Visit any web page and it will have several links on it – even this page you’re reading right now. Look around and it has several clickables. While links can be enticing and always get people to click on them for further information, are they really worthy of your click? There are clickbaits that promise you an entertaining article but generally contain misleading information. But clickbaits aren’t harmful. What we’re talking about here are links that might take you to websites with viruses and malicious elements. This leads to security threats to your personal data and can also lead to identity theft. Therefore, it is always important to check suspicious links before you click on them.
How to Check Link Safety?
Who Creates Harmful Links and Why?
Online scammers who are more commonly known as hackers are the people behind these malicious links. They generally post phishing links online and try to scam people. Sometimes clicking a suspicious link will initiate a download process without you even being aware of it. This can lead to malware being installed on your device for instance.
If you’ve ever received an email saying that you’ve won a lottery, chances are that it was a phishing email, trying to get your details or money. Look out for emails from credit card companies or banks. If an email asks for your personal information or asks you to click on a suspicious link, it just might be a fraud email.
How Do You Find Out If a Link Is Safe?
There are a number of ways to help you assess the genuineness of the link.
Read the Domain Name
If an email supposedly comes from your bank and the link takes you to another website that’s not the official website of your bank, treat it as a red flag. It just might be a phishing attempt. If your bank’s website is https://www.bankofamerica.com/ but the link takes you to https://www.bankofamerica.wordpress.com/ (just an example), do not click on it. It’s an obviously fake website.
While you might read the first part of the URL and think it’s genuine, it’s important to read the entire URL properly. Some phishers replace 1 with the letter “I” and 0 with the letter “o” to confuse users. For example, they might redirect you to https://bank0famerica.com/. Keep these small details in mind when you’re taken to an external link from an email.
Hover Over the Link
When you hover over a link, notice the bottom left corner of the screen. It displays the link URL there. Check the URL from that portion and read the URL completely to ensure you aren’t redirected to a malware website.
If you’re not sure about a website, copy the URL and search for it on Google. The top results will help you find if the URL is indeed genuine or not.
Check the Header on the Email
Many email providers shorten the header when you receive an email. However, when you expand the header, you’ll see the entire details of the header. Make sure you expand the header to read the details. If you think you don’t know the sender of the email, don’t click on the links in the email.
You might receive an email that looks genuine. However, if you don’t know the sender of the email, it might just be a fraud mail.
Check for HTTPS
Any reliable banking/financial website or e-commerce store always has HTTPS in their URL and never HTTP. When you check the URL, make sure you look for the “s” after the http in the address bar.
When you see HTTPS, it will also show a small security padlock icon before the address. This means that the website is secure and your details shared on the website are safe.
While having HTTPS in the URL is not a complete guarantee of the site being genuine, but HTTP is a sure giveaway that the website is fake. Since financial websites employ complete safety standards, they have HTTPs in their URLs.
If the website has an HTTPS in its URL but the website isn’t safe, the browser will show a warning message that the website address does not match its certificate. The best bet to stay safe is to carefully read the URL and only then move forward with the website you want to visit.
Don’t Verify your Details on Email
All banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions make it clear that they never ask for your personal details on email or phone.
It is highly unlikely that your bank or an e-commerce website will ever ask you to confirm your vital information over email. A common ploy to gain financial information and bank account details is to email with shipment details and ask you to verify some details in order to receive the shipment.
Also, beware of emails from banks claiming that there is unusual activity in your account and you need to verify your password. If you’ve ever received such an email and are confused, always check with the specific company on phone regarding the problem.
What About Shortened Links?
The internet has become all about saving space and writing short sentences. There are several URL shortening services (such as Bit.ly) that will reduce the characters in the URL by changing into a shorter string of words.
What if the link in your email takes you to a shortened URL? Hovering over them will show no useful information about the website. To find out the URL this short link is redirecting to, you can use the “preview” function.
Paste the shortened link in your browser and put a ‘+’ sign after it. This will help you get the relevant information about the website you want to visit. You can also use third party websites to know about the shortened links. You can try www.getlinkinfo.com to find the details of the link you’re going to visit.
See How You Are addressed in the Email
Phishing emails are usually part of a bigger scam and thus are a mass product, meaning they have some things in common. One being that many scam emails start with “Dear Customer” or “Dear User” instead of actually using your name. They may even address you by the name in your email address before the @ sign. If you spot this in your email, you should be alerted that something is wrong.
Don’t Succumb to Warnings, Deadlines, and Threats
Don’t be in a hurry to click that link just because the email sender warned or threatened you. The warning is probably bogus too and they are just trying to get money from you. When you see a deadline or warning, it is a good indicator that the link will lead to a phishing attempt. Use of temptation or an unusually enticing offer are also indicators of fraud. Make sure you have an anti-virus program installed on your device. Always keep your antivirus software updated as well. Many malicious links and programs can be detected through the use of antivirus apps.