With thousands of untrustworthy websites, telling which websites to trust could be hassle. Below, we detail 11 signs to help you know the red flags and spot these scams and counterfeit websites easily.
- Domain Name
Scammers are fond of picking domain names similar to popular websites to mislead you and acquire your information. Failing to check the domain name and notice the slight difference would jeopardize your privacy and finances. Below are some common ploys that scammers use to make fraudulent domain names.
- Misspelling Domains: Defrauders can’t use the site’s legitimate domain name since the service provider has already registered it. As a result, they develop a similar domain name but with a minor misspelling, a substitute of a character, punctuation, or extra letters. They can also add modifiers to make the site look legit. For example, scammers will register “rnicrosoft.com” (note that I used “rn” instead of “m”) to make users think it’s the “microsoft.com” site.
- Different Extension: Similarly, the defrauders can use a different extension than the actual site to spoof legitimate sites. For instance, if the real site uses “example.com,” the untrustworthy website might include “example.org” or “example.net.” In the same way, you should restrict your activities if you ever come across a website with an unusual domain extension.
- Subdomains: A site’s domain name appears just before the extension. So, the domain name for “geekinsider.com” is “geekinsider.” Fraudsters could register a similar domain name but with an additional subdomain. They add a word bait on their domain to lure an unsuspecting audience to their site. For instance, if the scammer has the “example.com” site, they could add the “amazon” subdomain to make it “amazon.example.com” to mislead users looking for the amazon site. In this case, you’ll be visiting “example.com” and not the intended Amazon site.
Once you master the domain names and how they can be tweaked, now focus on the page URL. Usually, spam sites use special characters, several numbers, and random letters in their URL.
Short links for legitimate sites may contain a random string of letters, but that should disappear once you are redirected to the page with the proper domain and URL. However, if you still see some shady URLs in the address bar after you’ve landed on a website, it could be spam.
- SSL Certificate
The SSL certificate encrypts the data shared between you and the server. The practice ensures that no one, even the site admin, accesses or alters the transmitted data. Therefore, all websites should have an SSL certificate. Always prioritize checking a website’s SSL, especially if you’re about to enter personal information or credit card details.
A site without a valid SSL will show a “Not Secure” on the left side of the address bar. On the contrary, a secure site should have a padlock icon on the left side of the address bar to show that the connection is encrypted.
- Missing Author Info or Contact Information
A legitimate website should provide all the necessary information regarding the author or contacts. If you notice that an essential part of the information is missing on a website, that’s a red flag.
Ideally, a website should have contact information, including an email address, phone number, or physical address. Don’t trust only a contact form, especially in a website supposed to be a business or online store.
If you’re visiting blogs and content sites, you should find contact details about the author. Spammers may also add fake contact information to make the site look legitimate, but most don’t bother adding it.
- Spam Ads
Ads are a crucial part of most websites as they generate more income. However, you should be vigilant about the type of ads that appear once you visit a site to tell whether the site is trustworthy. If the site has numerous misleading and spam ads, you need to be cautious.
Most of these pop-up ads are too good to be true and have click bait titles. Avoid entering any personal information on the site and don’t click such links as these are enough signs that the site could be spam.
Whenever you visit a new or suspicious site, take your time and go through all the fine print to make sure it makes sense and does not create additional doubts. One thing that you must not fail to check-in business sites and online stores is the return and shipping policy.
- Download Buttons and Spam Links
It’s obvious that you shouldn’t trust any website with links to malicious sites. Scammers develop different ads and trick you into downloading the items with a fake download button. It would help if you didn’t trust any of these or click the links.
Sure, the download button may work, but it’s not advisable to download files from a suspicious website. Check the links provided before clicking on them by simply hovering the cursor over the link and checking the bottom-left of your screen to see the destination page. Alternatively, you can right-click on the links and paste them into a separate address bar for clear scrutiny.
- Grammar and Spelling Errors
One thing that you can notice quickly in a spam site is a lack of authoritative expression or communication. So, if you encounter frequent grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, it’s likely an untrustworthy site. Broken English should be a major red flag as most spam website pages are written by sloppy writers or text spinners.
- Trust Seal
Trust seals are a sign of a website’s authenticity and security in the form of trust badges such as safe checkout seals, payment methods, and privacy seals. Popular organizations issuing these trust seals include PayPal, TrustedSite, Google Trusted Store, and Norton.
However, spammers have found a way to fake these trust seals, so checking the trust badge would help. Click on it to show the website to which it was issued and the issuer.
Trust seals are commonly used for websites that require registration and eCommerce stores. Therefore, it’s typically not a big concern when you don’t locate the seals on other websites. You can find them on the checkout page, registration page, or the footer.
- 10.Run a Google Search
If you still doubt a site but can’t find any red flag, consider searching its name. A spam site will rarely appear on Google search results. If the site you searched has other websites mentioning and linking to it, it’s a legitimate sign.
- 11.Google Safe Browsing Report
Using the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report can also help you determine whether a website is trustworthy. Google has a safe browsing transparency report that scans billions of web pages to identify compromised and unsafe pages.
Simply paste the website’s address in the report and let the tool tell you whether it’s safe and, if not, what the potential threats are.
Nowadays, it’s risky to trust everything you come across online. Therefore, you should be cautious about the sites you visit, especially those you’re visiting for the first time.
Use the above-mentioned red flags and common sense to spot untrustworthy sites. Websites with few pages, poor design, and emotional titles are mostly scams.
Note that the scammers not only fake websites but also images, emails, reviews, and people. So, take the necessary precautions while you browse.