When you're contemplating purchasing something from a company you've never heard of, it's good sense to find out as much about that company as you can.
After all, unfortunately scammers do exist and you don't want to be the next to be duped if you can at all help it.
It pays to be vigilant at all times and to have a healthy sense of suspicion whenever you commit to making a purchase or supply a company with your personal details, whether they are an online merchant or a shop on the high street.
Here are our top 5 ways to check a company is legitimate before you make a decision you could regret.
1. Check for concrete details
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're dealing with has a physical, concrete location somewhere in the world.
Check their website for a phone number, preferably a landline number - then call this number to see who answers. If an employee of the company in question answers the call you can have some reassurance that you are dealing with a 'real' 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 is not legit.
You should also look for a physical address on the company's website that you could write to if you so wished. If this physical address is a registered office, even better.
2. See what others say
One sure-fire way to get to know any company better is to enter their name into a search engine such as Google and see what results you get. This may bring up instances on forums, for example, where someone speaks of a bad experience with the company or warns against dealing with them - in which case you'll know to steer clear.
Equally this may bring back results where the company is shown in a good light which will encourage you that they are a legitimate firm.
'Googling' a company is a good way to get to know more about who they really are behind their superficial image. Remember that what is said on forums isn't gospel, but it can act as a useful indicator when you aren't sure about the legitimacy of a company.
3. Search the FCA register
If you are looking at a company who is part of the financial sector and deals in financial services or products, there's one simple way to check out their credentials: look them up on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register.
The FCA register is a comprehensive database holding details of every financial company who are registered and regulated by the FCA.
Therefore if you are dealing with a company who aren't on the FCA register, you should avoid them. You can search for a company on the FCA register by entering their name and/or postcode.
Another good resource is the UK government's Companies House website, which you can use to perform a search of all 2 million+ limited companies trading or once registered in the UK.
4. Check out their website
Obviously if you are dealing with an online company their website will be your first port of call. Otherwise, if you are dealing with an offline company seeking out their website is a good way to find out more about them.
Look for specific things on the company website that may give away whether or not they are truly legitimate. If you notice poor English used frequently on a website that is purporting to be trading as a UK company, this may be a clue that the company is in fact based overseas where English isn't the first language - which should raise your suspicions if you were under the impression you were purchasing something from a UK-based company.
Also, though they can't always be relied on, check if the website lists any testimonials from satisfied clients or customers. Do they sound genuine?
What's more if you are going to purchase something online, always check the company's refund and exchange policy so you know 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 and that a padlock or key symbol is displaying on your browser. It's also a good idea to pay with a credit card (although make sure you pay it off at your next statement date) so that if a company isn't legitimate they aren't able to clear out your bank account.
5. Go with your gut
Finally, one of the best pieces of advice is to simply go with your gut feeling about a company. If you have any suspicions or you are uncomfortable dealing with the company, walk away and take your business elsewhere - it's better to be safe than sorry.