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Websites you can trust – what to watch out for?

In the past, I have compiled top tips to protect yourself when online – Avoid Online Scams, Protect your personal data, Avoid Financial Phishing, and Top Tips for Online Credit Card Security.

However, this top tips series will fill in some of the blanks not covered by the previous top tips – specifically, how can you check out a website to decide whether it can be trusted or not.

I’m putting these top tips together now due to the large number of new Irish consumer websites being set up at the moment, and particularly in light of the issues I’ve highlighted with some new consumer websites set up recently (here and here).

So, here are a few things to check out when deciding whether or not you can trust a website that you find interesting and would like to use:

1.    Find out who’s behind the website

Is it clear who is behind the website – are there the names of the people behind it, or the company name, available on the website? Don’t get involved with a website unless you’re sure that it’s real and you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

If it’s a company, then you should be provided with their company registration details. You can find out more about the company using the Company Registration Office website.

You could also check the website registration to see who’s behind the website – if it’s a .ie, you can go to www.whois.ie to get the website details. www.whois.com will give you similar information for .com and other types of websites, but it’s easier to hide who’s behind these kinds of websites.

2.    Find out what other people are saying about the website

Do a web search for the name of the website and the name of the company or people behind to see what other people are saying about them. You may find comments, positive or negative, which will help you decide to use the site, or not.

3.    Find out how you can contact the people behind the website

Check the Contact Us page, and the About Us page to see what contact details are provided. Are there e-mail addresses or phone numbers? Or is there just an anonymous Contact Form?

When checking for contact details, consider how you’d fare if you had a problem and you needed your money back, or needed to actually speak to someone about a problem. Enough details now?

It is an EU Regulation that contact details be provided on a business’ website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to contact them.

4.    Find out where the people behind the website are based

In addition to the above contact details, if you’re handing over personal information, or making purchases, from a website, you should consider what you’ll need to actually find the business.

Say, for example, you’re having no luck with a product you bought that doesn’t work and you want to submit a claim in the Small Claims Court.

Is there a physical address for the people behind the website available? Is the address sufficient that you could actually find the place if you had to?

One tip – if there is a company name on the website, you can check the Companies Office website above – there should be an address available there.

It is also an EU Regulation that a business’ premises address is  provided on their website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to find them.

5.    Is the website secure?

The top tips referred to above include information on how to check if a website secure – i.e. look for the gold lock symbol, or the https:// before the website address.

One thing you should also confirm is that following clicking on links around the site that when you do actually begin to provide personal details, are you still on the same website you originally visited, or have you been redirected to a different URL.

6.    Check the small print before handing over details

Before giving away any of your details, you should check for pages such as Terms & Conditions, Disclaimers and Notices. Are you happy with their contents – are there any conditions that you don’t understand, or that you find suspicious?

7.    Don’t hand over unnecessary information

When you’re filling in forms on websites you’re using, always bear in mind the reason that you’re at the website and whether or not the information you’re being asked for is suitable and relevant.

For example, if you’re buying some books online, would it be appropriate for someone to ask you for your bank account details or your PPS number?

Check the Privacy Policy on the site to see what they’re going to do with any information they’re asking for that you are actually willing to give.

8.    If in doubt, don’t

At any point, if you’re not sure about what’s happening or what you’re seeing in front of you, stop.

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