So you’ve found the perfect product online but can’t find it at any bricks-and-mortar store. Your problem is that you have never heard of this company before and have never ordered from a website. Sound familiar? You’re not the only one however as online shopping has exploded in the last 5 years and will continue to grow in the future. There are ways to make sure you get what you pay for and avoid making costly mistakes and future regret. Here are our top 10 “how to” ways to help you evaluate an online business and its trustworthiness. Good luck! How to #1 – Search the Internet First Searching the internet (Google, Bing, Yahoo) is one of the best ways to inform yourself about an online company. Type the name of the company’s website address followed by review or scam in a search engine and if you find you find a complaint or complaints, investigate further. If a site is new, there may not have been time for complaints to surface so keep that in mind and see our next point. How to #2 – How Long Has The Site Been Online? Search the web quickly and you will find websites that have literally just started yesterday. You will have no idea if this online business is legitimate and trustworthy. Stick and associate with sites that have been around for over 3-5 years and have a proven track record of reliability and integrity. Search Whois and type the web address in you should be able to find how long the site has been around as well as possible ownership of it. How to #3 – Check for the Sites Offline Physical Address When you find a site that meets the top 2 criteria, look for an accurate offline physical address. If you can’t find one, that may be a sign not to proceed. If found, type the address in Google Earth – Streetview. If the company claims to be a pergola and gazebo manufacturer but the streetview shows a dodgy urban setting, move on! How to #4 – Call, Write or Email Using Contact Info From the Site! Look for a phone number and email address and contact the site directly. If someone picks up and answers professionally or emails you back in a reasonable time frame, that may be a good sign as well. How to #5 – Look for Trust Seals and Associations Legitimate online businesses will invest in security on their sites and belong to associations of trust such as the Better Business Bureau. Look for these “seals” and check it out by clicking on them as they ALL will be linked to a site. Many fraudulent online businesses will include fake seals that link nowhere so click on it and make sure it takes you to a legitimate page. How to #6 – What Are the Terms and Conditions as Well as the Cancellation Policy Read through the website’s terms and conditions before doing business with them to check for understanding and to verify the terms and conditions make sense for you. Print a hard copy for future reference. How to #7 – Review Site for Original Content and Photos and Grammar Many legitimate websites will only publish original content, pictures and information about their business so keep your eyes open for obvious plagiarism. Quickly review grammar and if you find an abundant amount of mistakes, move on and take your business elsewhere. How to #8 – Check for Credible Links Trustworthy websites often link to other reputable sites. Go to any search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo and enter the …..link http://www.yourwebsite.com. You will be able to see what other sites are linking to this site and if they look credible. How to #9 –Do They Accept Major Credit Cards and Offer a Pay Pal Payment Option? The safest way to shop on the internet is with a credit card. In the event something goes wrong, you are protected under the Federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. If you are concerned about providing credit card information, PayPal is a safe option that will allow you to make a purchase without having to give out your credit card information. Click here to learn how to setup a paypal account. How to #10 – Trust Your Instincts! After placing an order online, you should receive an emailed confirmation page that reviews your entire order. It should include the costs of the order, your customer information, product information, and the confirmation number. We recommend you print out this page as well as the page showing company name, postal address, phone number, and legal terms, including return policy. Keep it for your own records for at least the period covered by the return/warranty policy. If this does not happen within the half hour, contact the site. If no response within a day, be prepared to cancel the purchase. By using the 10 “how to” steps above, you should be able to identify and verify a legitimate and trustworthy online business. If a site is new and you still want to do business with them, either trust your instincts or ask yourself what you’re really gaining with the added risk you may be taking on!