If you’re ever worried about the authenticity of a company, it’s a good idea to do some research before you consider giving away your money or data.
In this guide, we look at:
how to check if a company is legit
how to decide whether a company’s to be trusted or avoided.
If you’re considering buying something from a company you’ve never heard of, it’s sensible to find out as much about them as you can before you go ahead. Con artists use fake companies to make their scams look more real. It’s easy to be duped, so you should wise up as much as you can to avoid becoming the latest victim. We’re here to help.
If you’re considering making a purchase or giving a company your details, it pays to have a healthy sense of suspicion. This applies whether the company’s online or on the high street.
Here’s how to check if a company is legit:
One of the easiest ways to spot a fake company is if you can’t see any evidence that they exist in reality.
The first thing you should do is check that the company you are dealing with has a physical location somewhere in the world. To do this, look for an address on the company's website. If the address is a registered office, even better. If you can’t see this at first glance, check in the ‘contact us’ section or on the terms and conditions page.
A legitimate company will always give you a way to get in touch with them. Ideally, this will be a proper address and phone number, rather than a ‘contact us’ form. If it’s just a form, this may not be a good sign.
If there is an address listed, you can use Google Maps to search for the premises. This is a good way to verify that it actually exists and isn’t fraudulent.
Check their website for a phone number too. This will preferably be a landline number – then you can call it to see who answers. If an employee of the company answers the call, there’s at least some reassurance that you’re dealing with a legitimate company. But, if no-one answers or you’re put through to an anonymous call centre, this may be your first warning sign that the company isn’t legit.
Using a search engine like Google can give you all sorts of information on a company, including what people are saying about them. Sites like Trustpilot and Google reviews can reveal a lot about a company before you interact with them.
If someone speaks of a bad experience with the company or warns against dealing with them, you’ll know to steer clear. Equally, you might discover that the company has a good reputation, which will demonstrate that it’s a legitimate firm.
Googling a company is a good way to get to know more about who they really are and what they’re really like.
Remember that what’s said on forums isn’t ‘gospel’ but it can act as a useful indicator when you aren’t sure about a company. If you read any negative reviews, you can use your own judgment too. For example, some people might give a negative review because an item was delivered a day late. Other reviews might reveal problems with customer service or product quality. You can decide how good or bad the company really sounds.
If you’re looking at a company that deals in financial services or products, there’s a very simple way to check out their credentials. All you have to do is look them up on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register.
The FCA register is a database which holds details of every financial company that’s registered and regulated by the FCA. You can search for a company by entering their name and/or postcode.
If a financial company isn’t on the FCA register, you should avoid them.
Another good resource is the UK government's Companies House website. You can use this site to search the millions of limited companies trading, or once registered in the UK, and listed in Companies House.
Look for specific things on the company's website that may give away whether or not they’re truly legitimate.
Check for poor English, or lots of typos or spelling mistakes. If these appear on a website that appears to be trading as a UK company, the company may actually be based overseas. This should ring alarm bells if they’re trying to make it look as though they’re UK-based.
Look for the address and landline number. If these aren’t listed, it’s not a good sign.
Check whether website has any testimonials or reviews from satisfied clients or customers. Make sure they sound genuine and not formulaic.
If you’re going to purchase something online, always check the company's refund and exchange policy. That way you’ll you know whether there are steps you can take if the goods don’t materialise.
Finally, before you even consider entering your payment details, it’s vital that you check for "https://" at the start of the URL. You should also look for a padlock or key symbol is displayed in your browser. That will tell you that it’s a secure connection.
It could be a good idea to look up the company on social media. Most companies these days have social channels, especially if they’re selling goods to the public. Check out whether they have an active Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profile, and how they’re interacting with customers. This can also be another good way to see what people are saying about the company.
If you're thinking about trying to work out whether a company’s legit, then it’s likely you’ve already spotted some warning signs. Sometimes it is best to simply go with your gut feeling about a company and trust your initial judgment.
If you’ve got suspicions, and you’re not confident in how to check if a company is legit, walk away and take your business elsewhere. If you’re uncomfortable dealing with the company, it’s probably better not to. You’re better off safe than sorry.
And always remember that if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
Sometimes you might feel that you recognise the website address because it references a well-known brand. But watch out, because it’s a favourite trick of scammers to include a recognisable brand name as part of their illegitimate website.
For example, something like www.cheapipads.net references iPads, but it definitely isn’t the Apple website. The same should apply to something like www.discountgucci.org, which references the Gucci brand but isn’t the Gucci website. Anything like this should raise alarm bells because the genuine brands wouldn’t have an alternative site.
Keep your eyes peeled for web domains ending in ‘.net’ and ‘.org’ too as they’re not generally used by genuine online stores. A web address ending in these may well be fraudulent.
Many fraudulent companies will ask you to pay via bank transfer. If you do this, and it turns out to be illegitimate, you’ll really struggle to get your money back.
If you’ve paid by credit or debit card, you do have a chance of getting your money back. But best thing to do is pay for anything you buy with a credit card. That way, a dodgy company can’t clear out your bank account, and you’ll also get more protection.
Look in the URL bar and see if there’s a padlock symbol. If a website has one, it’s a good sign because it means the site’s encrypted. That means that whatever you do on the site can’t be intercepted, whether that’s browsing, inputting your data or making payments.
As so many websites now have the padlock, it could be a bad sign if the site you’re on doesn’t have it. That said, scammers have found ways to forge the padlock. So you should always assess its presence in combination with the other recommended due diligence checks.
Many people look for a trust-mark label and base their decision on whether to use a website on its presence. But it’s not always the best way to judge a website’s safety.
There are so many different versions of the trust-mark logo out there, and some countries don’t engage with the trust-mark schemes at all. The only way you can actually be sure if the trust-mark you’re looking at is genuine is to contact the trust-mark company in question and ask them.
If you think you’ve been scammed, tell your bank immediately. They can increase security on your current account to prevent further money being taken.
You should also report details of the crime to Action Fraud, either via their website or by calling 0300 123 2040.
Spending with a credit card offers extra protection from scammers and fraudsters with Section 75 cover. Compare credit cards to find one that suits how you spend.