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Checklist: How to Find Out If a Website Is Legitimate or Not?

Sarah Bolton

Sarah Bolton

The World Wide Web is an amazing resource that can be positively utilized for a countless number of worthwhile purposes.
However, we live in a reality where cyberspace is full of illegitimate and malicious websites, operated by people whose sole aim is to steal your money or sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords, addresses, social security numbers, bank account information etc.

Unfortunately, scams, data breaches, phishing attacks, and fake online stores are all parts of the digital puzzle.
So, how can you know when a website is safe? What can you actually do in order to protect yourself from falling victim to potential criminal activity on the web?

The good news is that there are many telltale signs that can help you verify a website’s legitimacy before sharing your credit card details or personal information with it.
Here are 13 practical ways that can help you analyze any given shopping site, online service, or business website and judge whether it deserves your trust or not.

  • Reputation: Whenever possible, use the services or products of long-established, recognizable and well-respected companies that have a proven track record over new or unfamiliar ones.
  • Be Cautious: Always suspect ‘Too Good to Be True” promises, claims, or offers.
    Stay away from vendors that offer overly aggressive discounts or unusually low prices that do not do not correspond with a realistic market value of the product or service.
  • Use Google: Research the company’s digital footprint on Google and review the search engine’s results.
    Look for consumer complaints, lawsuits, and unbiased third-party reviews.
    With just a tiny bit of basic digging, an ocean of vital information about the company’s performance and conduct can be easily discovered.
  • Check the Company’s BBB record: Look up the business in question on the Better Business Bureau official website.
    The business profile of a business shows their rating, the number of consumer complaints they have received, customer reviews, alerts, and additional important information.
  • Poor English: Spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and content that doesn’t feel professional and polished may indicate that the text was written by someone who doesn’t speak English as a primary language.
  • Look & Feel: Does the site’s overall design look appealing and professional?
    Does it reflect honesty, integrity, and knowledge?
    Poorly or amateurishly-designed online business websites should raise a huge red flag and often turn out to be scams.
  • Check Out the “Contact Us” Page: Does it offer contact information transparently? Does it include the official company name, full physical address and phone number?
    The more information, the more confident you can feel.
    However, if the page contains only an email address or a generic contact form, be suspicious and walk away.
  • Call Them: Test customer service availability and quality before placing an order.
    Give them a call, find out how long it takes to reach a live person, asking some questions and listening carefully to the response.
    Does it make you feel confident that you’re dealing with a decent business? If not, take your hard-earned dollars elsewhere.
    A simple conversation can reveal a lot in a very short time.
  • Look out for the Site’s Policies: Every legitimate online business will present its policies regarding basic issues such as user privacy, returns, refunds, warranty, payment methods, shipping fees, and money back guarantees in a transparent and detailed manner.
    If the text on these matters is vague, too general, confusing, ambiguous, unfair or even worse – if these policies are not available at all – this is a clear signal to go elsewhere.
  • Website Security: Make sure the site connects securely with your browser over a “https” URL prefix (and not over the standard “http”).
    A padlock symbol in the browser’s address bar indicates that the website uses SSL technology to encrypt transactions and other personal information.
    This basic security measure prohibits third-party elements from spying on your most sensitive data.
  • Use Safe Payment Methods: Avoid dealing with sellers or merchants who wish to be paid only through money orders, bank transfers, or cash.
    In case something goes wrong, it will be extremely difficult to get your money back.
    Alternatively, prefer retailers that offer safer payment methods which provide better consumer protection, such as credit cards or PayPal.
  • Install Virus Protection Software:  Good antivirus software can help to protect you against criminal websites which wish to obtain your personal and financial information.
  • Use Your Gut Instinct: Your own personal judgment is a powerful asset.
    If things don’t look or feel right, it’s time to find a better alternative.