How do I know if an online company is legit?

With the rise of e-commerce, more and more companies are operating online. This provides great convenience for consumers, allowing them to shop from the comfort of their homes. However, it also opens the door for scammers and fraudulent businesses. So how can you tell if an online company is trustworthy? Here are some tips:

Check for basic indicators of legitimacy

There are a few basic things you can look for that suggest an online company is legit:

– Professional looking website – Scam sites tend to have poorly designed pages and broken links. A polished, user-friendly site indicates the company cares about putting up a professional front.

– Working customer service channels – Look for a phone number, email address, live chat box or contact form. Being able to actually get in touch with customer service is a good sign.

– Secure checkout process – When entering payment information, look for the “https” in the URL and a padlock icon. This means your data is encrypted during transmission.

– Detailed terms and conditions – A robust terms of service and clear return/refund policies show the company has put effort into being transparent.

– Active social media presence – Established brands tend to have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram profiles and other social media. This allows customers to engage with the company publicly.

Research the company online

Do a quick Google search for reviews and complaints about the website. Check sites like TrustPilot and the Better Business Bureau. Look up the company name along with words like “scam,” “reviews,” “fake,” etc. to uncover any red flags. Widespread complaints about fraud or terrible customer experiences indicate you should avoid the site.

Search for mention of the company on reputable business directories like Corporations Canada or U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database. Scammers rarely go through the effort of proper business registration.

Check how long the website domain has been registered. Sites created very recently may be more unstable or disreputable. A .edu or .gov domain name also verifies legitimacy.

Investigate the “About Us” page

Any professional company should have an “About Us” or “Our Story” page that provides background on who owns and operates the site. Research the listed owners and executives online to verify they are real people. Search their names on LinkedIn to see if they have legitimate business histories. If no names are given at all or the content looks sketchy, that’s a major red flag.

Look up the physical address provided to see if it matches a real building. Fake sites will often list made up addresses or virtual office spaces. Calling the company’s number and seeing if a receptionist picks up can provide another layer of verification.

Read product listings closely

Scam websites tend to have very limited product selections with stock photos and vague descriptions. Legitimate sites provide abundant details about item materials, sizes, manufacturing, shipping and more. Make sure product photos are not generic or copied from elsewhere online, which can indicate a dropshipping scheme.

Watch for extra low prices that seem too good to be true. Very cheap products are one of the main lures scammers use. Be especially wary of hot ticket items being sold at steep discounts.

Be cautious with new or unknown brands

When considering a purchase from an unfamiliar online brand, start by searching “[company name] reviews” and “[company name] scam.” Look through multiple pages of Google search results for any worrying mentions. The first page alone can miss key complaints.

Check online communities like Reddit, forums and consumer complaint boards to gain insight from other customers. Search for the website on ScamAdviser and see if it is flagged for known scams. Look at the site’s TrustPilot score – low scores or no ratings at all are red flags.

Examine shipping and returns policy

Fake online stores often have prohibitive shipping fees, slow delivery timeframes and restrictive return windows in order to deter customers from actually placing orders. Carefully read through the website’s shipping, refund and exchange policies before providing your payment information.

Professional e-commerce sites partner with major carriers like UPS, FedEx and USPS to enable reliable, timely shipping. Long wait times or sketchy sounding fulfillment services are a bad sign. Also confirm you will have at least 14 days after delivery to decide if you want to return an item.

Pay with a credit card when possible

Avoid online sellers that only accept payment by electronic wire service, cryptocurrency, gift cards or other non-traditional payment methods. These provide zero fraud protection. Whenever possible, pay by credit card when shopping online. Under federal law, you can request a chargeback from your credit card issuer if goods are not delivered as advertised. Debit cards still offer limited protections.

Check site security and encryption

When entering any sensitive information through an online checkout form, first check that the webpage URL begins with “https” rather than just “http.” The extra “s” indicates traffic is encrypted via SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). Click the padlock icon in the browser address bar to verify the site’s security certificate is valid and current.

Beware limited selection and pricing

Be skeptical of sites that only sell one type of product (e.g. shoes) but offer every popular brand you can think of. Similarly, be wary if prices are dramatically lower than anywhere else online. This unlikely convenience is a ruse fraudsters use to lure bargain hunters. Stick to well-known online retailers or brands’ own sites.

Watch for fake reviews and endorsements

Savvy scammers build credibility by padding sites with positive testimonials and five-star reviews. But on closer inspection, the reviews can be for unrelated products or contain similar phrasing. Search for evidence that reviews are fake or paid for. Many scam sites also use celebrity endorsements or trusts seals without permission.

Trust your gut instinct

If something seems questionable about a site, tread carefully. Be skeptical of any retail sites claiming to sell luxury goods at a steep discount or other “too good to be true” scenarios. Make note of any grammar errors, low-res images or inconsistent branding that seem off. ultimately, if your gut says an online shop seems fishy, listen to that instinct and avoid providing payment information.

