-day trial available

Picking a Reliable VPN

There are thousands of VPN and proxy services out there that brag a big game. However, many don’t live up to their promises.

Ideally, you’ll be looking at an audited provider with a full range of information on offer about multiple facets of their business. They might not be able to answer every question, but you shouldn’t get the sense that they’re purposely keeping you in the dark. 

After all, they’re supposed to be providing the user with anonymity via legal means, rather than hiding behind carbon-copied websites and confusing language. 

Trust needs to be earned, and it’s in your best interests to avoid any VPN red flags if possible.

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