With the unprecedented economic upheaval of the past few weeks, it’s no wonder investors are questioning traditional information sources (aka, financial advisors) especially as they watch their hard-earned retirement funds diminish before their eyes.

And in today’s Information Age, the easiest resource for anyone seeking financial information is right at their fingertips — the World Wide Web.

But when doing web research, investors must proceed at their own risk. While the Internet can be a useful tool when used correctly, it can quickly become a dangerous weapon and a real detriment to your future financial health.

Here are four basic rules investors should keep in mind when doing web research:

Ask the right questions. Understand that the question you ask could dictate the answer you get, ultimately coloring your results.

Try a variety of search terms and combinations to ensure you are getting varied and unbiased information.

Qualify your results. Be ware of falling prey to phantom marketing — accepting the first results that you find when searching for an answer. Companies spend good money to make sure that their name pops up first. But the top 10 websites that come up on a search are not necessarily the most qualified; they’re just the ones that have a marketing motive. Oftentimes, the information you need may be buried in your eighth page of search results.

Check your facts. It’s more important that ever when doing your web homework to view yourself as a fact-checker. While it’s important to seek other opinions, make sure that the facts supporting an opinion are truthful. By accepting any opinion you find as fact, you may unwittingly be steering your investment decisions the wrong way in a highly charged environment. Rather, make sure you come to the Internet with a clear idea of what you believe, and use the information you find as further proof of your beliefs.

Stress-test your opinion. Once you’ve decided on an opinion that makes sense, spend the same amount of time trying to disprove it. For every opinion on the web, you can find hundreds of people that support it.

But just because you have found people who back up your assumption doesn’t mean it is fact.

Ken Kamen is president of Mercadien Asset Management, a division of the Mercadien Group in Hamilton. A nationally recognized financial expert and advisor, Kamen earned his bachelor’s in finance from Hofstra in 1981.

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