7 Tips to Tell If an Online Biz Is Safe

Deceptive Web Sites

The Internet may be fertile ground for some innovative new startup companies, but it is also a breeding place for deceptive businesses. In recent years, users have fallen victim to many sites that promise to auction or sell you goods only to fail in delivering it once you’ve handed over the money. Other sites are particularly devious and will actually imitate reputable organizations. One of the more notable examples is IRS.com, a site that masqueraded as the official site of the IRS (which is actually IRS.gov) and tricked customers into paying for services that the real IRS offers for free. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission decided to educate consumers by creating a series of fake sites illustrating some popular online scams. There’s FatFoe, an online business that claims to be the long-awaited diet solution that relies on a mysterious eggplant extract, and Esteemed Lending Services, which promises to give you a loan regardless of your credit history. Fortunately, there are several telltale signs for deciphering whether an online business is trustworthy. We reached out to SiteJabber for a few tips and added in a couple of our own. SiteJabber is a consumer protection service that allows Internet users to rate and avoid deceptive Web sites. Photo Credit: Don Hankins


Look for the Site's Offline Address

One excellent way to determine whether a business is reputable online is to figure out whether it provides an accurate offline address. Before you sign up for anything with this online business, spend a few minutes hunting around on their site for a physical address. (If you can’t find one, that may already be a bad sign.) Once you have this address, SiteJabber recommends that you use Google Streetview to get a closer look at their storefront. “If a discount online electronics retailer claims to be located at an address that is actually a Burger King, beware!” said Jeremy Gin, the CEO and co-founder of SiteJabber. Photo Credit: Google


Grammar Police

As a general rule, there is a direct relationship between how reputable a site is and how many grammar mistakes there are on a page. Obviously, no site is perfect (I certainly make my fair share of mistakes here on MainStreet), but if you notice that a site misspells their own product descriptions or is loaded with grammatical errors, then it might be best to take your business elsewhere. As Gin notes, “If you’re looking at buying a $50 Gucci bag on a website that lists it as a ‘Gucci handbag Xtra cheeap’ it’s likely this is a counterfeit product.” Similarly, the Better Business Bureau cautions users to beware of sites that are full of capital letters, exclamation points and dollar signs. It’s a bad sign when an online business starts to look more like a blog run by a 12-year-old. Photo Credit: todd*


Beware of the Badge

Many fraudulent businesses are aware that you may be looking for signs to determine whether they are trustworthy. That’s why some sites will include a fake badge or certificate attesting to their legitimacy. So, according to Gin, if you do see a badge on the site, make sure that it includes a link to a legitimate ratings association like VeriSign or the Better Business Bureau. The latter has already accredited more than 60,000 sites and provides additional information about them for consumers. Photo Credit: BBB.org


Check for the "S"

Before you agree to offer up any of your personal information, you should take a moment to see if the webpage itself is secure. To do this, all you need to do is look at the front of the web address toolbar for the “https.” All domain names start with “http” but when the “s” is added on, it indicates that the page is secure and any information you enter onto the site is encrypted, meaning it is protected. Unfortunately, this alone does not mean that the online business itself is trustworthy, just that you don’t have to worry about potential hackers discovering your personal information elsewhere on the  Internet. Photo Credit: Apple.com


Research the Site

SiteJabber is one of several online tools you can use to verify the authenticity of a given site. Users on SiteJabber write reviews of the good and bad sites they’ve come across so you have a great resource to find out if there are serious complaints about a particular online business. Another great tool is SiteAdvisor.com, which examines thousands of sites for “spyware, spam and scams.” And as we mentioned before, you should check out the Better Business Bureau, which provides contact and accreditation information for online businesses, as well as any consumer complaints that have been registered against the site and government actions that have been taken in response. Photo Credit: sitejabber.com


Protect Your Purchase

Similarly, if you are concerned about giving your credit card information to any online business, you should take advantage of sites like ShopShield and BillMeLater, two sites that allow users to purchase stuff on shopping sites across the Web without having to give out your credit card information. Here’s a list of other great tools that can be useful to prevent identity theft. Photo Credit: BillMeLater.com


Trust Your Gut

Ultimately, if all of this leaves you feeling unsure, Gin from SiteJabber recommends that you ask yourself to honestly evaluate the online business. “Ask yourself, ‘Does this deal seem too good to be true?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s probably best to walk away.” Photo Credit: sfllaw


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