There’s no guarantee, but there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
1. Don’t assume that a website address that ends in .co.uk is owned by a company based in the UK. Anyone (virtually) can buy a .co.uk web address. It doesn’t tell you anything about where the company is based.
2. Look for a physical address and contact number. If the goods don’t arrive, you’ll probably want to be able to speak to someone, rather than only be able to send an email to its customer service department.
3. Find out what customers are saying. Type the company’s name into a search engine, and check out review sites. Add the name ‘problem’ or ‘complaint’ to double check. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy from the site just because there have been complaints, but if there are a lot of unhappy customers or there’s a common thread between the complaints, it may be better to buy from someone else.
4. Make sure the site accepts secure payments. This is a tricky one because different websites use different security systems. You can look for a golden padlock sign, which will normally be in the browser bar. However, the padlock system may appear elsewhere or the website may use a different security system that doesn’t produce the padlock symbol.