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3 Ways to Shop Online Safely

Wednesday, 16 July 2014  |  Essili

As someone who runs a reputable online business I get infuriated when I find examples of rip offs, whether they be fake products or financial frauds, it annoys the hell out of me. 

Despite the efforts of the EU to regulate trade there are still traps for the unwary shopper because it is only the reputable businesses that abide by the EU rules and the unscrupulous businesses just ignore the rules and carry on duping the innocent.

So I thought I would use today’s blog post to help you stay safe from the fakers & fraudsters when shopping online.

The three essentials to shopping safely on line are knowing that the company is legitimate, their site and payment processes are secure and the product they sell is the genuine article.

1. Spotting the legitimate companies:

A genuine company will be up front with their information and comply with legislation. They will probably give you more information than the minimum that the law calls for.

Look for the following:

  • Land line telephone number.

Since June 13th 2014 all retail sites within the EU must give customers a landline telephone number for customer services calls. They can still use an 0845 or 0800 number for sales.  So look for the telephone numbers.  Avoid sites that do not offer any phone number.

  • Physical address (not a PO box)

A company should give you a physical address. Showing a physical address on the web site has been a requirement for as long as we have been trading but surprisingly there are still retail websites that do not show where they are.

  • Company VAT number and company a registration number.

If the product being sold is not VAT exempt then the lack of a VAT number could indicate a business that is very small or is not an EU based business or worst of all - not a genuine company. 

A VAT number should be 9 digits long not including the country letters, (GB) for a UK company.  Checking the number of digits only tells you it is the right length. To check that the company displaying the VAT number is valid you can go here http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/ where you can check any EU VAT registration including UK businesses.

If the business is a limited company then they should display their limited company name and their registration number, even if it is different to the web site name.  A UK company can be checked on the Companies House web site:  http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/ 

The Companies House web site has a service called WebCHeck where you can enter either the limited company name or the registration number and you will be able to see the registered address of the business (this might be different from the trading address used for shipments or returns). You can also see how long the business has been trading, what it is registered to do and whether the accounts are up to date.

This is a free service and a really good way to check out a UK business. I have noticed a growing trend for overseas businesses either to use a co.uk domain name or to add UK to their name to give the impression they are a UK based business. As consumer rights are regional it makes sense to avoid any company that pretends to be something or somewhere they are not.

  • Other Contact Details

You would think a business would want to hear from its customers so if you are thinking of shopping from a new site, check first that they are easy to contact by other means than just on the telephone. Since June 13th 2014 UK and EU retail web sites should provide an email address in addition to any contact form they might have.

There has always been a legitimate reason why  websites only offered a contact form.  An email address on a web site will attract spam bots like wasps to jam but now it is a legal requirement to provide the email address, other methods must be used to protect the email address from spam.

Summary

Obviously a shopper does not want to go through a lengthy checking process every time they shop on line, but if it is a first time visit and they have no personal recommendations to go on, then it is worth spending a little time checking that the web business really is who they say they are, where they say they are and if the site does not provide the contact information listed above then try finding the product somewhere else that is more up front and complies with the information legislation.

Secure Site & Payment Methods

Look for the padlock and green bar in the URL. 

Once a shopper has added items to the shopping cart and gone through to check out the URL bar should turn green if that part of the site is encrypted to a higher level of security.  Some sites that do not take payment details on their site, perhaps because they only offer PayPal as a method of payment, will not have what is called an SSL certificate and so their URL bar will stay unchanged when you go through the check out. So the lack of the padlock and green coloured URL bar on a site that only takes PayPal is not necessarily a bad sign, but it makes sense on such a site to check that all other elements of a good business are there before completing the purchase.  

Equally some sites may have an SSL certificate even though all payments are off-site just as a belts & braces reassurance to their customers. This is a very positive sign.

The Genuine Article

Lastly beware of fake product. If you see something on offer that is unusually cheap – stop! And take a very long look at the retailer. We all know the saying "if it is too cheap, it is too good to be true" but still people get caught out by fake product.

I have seen examples of fake Lola Luna, Vollers corsets and many other brands. The shopper who thinks they are getting a great bargain will soon find out their mistake. Fakes are never made to the same quality standard as the genuine article. Cheaper fabrics, non-nickel free metal attachments that will cause rashes and bad stitching that will cause the garment to fall apart are just three of the risks. The fakers use images stolen from legitimate sites selling genuine product so it is only when the item arrives that the differences become apparent.

A last word about shopping on Ebay

Forums like the one on Money Saving Expert are a rich source of bad feedback from people who have purchased on Ebay from unscrupulous operators. However, there are many thoroughly decent businesses using Ebay as another route to market.  They just don’t get mentioned on forums because the happy customer tends to be more silent than the unhappy one.

Payment on Ebay through PayPal is secure. So there are just two elements to check - is the seller reputable and are they selling genuine product. I would also recommend a check for the product on the greater web before making the decision to buy. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen lingerie on Ebay (and on Amazon) that we sell and actually sell at a lower price with a faster delivery.

This article (published 16th July 2014 on Ever-so-Sexy.com Blog) is the copyright of Crysalis Ltd. It must not be replicated in part or full version without the consent of Crysalis Ltd.

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