In this day and age, the question of Web security and online privacy (or lack thereof) is grabbing the attention of many in the Internet community. The internet is laden with dangers, from the growing number of "copycat" websites or misleading marketing produced by affiliate webmasters to the more organized "fly-by-night" operations looking to cash-in on impulsive product buying trends. Internet users need constantly be aware; it is imperative that any Internet user exercise an educated common sense approach when selecting an online solution.

Product vendor credibility and trustworthiness are key considerations in making an informed decision as to what product a user can rely on to mitigate existing and nascent internet fallibilities. Unfortunately, spotting trouble and figuring out how to avoid it are not easy tasks. The following is a short list of concerns that should be considered.

Credibility & Trustworthiness

Credibility & Trustworthiness - Check newsgroups, search the web. Look for search words such as: "website name" + "spam" or "fraud", etc. Selectively comb through this data while looking out for misrepresented information that may be coming from a competitor in the industry.

Duration of Web presence

Time on the Internet - Look for "fly-by-night" operations that operate under different domain names - Check (External Link: WHOIS RECORDS ) and confirm with Internet archives: (External Link: WAYBACK MACHINE ).

Template Copycats

Watch out for template "copycats". Almost every original website on the Net has a number of "Copycats" websites that simply copy content from an original site in order to sell an inferior quality product. Needless to say, if a business model lacks an ethics policy and is prepared to take another's intellectual property without permission, you should expect similar disregard from "copycat" ventures with respect to your interests and private information.

Website glamour & flashy designs

Look beyond website glamour and flashy web designs. Impulsive marketing / purchasing and customer satisfaction do not always play well together. Take the time to learn a product and educate yourself. Utilizing the web to your advantage to do a product comparison is a good idea that should not be overlooked.

Integrity of a secure website

Verify the validity of the SSL certificate for a site. Invalid, expired or self-signed SSL certificates can be an indication of possible trouble. In order to obtain a secure web site certificate, a web site owner must provide supporting information to a company that issues the certificate to confirm the identity of a site registrant. This third-party validation process can add to the credibility of a site.

Online privacy deception

Exercise caution and factor in all options when reviewing website privacy policy. A template privacy policy does not carry much weight if it is not meticulously followed equally online and offline. Keep in mind that a website hosted by a third-party web hosting company may not disclose the fact that hosting provider personnel have complete access to the system that stores your sensitive personal data, as well as other potential privacy leaks not covered by the scope of web site privacy statement. The information that you submit or provide to a website can result in transparent sensitive data leaks due to uncontrolled third-party network or physical equipment access.

Common sense

Whatever entrepreneurs do online and offline is usually done for a reason. When it comes to online ventures, whether it is product marketing, publicity, consumer profiling or other forms of obscure revenue streams, the actions must result in some sort of benefit to the website developers. It imperative that you are comfortable with the site business model and have a clear understanding of it before you disclose any private details about yourself in exchange for a "free" service or product. Remember that it is against human nature to invest money into anything without a calculated return on investment.

Make no mistake about it! Your private information is the most valuable asset on the Internet. In the wrong hands, a simple piece of information like your email account and password may facilitate a devastating chain reaction that can lead to identity theft and other deplorable consequences.

Consumer resources on the Web:

SAFESHOPPING ONLINE (American Bar Association), / CONSUMER SAFETY TIPS (Yahoo! Inc), / CONSUMER INFORMATION (Federal Trade Commission)

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