Over the last seven years or so buying online has gotten less risky and a lot more convenient. I should qualify that. If you know what to check for, it has become less risky. When you’re buying from an online dealer, all you’re really trying to do is make sure the dealer you select is capable of delivering on their promise of offering goods in exchange for your money in a secure way. I’ll try not to get too deep into the geek world of how everything works – I just want to give you a few tools so that you can have a reasonable expectation of a safe, successful transaction when buying your cutoff saw.
So the first thing I like to do is check whether they have an SSL certificate. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer, and is a protocol for transferring encrypted information back and forth from the seller’s server to your PC. The encryption of data is what helps keep your transaction secure – like sending a message in code between the only two people that know the code. An SSL certificate is given by one of a few trusted authorities (Verisign and Thawte are two of the bigger names) and is in effect an ID to prove that the site trying to sell you products is who they say they really are. Kind of like a passport or driver’s license.
If you’re using Internet Explorer there are two places to check to make sure this dealer has an SSL certificate. The first is the address bar. If they are using a secure server, the website address should begin with https://, which is different from the usual http://. You’ll also notice at the bottom right of your browser window (if you have your browser status bar enabled) there’s a little padlock icon. If you hover over that padlock it’ll tell you the level of encryption being used by that server and site (128 bit seems to be standard). You can also double-click that icon and a new window will open with the certificate information. It will tell you who granted the certificate, who the certificate was issued for (this should be the site you’re buying from), how long the certificate is good for along with other information. If the site you’re about to buy from does not have an SSL certificate or use a secure server, you could be putting your credit card information at risk. Your best bet is to move on to the next dealer who does use a secure payment system.
On top of being able to process secure transactions, I like to know that a company is reputable, and there are a few ways you can check that. Websites like epinions.com, pricegrabber.com and mysimon.com were created to provide a place for people to find a good deal from reputable companies. Run a search for the product you’re interested in and you’ll find a list of sites offering that product, their price, and a rating for their company. If the website you want to buy from has had many positive reviews, that’s one more indicator that they’ll be safe to shop with. Having only a few reviews may indicate they’ve been around for a short time or have possibly not had many happy customers.
I also like to check the internet archive, archive.org. This site periodically scans all of the internet looking for new sites or sites that have seen changes since the last visit. I’ll check to see if the saw dealer site has at least appeared in the archive for more than a year (two is better), and that it hasn’t changed hands in that time (going from a cartoon site to a tool selling site, for example).
The final check I like to make is on a search engine like Google, Yahoo! or MSN. I simply type in the name of the company trying to sell me the cutoff saw and search. Often if people have been burned by a site they’ve purchased goods from, they’ll tell someone about it somewhere on the web. Sometimes I’ll search for “don’t buy from (site name).com”, or “(sitename).com sucks”. It’s not uncommon to find at least one disgruntled customer – I’m sure you have at least one, right? But if there seems to be a large number of them, you might consider trying a different dealer.
If all these things check out, I’m feeling pretty comfortable that this is a legitimate operation and the likelihood is pretty high that the transaction will go off without a hitch. Now let’s see about buying a cutoff saw through an auction site like eBay.