It pays to have a healthy sense of suspicion when you make a purchase or give a company your details, whether online or on the high street.
When you buy something from a company you have never heard of, it is sensible to find out as much about them as you can.
After all, con artists use fake companies to make their scams look more real, and you do not want to be duped if you can help it.
1. Check for concrete details
One of the easiest ways to spot a fake company is if you cannot 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, concrete location somewhere in the world.
Look for a physical address on the company's website. If this physical address is a registered office, even better.
Check their website for a phone number - preferably a landline number - then call this 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
If no-one answers or you are put through to an anonymous call centre, this may be your first warning sign that the company is not legit
2. See what others say
Using a search engine like Google can give you all sorts of information on a company, including what people are saying on forums and social media:
If someone speaks of a bad experience with the company or warns against dealing with them, you will 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 is not gospel but it can act as a useful indicator when you are not sure about a company.
3. Search the FCA register
If you are looking at a company that deals in financial services or products, there is 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.
If a financial company is not on the FCA register, you should avoid them. You can search for a company 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
Look for specific things on the company's website that may give away whether or not they are truly legitimate:
If you notice poor English used frequently on a website that appears to be trading as a UK company, the company may be based overseas.
Check if the website lists any testimonials from satisfied clients or customers. Make sure they sound genuine and not formulaic.
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 do not materialise.
Finally, before you even consider entering your payment details, it is vital that you check for "https://" at the start of the url and that a padlock or key symbol is displayed in your browser.
It is also a good idea to pay with a credit card; that way a dodgy company would not be able to clear out your bank account.
5. Go with your gut
Finally, sometimes it is best 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 is better to be safe than sorry.