From ordering take-out to paying our electricity bill, today we can do just about anything online. You can plan out and book your entire Punta Cana vacation. I mean, it’s pretty awesome that you can sit bundled up on a train during your morning commute to work, and can purchase a surfing lesson or a catamaran excursion from a Punta Cana tour operator But like all of our other exchanges online, with greater ease and convenience when shopping online also means that buyer has to beware and determine whether they are purchasing from legit sites.

As Punta Cana continues to rapidly grow as a tourist area, new and exciting new excursions and tours are springing up all the time in order to match the demand for these touristic services. But there are also those who would just take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. We posted an article a couple of weeks ago about illegal tour operators on the beaches, who are locally called pirates, today these pirates are also moving online. What if the only thing getting you through a brutal winter is the mental image of you horseback riding down the beach, only to find out you’ve been scammed and there will be no horseback tour?

Sure you could just wait until you get to your hotel to pick and buy an excursion, but there definitely are advantages to buying online. The first advantage is pretty simple, booking and paying for your excursion before you arrive means that you don’t have to worry about it anymore, you just have to show up and have a good time. Secondly you can make sure that you get a spot on the tour you really want. Waiting to book your excursion until you get to the hotel it can be first come first serve, so booking with a Punta Cana tour operator online means that you can reserve your spot ahead of time.

Lastly buying online is a great way that you can make sure that you’re booking with a trustworthy company, instead of buying a tour from an illegal tour operator. But that’s just the thing, when you are making purchases online, how do you know which business is the most legit and trustworthy? This is especially important when you are buying something you can’t return, like a tour or excursion.

We don’t have a definitive answer to this question, although we wish we did, but as consumers we compiled the things that we normally look for when trying to decide if a website or business is legit. We used that criteria to look at around 20 online Punta Cana tour operators, to see how they measured up.

First things first, their legitimacy, which we determined using a couple of different things. Like, are they a registered business, in the Dominican Republic or in some other country? This might not be something that you can easily observe on a website, but worth emailing/ or calling about, don’t you agree? Which brings us to the next point, do they have an email and phone number, but more importantly do they answer their phone or email? Before you go spending hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on your vacation, you at least know that someone is going to answer your phone call. Now the question is will they answer in English or Spanish?

There are some bigger online Punta Cana tour operators that have been around for a while like Cheap Caribbean, which you can’t always guarantee the best service, you know that they’re a legitimate company. And then there are others like Tours Punta Cana Bavaro who have no posted phone number and kind of make you woneer. Tobeo Tours page is only in Spanish – which doesn’t mean that their illegitimate, but well that you’ll have to speak Spanish to book with them.

Payment Security
Probably one of the most important aspect when trying to decide whether or not to put your financial information out there, is whether it is safe. Here’s a really easy and quick technical trick you can use, when you are looking to purchase something online make sure that it is a secure connection, if it is there will be a green lock at the top of the search bar. Making sure a site is secure helps to prevent entering your information at malicious websites that only want your personal information. You want to look at the payment options, can you pay using pay pal? Does the check-out process even work?

For example Travel and Tours RD had an annoying system for trying to pick and purchase tours, I had to pick what I want from their menu and then put in information as if I was booking a hotel room. Punta Cana Trippers check out process was worse, because it didn’t even work.Every time I would try to check out the page wouldn’t load. The sites that you want to use are the ones that have the SSL security little green lock thingy, and I always prefer sites that allow me to pay using Pay Pal, that way I don’t have to give out my credit card information.

Reputation and Customer Service
In today’s day and age any viable company is going to have an internet presence, especially if your goal is to sell tours through your website. We wanted to know what people were saying about these companies on the internet. When you put in their name, how far down are they on Google? Are there reviews on trustworthy sites like Trip Advisor? What are the reviews like, and are they current reviews.

They say that one happy customer is worth 10,000 worth of advertising, basically customer service is gold. You want to make sure that you are checking reviews directly from a second party site like Trip Advisor, because some people could make up reviews, or, believe it or not copy reviews about another company and post them as their own. One of the websites we caught doing this is Tours Bavaro Punta Cana – they have a long side panel full of reviews but when I googled the reviews they were actually for a company called Caribbean Dream.

I decided to look at the Caribbean Dream website and it looks like some of the text on the Tours Punta Cana Bavaro was copied straight from them as well. Hmm that is really suspicious to me, why would you need to copy some other company’s reviews and steal their tour descriptions?Some websites, Hello Tours also had a long list of reviews, but where did these reviews come from? Then there are those that don’t have any reviews or discussion about them at all. The Trip Advisor reviews might clue you into this, but you could also try it out for yourself, send them an email, ask a question and see if anyone gets back to you

Web Presence
I know they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you do want to make sure that the website looks legit. This means it isn’t covered in advertisements, and they don’t sound overzealous to sell you something – both red flags. Is the website easy to understand, does it look professional? Also is the text original, this might be hard to tell, but if you start looking at a couple sites you might find that some text is an exact copy of text on other websites, something that tells you to be aware.

For example was not easy to navigate and every time I put in a date for a tour it said that the date was unavailable. At ToursPuntaCanaBavaro they didn’t display the price of the tours outright, I had to send a message (the reply I’m still waiting for) in order to get a quote. The website for SunBargain had no real description of who they are or what they do, just tours and prices right on the page, which kind of makes me uncomfortable.

Social Media
This last one may not be the most important, but it gives you some insight into the company. Any Punta Cana tour operator trying to sell their services online is going to make sure that they are stay engaged with their customers on social medial. Check to see if they have a Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus account. Anyone can open a social media account, but those who are likely to be real business probably engage with their followers and keep their social media updated.

These were some of the things that we looked at, but what are some of the things you look for before making an online purchase? How do you make a final choice? Let us know in the comments your criteria for deciding where you buy online.