Online fraud costs consumers around a quarter of a billion dollars a year. With many sites sporting seals of approval, you might think they ensure a company is legitimate and your data is secure. Consumer Reports says that's not necessarily so.
Going online has its risks. You may look to Web seals to ensure a site is safe.
"Companies post Web seals on their site to show that their business is on the up and up, or that they protect their customer's privacy. But you can't always count on them." said Consumer Reports' Tony Giorgianni.
Take the seal from the Online Business Bureau. The company claims it's better at "protecting consumers online" than the Better Business Bureau.
"All companies have to do to get a seal from the Online Business Bureau is to pay $14.97 a month, a onetime initiation fee, and they get a green rating indicating they're a recommended business." said Giorgianni.
And companies that don't pay-even the venerable American Red Cross-get a yellow warning, telling consumers "We cannot verify this merchant's status" and "proceed with caution."
And just because a site has lots of seals, doesn't mean it's necessarily a good business.
"We checked the company at the Better Business Bureau, and it had more than 200 complaints and an "F" rating." said Giorgianni.
And it turns out there's even a potential problem with the Better Business Bureau's own "BBB seal of accredited businesses."
"Click on the seal and you're supposed to get the company's BBB report. But they can be faked. This one, for example, shows an A+ rating. But the BBB says this report is fake." said Giorgianni.
So Consumer Reports says you have to go directly to the Better Business Bureau's Web site at bbb.org to check out a site.
Besides checking out a site at bbb.org, Consumer Reports recommends doing a Web search.
Put in the company's name and words such as "complaints" and "rip-off" to see if anything comes up.