We often ask ourselves, "Can I trust this website?" Here at SiteJabber we know how difficult it can be for consumers to determine the quality of online businesses and websites. That's why we've put together a couple guidelines we like to follow to avoid problems.
The best place to start is often asking friends - consider sending out an email to see if others you know have experience with the website in question or can recommend a similar website. You can also check to see if your friends have reviewed the website or businesses by logging into SiteJabber with Facebook Connect.
SiteJabber's goal is to provide more transparency around the quality of online businesses and websites by giving consumers a voice to share their experiences; so as a next step you can try searching SiteJabber.
The US Government also provides several resources (more links on right):
Onguard Online - consumer online information site filled with useful tips on how to stay safe online
Bureau of Consumer Protection - The FTC's consumer information site for online and offline help
Consumer Action - US Government site with access to consumer complaint letter forms and consumer news
Before making a purchase or consuming important content, it's important to understand who is running the website or online business. Is the site run by an individual or a company? What is their physical location and phone number? How long have they been in business? If they claim to be an "expert" what are their qualifications? This information should be available on a page that might be called "about us," "contact us" or "company information." If a website does not have this information, you should proceed with caution. Other important pieces of information to read are a website's "terms of service" and "privacy statement." And if you are making a purchase, read the "return policy" and "shipping policy" and product or service description very carefully. While a website can always violate posted terms, these documents can be a helpful guide to what you might expect.
Be aware that your personal information is valuable. Before you give out your name, credit card number or contact information, be sure that the website will not abuse it. For example, when you sign up for SiteJabber, we try to make it clear that we will not share your information or send you unwanted emails. Also, SiteJabber only asks for your name and email to identify your reviews and does not ask for other information such as your birthday or gender because those pieces of information are not necessary. Other trustworthy websites should do the same - they should explicitly state that they will not share your personal information without your permission and they should never ask you for irrelevant information.
If you need to make a payment on a website, try to use a credit card. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, US consumers have the right to dispute charges, and in the event of unauthorized use, are held liable for only the first $50 in charges. Debit cards often do not offer the same protection (although you can check with your bank). Also, be sure never to email your financial information, as email is not secure, and check your financial statements carefully and inquire with your credit card issuer regarding any suspicious activity. Payment by Western Union, MoneyGram, and bank wire transfer should be avoided, as such funds cannot be returned if goods or services are not received.