Latest figures show that 80% of us use the internet daily for everything from socialising to shopping. However, the more we rely on the internet, the more at risk we are from cyber crime. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were an estimated 10.8 million incidents of online fraud and computer misuse offences in 2016/17. So, how can you stay safe online? Here are 10 ways to avoid online business scams.
Look up the business on Companies House
In the UK, all Limited companies (excluding sole traders) are legally required to register with Companies House. This information is free for the public to access, so if you’re not sure that a website or online business is legitimate, search Companies House to see if it exists. You should be able to find clear records including the address and phone number of the business owner. If you can only find an email address or PO Box, be wary.
Some fraudsters may set up a fake website using a legitimate business’s name, so cross check the information you find using WHOIS, which will tell you who owns a website and when the domain was registered. Be suspicious if the website is very new and the domain registration is set to expire soon, especially if the business claims to be a long-standing one.
Check for reviews and complaints
To avoid scams, check online reviews of businesses and services before you use them. To get a good overall picture of how reputable the company is, check several review sites such as Trustpilot, Sitejabber, Tripadvisor or Feefo. If you can’t find any information on review sites, try Googling the name of the business and add ‘scam’ or ‘complaint’ to the end and see if it returns any results.
Look them up on social media
These days, any reputable business should have a social media presence and most put links to their social media channels on their website. Check if these links work and scroll through their social feeds to see how active the business is, whether there are any complaints from their followers and whether they engage when people ask questions.
Cross check trade association memberships
Many companies display badges on their website to prove that they belong to reputable trade bodies such as The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or the Gas Safe Register. However, it’s easy for scam websites to steal these logos and make you think they’re a trustworthy site. If you’re in doubt about a business’s accreditation, contact the trade association they claim to belong to directly, they’ll be able to confirm whether the business is really a member.
Look for contact details
Any company offering goods or services should list their business address, phone number or email on their website. Double check contact details by phoning and looking up the address on Google maps to see whether the building actually exists.
Check the quality of the website
Check the address bar in your browser, the website’s URL should start with “https://”, which indicates it’s a secure site, rather than “http://”. Check through the website carefully to see if it looks professional. Warning signs include bad spelling and grammar, use of stock or poor quality photos and a lack of an “About Us” or “Contact page”.
Make sure Gaming Sites Have The Right Licenses
Online gaming is becoming more popular by the day and as a result there are lots of people trying to scam the unwary. Trustworthy online gaming sites are licensed by reputable gaming authorities such as the UK Gambling Commission. They actively check that games are fair and legitimate and that website staff are fully aware of their responsibilities towards players. Details of the site license should be displayed at the bottom of every page and should have wording similar to this:
“Health Lottery ELM Limited is licensed and regulated by the Gambling Commission (license no. 000-026057-R-309179).”
But there are lots of online lottery sites operating without a valid license, and many of these are outright scams, even going as far as making direct phone calls to would-be punters to obtain sensitive information like credit card details.
Understand payment methods
Never pay for a service or goods by bank transfer if you’re not sure how reputable a business is. It’s much safer to use a secure payment option such as Paypal to make online purchases. Before making any online transactions, check that there’s a padlock symbol in your browser address bar when you try to log in or register for payment, this should also turn green to let you know the site is safe.
You’re also protected under section 75 of the UK Consumer Credit Act if you pay by credit card for purchases costing between £100 and £30,000. This gives you an extra layer of protection in case items are faulty or the company goes bust before delivering the goods or services. In these cases, you can get a full refund from your credit card provider.
Protect your personal information online
Take basic safety precautions when shopping online or using online services. The Citizens Advice Bureau recommends creating long, unique passwords that include a random mix of numbers and upper and lower-case letters. Always use anti-virus software and make sure you update it regularly, and don’t forget to install the latest versions of your web browsers.