How do you know if the website you’re visiting is real or a scam?
Most of my articles are about the internet. But let’s think about the real world for a second. When you are introduced to a person, you can usually make broad decisions based on their appearance. How strong is their handshake, what are they wearing, how do they smell? All these factors go into your making a conscious decision on whether you like them, trust them and are willing to do business with them. Since working with people is based on trust, those hundreds of little things you notice (consciously or unconsciously) in a face-to-face meeting are pretty important.
In the virtual world you do not have this kind of information. Almost all of our human senses are taken out of the transaction. If you’re trying to win over customers, you have to build trust in other ways. And if you’re a potential customer yourself, you have to determine measure trustworthiness in other ways. It’s a matter of ensuring not only that you get a good value for your money, but also that the information you supply to them will not be used against you.
If you are thinking of buying from a site that you are not familiar with, you may need to do some additional research to confirm that they are who they say they are.
- On an unrecognized site, look for a phone number and call it. If you cannot find a working phone number, or the phone is not answered at the other end, take your business elsewhere.
- Use a search engine to look for any unfavorable reviews about the site. Again, depending on what you find, it may be better to look elsewhere.
- Consider using a software toolbar. Some toolbars can have a detrimental effect on your operating system, so always use a reputable one. Google and Yahoo are good ones that will give you a rating on any website that you visit. These ratings are based on reports from experts. Some of these tools will also tell you whether the site you are visiting has spyware or malware on it.
Once you are sure that you are buying from the right people, then you can continue with your purchase. But not all online transactions take the form of a purchase. There are other dangers on the interweb. One of them is file sharing—one of the largest and most underestimated security risks to your personal information.
The cause of the problem, as usual, is the hunt for free stuff. File-sharing software (called torrent) can give people access to a wealth of information, including games, music, software and movies. File sharing software works by the user downloading an application that connects their computer to an informal network of computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. Most of the time, the software is free.
Free file-sharing software has a number of risks. Here’s how to avoid them:
- Check the settings; the default settings at installation time can allow access to files on your computer that you did not want them to access. This can include tax records, email messages or personal documents. Change the settings, or don’t install the software.
- Some file sharing software is bundled with additional spyware and malware that allows your computer to be used in ways that you did not expect. Look online for reviews of any software you’re interested in before downloading it: “(Name of software)” plus “malware” is a good way to turn up any negative information.
- Most of the file sharing information is covered under copyright laws, which means that you could be breaking the law. If you use file sharing software, make sure that you read the end user license and you are willing to tolerate the potential risks of free download.
Following all these extra steps before clicking “buy” or “download” may seem like a hassle—isn’t online shopping supposed to be instantaneous? But in today’s world, these steps are needed. Spending a few minutes on research is better than spending hours dealing with the fallout of a successful scam.