Staying Safe During the Online Christmas Shopping Season

With Christmas fast-approaching, most of the llamas and their families are heading to online stores to find gifts. You already know the reasons for wanting to shop online: awesome prices, free shipping, wider selection, and not paying sales tax. Possibly most importantly: the only way to do all of your shopping in pajamas!

Here at Classy Llama, we know eCommerce. Working with and building sites all day long gives us a pretty keen eye whenever we go to a site. We know what quality looks like. On the flip side of that, we also can tell when something isn’t right.

This past weekend when my wife plopped her laptop down beside me and asked me the question “Should I order from this site?” It prompted me to show her how I validate the occasional site that I go to that looks sketchy. This post aims to answer that question “How do I know if I can trust this site?”

Four Signs of a Funky eCommerce Site

  1. Design & Content
  2. SSL
  3. Site Verification
  4. BBB / Online Search


One of the first indicators you should look for (and the first thing you’ll see) is the design and the content of the site. Sites that are scam sites don’t normally tend to expend much effort on the aesthetics of their site. While not all sites are ugly or contain any of these signs, these can be a big clue that the site you are on is not what it seems to be. This is not entirely comprehensive, but it can definitely point you in the right direction.

Consistently Bad English & Grammar

Do they use proper English? What about grammar? Sites that don’t pay attention to these very simple things are probably not paying attention to things like shipping your order or keeping your credit card information to themselves.

  • “Discount Off 57%”
  • “includes returning and exchanging goods that you are not happy”
  • “company establish in 2002, and have large business”

Reviews That Don’t Add Up

Just because a site shows that a product has 5-stars doesn’t mean that those 5-stars are reviews. If you click on a product and don’t see reviews, chances are that those stars are just there to make you think those products have reviews.

Funny Site Statistics

On one particular site, I refreshed the page a couple of times and the “guest counter” would change every time the page refreshed. Not like a regular site, where the number might change slowly. This one changed wildly. I’ll go a step further and say that, most likely, if the store you are on has a “who’s online” or “guest counter” it is probably fake.

Contact Information

Never, ever buy from a store that does not have contact information. If you can’t get a phone number, address, or some other piece of information that ties them to a specific place, chances are that they don’t exist!


SSL or Security Sockets Layer is a technology that is designed to make sure your information gets transmitted safely and securely. Never, ever buy from a site that does not use SSL. How can you tell if you are using SSL? Well, the fastest way is to look at the location: What are the first 7 or 8 characters?

http:// UNSECURE!

https:// Secure! https stands for “Security HTTP” and is what you should see after you’ve added a product to your cart, are viewing your cart, or are going anywhere through the checkout process.

If you are unfamiliar with SSL, you should take a look at Verisign’s Beginner’s Guide to SSL Certificates.

Recently, SSL vendors have added something called Extended Validation that shows a visible green bar at the top of your browser, noting that a site has gone through an “audited, rigorous authentication method.” These will also show you who the site is.

For more information on SSL, check out the Beginner’s Guide to SSL Certificates.

Site Verification

One thing that truly signifies a “real-deal” site are working site verification logos. The site you are buying from should have them. If that does not, that could be a big sign that this site is not being very truthful with you. What do these verification logos look like? I invite you to take a look at Freedom Paper:

What a real site looks like with verification logos

You’ll notice that there are four logos here. Now, alone, these logos don’t mean a thing. Anyone who wants to look legit can easily copy-and-paste these images and put them on their site. What you must be able to do is click on them. Try clicking on the Verified & Secured Logo.

This is what is important. You should be able to click on every one of those. Sites that go the extra mile to comply and provide verifiable links are a sure sign that your data is safe and protected on those sites.

What Do Others Say?

Finally, don’t be afraid to search the site by name. Using a major search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, look for complaints. You can also check out the Better Business Bureau or Ripoff Report to see if a site has complaints against it. Another site called Web of Trust is actually attempting to make the web safer by providing website “reputation” with a browser plugin so that you can see if a site has a good or bad reputation.

I want to note that just because a site has a complaint or two or five doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to steal your money and run away. You can’t please everyone and some people will complain just because they can. Looking at reports and reviews of a site is another tool in your toolbox.

Putting It All Together

Well, can you trust a site? Chances are that a site can meet all of the criteria here, it’s legit. I personally have been bitten by a site that met all four of these criteria. My credit card was stolen and used.

If any site you visit is missing just one of the criteria, browse cautiously. Some small stores may not have SSL because you pay via PayPal and they don’t need SSL since PayPal handles things securely. Give them a call.

However, if a site has 2 or more of these signs then I’d highly advise not purchasing from that site and finding a site that does take these things seriously.


I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any more please leave them in the comments below. Shop safe and Merry Christmas!

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