Now it's time for investigation. Look for the obvious:
- Do they have a security/hacker prevention or testing certificate?
- Does the LOGIN process use an encrypted HTTPS page? Notice I've capitalized LOGIN, that's because you want the pages where you enter all your personal information to be secure.
- Does the checkout process use an encrypted HTTPS page? Naturally you want the payment pages to be secure.
- Read the privacy policies. It's so easy to just blindly click "Accept" here. But you should 1) ensure that there isn't a big blank after the small amount previewed in the acceptance screen and 2) read it to see if you agree with it.
- Find out how to contact the company if there is a problem. Keep the site bookmarked or better yet, write down (or keep an electronic file) of the company name, web address, customer service contact info.
Beyond this you can do some research to check out the company.
- Search Google for the store name and words like "scam" and "customer service."
- Check the Whois to see what the website registration looks like. It is not a good sign if it was just registered last week.
- Check if the company has a yellow pages listing and street address. If you have a phone number, a company with a street address is a lot more reassuring. Check the address on Google Maps to see if it is a vacant lot.
- See if the site has a warning listed on McAfee SiteAdvisor.
It can take a lot more time to go through this investigation. But it's worth it. You goal should be to get a good product at a great price from a company you can trust.
This post originally ran on November 10, 2008.