How to Spot Fake Online Reviews

Here are some tips for detecting fake or untrustworthy reviews on a website:

– **Generic praise** – Comments that simply say “Great product!” or “Loved it!” without details likely come from review farms. Genuine reviews mention specifics about shipping, quality, etc.

– **Similar phrasing** – Multiple reviews that repeat nearly identical wording are a giveaway. Real customers will describe experiences in their own words.

– **Focus on negatives** – Authentic reviewers share both pros and cons. Site owners often delete or hide critical feedback.

– **Helpful votes** – Fake positivity tends to get called out in comments and “Was this review helpful?” votes. Check if negative reviews have been voted helpful.

– **Incentivized reviews** – Statements like “Received this product discounted in exchange for an honest review” show the reviewer likely feels obligated to leave positive feedback.

– **Reviewer patterns** – Check if one-time reviewers all bought the product around the same date, indicating a review ring scheme.

– **Social proof** – Scam sites often fabricate the number of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, etc. Double check that social media activity appears authentic.

– **Reviewer profiles** – Click on profiles and be wary if they seem empty or fake, for example stock images or no other reviews.

Evaluating Third-Party Rating Sites

When researching online companies, be selective about which review and rating sites you trust. Watch for the following best practices:

– Site provides an **unbiased** platform for consumer reviews, without favoring brands that pay for placement or advertise. Reviews seem authentic and two-sided.

– Reputable site with a **track record** of protecting reviewers’ anonymity and uncovering scams. Look for consumer advocacy articles on their blog.

– Reviews seem **independently verified** to come from real customers. Questionable or shill reviews are screened or removed.

– User profiles and **reviewer motives** appear genuine, without pattern of reviewing only for compensation.

– Score **algorithms** are clear. Criteria for ratings is transparent and fair.

– There is a **large sample size** of reviews, not just a handful of positive testimonials. Enables a balanced perspective.

– Site provides **context** on companies reviewed, not just a static score. Background information helps interpretation.

– Reviews are **current** and regularly updated. Old or outdated feedback not helpful for frequent changes.

– There are **screening processes** to prevent manipulation like ballot stuffing, especially for user voting.

Signs of an Online Shopping Scam

Here are some key warning signs that an online shopping site may be untrustworthy or outright scam:

– **No physical address** for the business listed on website or “About Us” page

– Website looks amateur or hastily made with **stock images**

– Too-good-to-be-true **discounts** on luxury brands or hot items

– **Limited selection** of products compared to leading retailers

– **Pushy sales tactics** urging immediate purchase or limited-time deals

– **Sketchy payment methods** like wire transfers, gift cards or cryptocurrency

– Poor **grammar/spelling** errors throughout the site

– **No customer service** phone number or email address provided

– Excessive **popup ads** and clickbait-y product photos

– **No seller ratings/reviews** from services like Trustpilot or BBB

– **No mention of returns** or refunds allowed

– **No HTTPS security** for checkout payment page

– **No social media presence** for the brand or website

– Vague **shipping** and delivery times, high fees

Protecting Yourself from Online Shopping Scams

Here are some tips to avoid getting scammed when shopping online:

– **Research sellers** thoroughly before providing payment information

– Pay by credit card whenever possible for added fraud protection

– **Avoid unfamiliar sites** selling coveted items at steep discounts

– **Search for complaints** against the website across multiple sources

– **Read terms carefully** for refund/return policies before ordering

– **Check privacy policies** regarding use of personal and payment data

– **Call the company** to ask questions if something seems off

– **Verify security** features like “https” URL and SSL certificate

– **Trust your instincts** and do not purchase if something seems questionable

– **Monitor credit card** for unauthorized charges/activity after online purchases

– **Use a secure web browser** like Chrome or Firefox with anti-malware tools

– **Do not use public Wi-Fi** to shop from unsecure hotspots

Reporting Suspected Online Shopping Scams

If you purchased from a website you later determined to be fraudulent, report it to prevent future victims:

– **Notify your bank/credit card issuer** – Request an immediate chargeback and cancel the card if needed

– File complaints at [****](, [****]( and your state consumer protection office

– Add a review about your experience on **product review sites**, e.g. Trustpilot, SiteJabber

– Report the website on **cyberthreat exchange platforms** like Phishtank or FraudWatch International

– Contact the domain name provider/registrar and request the **fraudulent site be taken down**

– Share scam details on **community forums/channels** to warn others; post photos, website screenshots

– File a **complaint with** for Internet Crime Complaint Center investigations

– Submit evidence to [**Google Safe Browsing**]( to flag the site as unsafe

– Consider contacting local news desks or consumer reporters to **tell your scam story** publicly

Spreading the word about online scams is key to putting dishonest retailers out of business. The more action taken, the less likely others will fall victim in the future.

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