How to identify a genuine business (and avoid the dodgy ones)
Ego-surfing, the popular hobby of googling oneself, is practically a national pastime. And if you're not doing this yourself, someone else is probably plugging your name into Google.
In fact, 1 billion name searches are reportedly done every day, spitting out equal amounts of fact, fiction and mistaken identity.
The same is true of businesses and, likewise, the results are not always flattering. And worse still, they may not even be true.
On a personal level I'm happy to be mistaken for the American actress and screenwriter Carly Woods, who probably has a far more interesting life than I do. However, it frustrates me to no end that one of the top search results for my business Get My Refund is "Is Get My Refund a scam?".
Not now, not ever. Just no.
This is one of the many problems of the Internet. People innocently turn to the web to question whether something really is too good to be true, and in doing so they leave dirty footprints that can leave others also scratching their heads.
This online cloud hangs over companies, preventing people from taking steps that might actually help them. Or land them a windfall like a refund from junk insurance.
So how can people find out if a company is the real deal?
Look for an address and landline phone number in the real world
The first page of the google search will show the registered address for businesses. Cross check the address with the company's website to make sure it's consistent. It's also a good idea to google the address to make sure it exists in the real world and that there is a landline number you can contact to speak to a real person.
Scrutinise the "About" section of the website
If it is a larger business, ensure it is registered
Has the company been registered? All companies, above a certain size, need to be registered with ASIC. The ASIC website has several registers that you can search for free, including the Organisations and Business Names register. If a company isn't registered, find out why not and make sure you are searching using the correct name.
And for a small business, make sure it has an ABN if you are trusting it with large sums of money, or handing over your personal details such as bank accounts
Smaller businesses, such as sole traders, joint ventures or partnerships need to be registered in each state and territory where they operate. These businesses can be checked using the ABN Lookup website. That said, a business can operate without an ABN and it is only compulsory if turnover reaches the $75,000 mark.
For very small businesses, such as cottage art and crafts businesses, it really is of little consequence or risk that there is no ABN, but if a consumer is handing over their personal details or large sums of money then an ABN suggests the business is well established.
Find out about regulation and membership bodies
Memberships of professional bodies and industry groups show that a company is meeting standards set out for the industry. Sometimes membership is not mandatory, so this is a great sign that a company is going above and beyond the standards expected for its industry.
Ensure it has a licence to operate
Industries like building and banking are highly regulated and companies are not able to even open their doors without a banking or building licence. For our industry, a company like ours offering to help obtain junk insurance refunds, from last year businesses must have a credit licence to operate but some are still going through the process of obtaining this.
Read the reviews
Does the company have good reviews? Check reviews on sites such as Trustpilot to see what other customers are saying about the business. Not all reviews are authentic but this can reveal red flags when a company is a fake or a phony.
Staying one step ahead of the scammers is a full time job, even for whole government departments, so for us mere mortals the challenge is real. A healthy amount of paranoia is not a bad thing, as long as we don't miss out on the real deal when a good opportunity to nab a bargain, claim a win or potentially land a windfall comes knocking on our door.
Carly Woods is the founder and CEO of Get My Refund.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article (which may be subject to change without notice) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Finder and its employees. The information contained in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort. Neither the author nor Finder has taken into account your personal circumstances. You should seek professional advice before making any further decisions based on this information.