by Andrew Ngozo


The Safety (or 'Unsafety') of Online Businesses

The Internet may be fertile ground for some innovative new start-up companies, but it is also a breeding place for deceptive businesses. Recently, users have fallen victim to many sites that promise to auction or sell your goods, only to fail to deliver once you’ve handed over the money. Other sites are particularly devious and will actually imitate reputable organisations. Then there is the online business that promises to give you a loan regardless of your credit history. Fortunately, there are several telltale signs for deciphering whether an online business is trustworthy. While acknowledging that we live in very difficult economic times, always remember that, if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.


With information abounding, how then does one ensure that one is not taken for a ride by someone trying to make easy money? Well, read on as we try to share information on how to determine which is a safe, and therefore genuine, online business and which is not.

Look for the Site’s Offline Address
One excellent way to determine whether a business is reputable online is to figure out whether it provides an accurate offline address. Before you sign up for anything with this online business, spend a few minutes hunting around on its site for a physical address. If you can’t find one, that may already be a bad sign. Once you have this address, SiteJabber, a consumer protection service that allows Internet users to rate and avoid deceptive websites, recommends that you use Google Streetview to get a closer look at the business’s storefront. “If a discount online electronics retailer claims to be located at an address that is actually a fast food store, beware!” says Jeremy Gin, the chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of SiteJabber.


Grammar Police
As a general rule, there is a direct relationship between how reputable a site is and how many grammar mistakes there are on a page. Obviously, no site is perfect (I have made my fair share in my career), but if you notice that a site misspells its own product descriptions or is loaded with grammatical errors, then it might be best to take your business elsewhere. As Jeremy notes: “If you’re looking at buying a USD50 Gucci bag on a website that lists it as a ‘Gucci handbag Xtra cheeap’ it’s likely this is a counterfeit product.” Similarly, the Better Business Bureau cautions users to beware of sites that are full of capital letters, exclamation points and dollar signs. It’s a bad sign when an online business starts to look more like a blog run by a 12-year-old.


Beware of the Badge
Many fraudulent businesses are aware that you may be looking for signs to determine whether they are trustworthy. That’s why some sites will include a fake badge or certificate attesting to their legitimacy. So, according to Jeremy, if you do see a badge on the site, make sure that it includes a link to a legitimate ratings association like VeriSign or the Better Business Bureau. The latter has already accredited more than 60 000 sites and provides additional information about them for consumers.


Check for the ‘S’
Before you agree to offer up any of your personal information, you should take a moment to see if the web page itself is secure. To do this, all you need to do is look at the front of the web address toolbar for the ‘https’. All domain names start with ‘http’, but when the ‘s’ is added on, it indicates that the page is secure and that any information you enter on the site is encrypted, meaning it is protected. Unfortunately, this alone does not mean that the online business itself is trustworthy, just that you don’t have to worry about potential hackers discovering your personal information elsewhere on the Internet.


Research the Site
SiteJabber is one of several online tools you can use to verify the authenticity of a given site. Users on SiteJabber write reviews of the good and bad sites they’ve come across, so you have a great resource to find out if there are serious complaints about a particular online business. Another great tool is, which examines thousands of sites for spyware, spam and scams. And, as mentioned before, you should check out the Better Business Bureau, which provides contact and accreditation information for online businesses, as well as indicates any consumer complaints that have been registered against the site and government actions that have been taken in response.


Protect Your Purchase
Similarly, if you are concerned about giving your credit card information to any online business, you should take advantage of sites like ShopShield and BillMeLater, two sites that allow users to purchase stuff on shopping sites across the web without having to give out your credit card information.


Trust Your Gut Feel
Ultimately, if all of this leaves you feeling unsure, Jeremy from SiteJabber recommends that you ask yourself to honestly evaluate the online business. “Ask yourself, ‘Does this deal seem too good to be true?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s probably best to walk away.”


To conclude, closely linked with the safety of online businesses is the growing crime of identity theft. Here is what you can do in cases of identity theft.

  • Make sure you change your passwords for all online accounts. When changing your password, make it long, strong and unique, with a mix of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols.

  • Close any unauthorised or compromised credit or charge accounts. Cancel each credit and charge card and get new cards with new account numbers.

  • Think about what other personal information may be at risk. You may need to contact other agencies, depending on the type of theft.

  • File a report with your local law enforcement agency, because you will need to provide a copy of the law enforcement report for your banks, creditors, other businesses, credit bureaus, and debt collectors.

  • If your personal information has been stolen through a corporate data breach, you will likely be contacted with additional instructions, as appropriate, by the business or agency whose data was compromised. You may also contact the organisation’s information technology (IT) security officer for more information. 



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