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Shop Horror - 7 questions you should ask before buying from a website

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 04 August 2016
  2. Consumers
  3. 0 comments
Shopping online

There’s no shortage of sites to buy from online – a simple Google search for what you want will no doubt bring up tens of thousands of results. What you need to know, of course, is which online retailers can you trust? Here are a few questions you should ask yourself to ensure you don’t get ripped off by online scammers.

Are they well-known?

If you’re just getting started with online shopping, you might be best sticking with bigger and more established sites – the same way you might feel more secure buying something in real life from a large chain retailer instead of a market stall.

You can try shopping with popular online retailers like Amazon, or use the websites of high street retailers like Tesco or Argos. You can feel secure in the knowledge that these are established companies who will not try to scam you and can be easily reached if you have a complaint.

However, while these sites do offer a wide range of products, they might not cut it if you have gone online to find something unique or unusual.

Do they keep your details safe?

Trustworthy online retailers take measures to protect the privacy of their customers – when you’re sending personal details and card numbers over the internet, you shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Any decent online shop should have a Privacy Statement available, which tells you exactly how they store and use your personal data and what they’ll do to keep it safe.

Online traders should also make sure that their checkout pages are secure, to protect your card details from being stolen. This is done with what is known as an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection. If SSL is in place, a small image of a padlock should appear in the address bar of your browser when you go to buy something. You may also notice that the web address begins with “https://” rather than “http://”, indicating a secure connection. If you don’t see these things, that’s an indication that your personal data is at risk, even if the site isn’t an outright scam.

Does it look professional?

Another giveaway that an online shop might not be legitimate is that it simply doesn’t look very good. If a site contains large amounts of spelling errors or seems to have a lot of poor-quality images, it might be something that a scammer has thrown together in a hurry.

Even if it isn’t, it still shows that the person behind it may not be taking their business especially seriously, and might not be particularly concerned about whether their customers are happy with their purchases or not. Either way, this kind of site is best avoided.

Can you contact them?

A genuine business should have a registered address and contact details available on their site so you can get in touch. Of course, a convincing fake could also have these things, but a site that doesn’t offer any contact details at all should immediately raise suspicions. Even if they are a real business, it could be very difficult to get in touch with them if something does go wrong.

What do other people think?

One way to find out if a company is trustworthy is to look for online reviews. Try searching for the company name on Google or another search engine and see what other people have said about it. Of course, there is always the risk that you cannot trust this information either, since it could have been written by anyone – but if you see multiple discussions on forums saying that a company is a scam, or see extremely bad reviews, it’s a safe bet that you shouldn’t buy from them.

Is it too good to be true?

Beware of sites that offer deals that seem too good to be true – for example, products sold for far less than you’d expect to pay. You might be receiving pirated or knockoff goods or inferior replacements, or they may simply take your money and not send you anything in the hope that you will not go to the effort of getting a refund.

Of course, buying online does often mean getting great bargains – but if a site you’ve never heard of is offering a product at a price that no other seller comes close to, this should be enough to set warning bells ringing in your head. At the very least, you should do more research before you commit.

You can learn more about your rights when buying online in our Goods and Services section.

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