Rods Guide To Safe On-line Buying

And not being ripped off.

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Having been in the computer business since the early eighties, and involved in sorting out peoples computer problems, I probable get to hear about a lot of the scams going round. It is the dramatic increase in these scams and lowering of business ethics that have provoked me to write this article. Although this was written particularly with the internet in mind much of what follows is also applicable to non-Internet trading.

It's an unfortunate fact that with each passing year the chances of getting swindled or ripped off seem to grow. In the normal day I will commonly receive 10 or more rip-off offers of some kind. The ingenuity of some of these has to be admired though most are just laughable. And it's not just the out-and-out criminals you have to be wary of, more and more 'legitimate' businesses seem to be running on the policy of providing the bare minimum of exchange - a what can we get away with sort of operation. The average person is probably at more danger from these latter type than from the outright criminals.

Some of the major plus points to look for:

Individual or company gives a proper street address, and telephone number (not just a mobile) - this gives you a way to check at least that they may have a real identity.

The phone is answered promptly and politely during normal business hours.

Technical questions are answered properly.

Contact details, phone numbers, address, and owners names etc are easy to find on website.

Normal emails are accepted (not just web forms)

Emails and other communications are responded to promptly.

Accepts payment by credit card or verifiable methods such as Paypal

Description of products are not exaggerated and are specific and complete.

You have had good word of mouth feedback about the company from someone you know.

Prices quoted are within a reasonable range.(1)

Specifications are within reasonable range.(2)

The business or individual is in your own country.

Personal callers are accepted. (3)

Goods may be collected personally. (3)

If buying downloadable software:

Sellers site has copious version histories, FAQs, hardware, forums, support info, upgrade policies enough to make it clear that this is an on-going well supported product with technical people on staff. (4)


1) If the normal cost of an item is £500 and someone is offering it for £250 or less take great care it is probably a rip-off or in the case of software a pirate copy.

2) If an item is offered with all the top of the range extras but at a low price beware as in 1.

3) It should not be considered an outpoint to require callers to make an appointment.

4) It is not uncommon to find the one version software - usually low quality software written to fill a temporary market niche, with no intentions of ever providing updates or fixes - often sold on an affiliate/agent basis.

Minus points to watch out for:

Contact details are hard to find on website.

No phone number.

Phone goes to voice mailbox (says will call you etc) or answered by machine.

Only web form for email.

Only 0870 or some higher rate number provided, is a pretty good indicator that they don't really want to talk to their customers or wish to make money from doing so.

Only gives mobile phone number (attempt to hide identity?)

Only accepts payment by Western Union, cash or other non disputable means.

No address given.

Slow or non-responsive to communications.

Glib, over complicated, or no terms and conditions.

Returns & refunds policies not stated or overly onerous.

Is not in your country.

Will not accept callers or allow collection of goods.

Quoted specifications for goods not specific to the item offered. (4)

A request for the serial number of the item offered is not answered or hedged.

Questions about the goods/service offered are not answered fully or are hedged.

Seller will not use a well known and recommended escrow company but insists on using one of their choice.(5)

Software sellers website looks like it was written by an advertising PR person rather than a software developer, site only mentions one product, no version history, no updates, little technical info, download trial requires providing email address (spam threat).


4) For example a manufacturers specification for a PC may say capable of using up to 2gb ram and a cpu up to 3ghz.
Be very suspicious of a spec that is just lifted from the manufactures spec or just states the maximum of everything. It may mean this item does not actually exist so start asking for serial numbers etc.
5) A escrow company is one that holds money on behalf of a buyer and only releases it when the goods have been safely received and accepted. Unfortunately there have been many scam escrow companies set up purely for rip-off purposes

4 & 5 will more commonly be found in on-line auctions scams.

6) Premium rate numbers, 0870, 0845 etc, are nearly always used as a way to extract a few more pence from the customer. Sadly more and more, otherwise ok organisations, are using them. However, there are web sites that can provide alternative normal(geographical) numbers. If like me, you have one of these all-in phone services with free calls to normal numbers you could save quite a bit. I normally use which seems to find alternatives to about 80% of the premium rate numbers I have looked up.


Probably the minimum you should look for in an on-line company you are proposing to buy from would be:

A proper street address, a normal rate phone number, an email address, ability to pay using a credit card and a favourable response when you check them out by phone.

What I have given here is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting ripped off. If you plan on doing a lot of business on the net a bit of time searching Google for 'scams' will really open your eyes to some of the things that go on.

ISP rip-offs

The rip-off I'm talking about here, is not the usual ones they get accused of (often justifiably) relating to speed, bandwidth, excessive small print get-out clauses and all the other dirty tricks. What I'm on about here, is the taking advantage of customers ignorance, to get them to install junk software that effectively "steals" their computer resources and steers them in directions calculated to make more money for the ISP. The worst two offenders I know about are AOL and BT(since they sided with Yahoo). When you use their "set-up" disk it installs tons programs you don't need e.g. the AOL browser or Yahoos browser, messenger programs, limited life "protection" programs and all sorts of other junk. These "free", "for the customers benefit" items of course have a tendency to benefit the ISP by using their their search engines, display their ads and generally attempting to tie you into their system. But it gets worse, these junk programs are set to auto start with Windows so you now have an extra 6 programs or more taking resources all the time, apart from any program YOU want to run.
Nearly always, all that is needed is set a user name and password in your email program, your router or network connections. Not that I favour MS products specially but it will mostly use less resources using the programs built into Windows - IE, Outlook express, Windows messenger, Windows media player etc than adding the "free" junk.
So ideally, do your ISP setup manually, get the family computer whiz to help, choose your own software not "their choice".

Search Engine Rip-offs

Remember the old controversy about the Financial Advisors, whose, "what's best for you" advice somehow always involves the products on which they earn most commission by "coincidence" of course. Unfortunately this same effect seems to happen with search engines. The alleged provision of "relevant" results somehow makes the results even those with very loose commercial connections come to the top. For me, Google still produces the most relevant and seemingly non-biased results. Check it some day, do a comparison of searches on Google and Yahoo and puzzle over the results, ignore the sponsored ones obviously.

All the above is based on my own experiences and opinions and not intended to be a recommendation, look, experience and make your own best judgments.

Hope this helps Rod

P.S. I have HERE a list of voucer or discount codes that can qualifiy you for special offers and discount from a variety of reputable major companies such as Tescos Marks & Spencers, Boots etc.