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May 14, 2019

How to Spot a Fake URL

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URLs are the homes of content on the web. Without them, we would never be able to navigate through the Internet. While most web links are perfectly safe and take you exactly where you expect them to, scammers are increasingly making use of a fake URL or two to compromise your safety and privacy online.

Fake URLs can serve a variety of purposes. In some cases, they’re able to infect your devices with malware or even viruses. Other times, they pose as a real website, ask you to log in, and then steal your data. Thankfully, you can protect your privacy and safety online by learning how to spot a fake URL. There are a few different steps to follow:

  • Think before you click
  • Check shortened URLs
  • Look for misspellings
  • Keep an eye out for extra URL words
  • Contact the organization

Think Before You Click

Sometimes fake URLs are shared in social media posts. However, they most often come in the form of emails or personal messages. When you receive a link, think before you click it. Is it coming from someone who wouldn’t normally send you links to things? If the person you haven’t spoken to since high school sends you a link to sunglasses out of the blue, it might be a scam. Same with the clothing company you haven’t purchased from in five years sending you a link and claiming there’s a problem with your account. Of course, these links may be perfectly harmless but if they seem suspicious, dig a little deeper before deciding to click.

Check Shortened URLs for a Fake URL

Some URLs are really long and very sloppy to look at. In some cases, that may lead to businesses or individuals shortening a link to make it look nicer. However, shortening a link often changes the URL so much that you can’t tell where it leads to. By clicking that link, you may accidentally let malware in, or your data out, without even knowing it. So, before you click, do some digging. There are websites available (like CheckShortURL) that will probe a shortened link and tell you where it directs to without actually opening it.

Look for Misspellings

Sometimes, a link may be sent to you from an email posing as an organization or person who may actually reach out to you. They most commonly copy businesses with mailing lists or banking/financial institutions. Before you click the link, scan it for misspellings. If you routinely shop at realbusiness.com but the link says realbasinuess.com, stop there. It’s almost definitely a fake link that you don’t want to click. If the link is spelled correctly but you’re still suspicious, move to the next step.

Keep an Eye Out for Extra URL Words

Another common trick to misdirect you into thinking a fake link is real is to add extra words into a URL. For example, realbusiness.com becomes realbusiness.com.extrawordhere.com. This is a more nefarious way of tricking you because real websites do modify their URLs to differentiate between pages. If you still aren’t able to ascertain whether or not a link is real, then using the final step is your best option.

Contact the Organization

The most surefire way to know if a link is real or not is to contact the business that (supposedly) sent it. Don’t use any information in the same email as the suspicious link (since they’ll use their own) but instead find contact information on the real website of the business in question. You may have to wait a day or two to receive a response about the link, but it’s better to wait than to regret hastily clicking a bad link.

Following these steps will help make sure you stay safe and private online.

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