Apr 8, 2008

How To Research An Unknown Online Retailer

from Consumerist
So you just spotted that gizmo you've been lusting for at unbeatable price, but the only problem is it's for sale at an online retailer you've never heard of. How do you know if they're trustworthy? Consumerist reader "Gigantic Robotic Penguin" (don't let the name turn you off) has put together a comprehensive guide to evaluating unknown online retailers. Get started snooping, inside...

All these steps add up to a matrix that can either reassure you or make you want to run the other way.

* Do they have a toll free customer service number and published hours of operation?
* Do they take credit cards? It is no guarantee of quality if they do, but it is one step up. I think you should generally avoid any place that only takes Western Union money transfers.
* Do they have a security/hacker prevention or testing certificate?
* Does the checkout process use an encrypted HTTPS page?
* Are the company Privacy and About pages blank, or do they look like they are from a default template for an online shopping cart that was just set up the day before?
* Search Google for the store name and words like "scam" and "customer service." It is not a good thing if all the entries are for people asking if a site is a scam in Yahoo Answers.
* [www.google.com]
* Check the Whois to see what the website registration looks like. It is not a good sign if it was just registered last week. It should not look like someone is trying to hide the fact that they are running a business out of their parents basement.
* [www.geektools.com]
* Check the Traceroute to see what network it is running on. It should match the WhoIs info to some extent.
* [www.opus1.com]
* Check if the company has a yellow pages listing and street address. If you have a phone number, a company with a street address is a lot more reassuring. Check the address on Google Maps to see if it is a vacant lot or an address in a housing tract.
* [www.411.com]
* See if the site has a warning listed on McAfee SiteAdvisor.
* [www.siteadvisor.com]
* Check fraud and scam report sites. Some of them also list sites that have allegedly scammed other people.
* [edsbandwagon.com]
* Beware of "Online Review" sites. Some are little more than a site for scammers to post fake positive reviews, and the owners to make money on banner ads. Here are some you can trust:
* [www.epinions.com]
* BBB online. Lots of places do not have entries because they are small and treat their customers well enough to not get a complaint.
* [search.bbb.org]

What techniques do you use to see if a site is legit? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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