Even with tons of great resources, the web contains thousands (if not more) of untrustworthy websites. Unless you are aware of red flags, it can be difficult to spot counterfeit and fraudulent websites.
So here we are going to look at 11 signs that a website might not be trustworthy. Although a sign may not be definitive, if you see any of these red flags you should be alarmed.
1. Domain name
To spoof reputable websites, scammers choose domains similar to real websites. It works well because most people don’t notice it. Scammers use the following schemes to make their domain names look like legitimate sites:
- Misspelled domains: Since the correct spelling is recorded by the legitimate site, untrustworthy websites use misspelled words. Fraudsters add extra letters, punctuation marks, and replace similar characters (eg, o with 0). Moreover, they can add modifiers to make websites trustworthy.
- Different extension: To spoof legitimate sites, scammers may use a different extension than the real site. For example, if the real website is example.com, the fake website could be example.net or example.org. Likewise, if you ever come across a website with an unusual domain extension, beware and look for other red flags.
- Subdomains: The actual domain name is the one appearing just before the extension. So a website pretending to be Amazon might use amazon.example.com. Beware, the real name of this site is example.com, and it has nothing to do with Amazon.
2. Page URL
Besides the domain name, paying attention to the URL of web pages can help you spot untrustworthy sites. Usually the URL of spam sites contains several numbers, special characters and random letters. For example, example.com/k4-5j-9nw3.
Remember that although shortened links often contain a random string of letters, they redirect you to the page with the correct URL and domain. However, if the address bar still shows a shady URL after landing on a website, better be careful.
3. SSL Certificate
Simply put, an SSL certificate encrypts the data transferred between you and the server. This ensures that hackers or even the website administrator cannot see or modify the transferred data.
It has become common for all types of websites to have an SSL certificate. But always check the SSL certificate for websites that require you to add credit card details or other personal information.
When you visit a website without a valid SSL certificate, you will see a Insecure to the left of your address bar. A padlock indicates that the connection is encrypted.
Every legitimate website has proper contact information. If you notice that a contact page is missing on a site that you expect to see one, that’s a red flag.
Ideally, contact information should include a physical address, phone number, or email address. A contact form is usually not enough, especially for online shops or corporate websites.
Likewise, content sites and blogs should contain author information. Author information can also be faked, but most spam sites don’t bother to add it.
5. Unwanted Ads
Although irritating, ads are essential to the survival of most websites. Nevertheless, if you visit a website with spam or deceptive advertisements, you should be vigilant.
Most of these ads will have clickbait headlines with too-good-to-be-true promises. Although it is tempting to click on these ads, it is a sign of a website that you cannot trust.
7. Unwanted links and download buttons
If a website contains links to spam or malicious sites, then obviously you should not trust it or click on the links. Likewise, scammers display ads with fake download buttons to trick you into clicking them.
Even though the download button works, you should be careful while downloading anything from suspicious websites.
To check the links, you can hover your cursor over them and check the landing page in the lower left corner of the screen. Alternatively, you can right click and copy them to your address bar.
8. Spelling and grammatical errors
Broken English is a major red flag. The pages of most spam websites are written by text spinners or sloppy copywriters.
So be sure to read different pages on the site. And, if you find frequent spelling or grammatical errors, it’s probably an unreliable site.
9. Trust Seal
Trust seals indicate the security and authenticity of a website. There are different types of trust badges, such as privacy seals, payment methods, and secure payment seals.
These trust seals are issued by various organizations, although the most popular are Norton, Google Trusted Store, TrustedSite, and PayPal.
However, these trust seals can also be faked, so you need to verify the trust badge. Clicking on it will display the information about the issuer and the website it was issued to.
Trust seals are common for e-commerce stores or websites that require registration. They are usually displayed in the footer, registration page or checkout page. If you don’t see these seals on other types of websites, that’s usually not a big deal.
10. Run a Google Search
You can search for the name of the websites you want to check. Counterfeit sites will not appear in search results, or at least not above real sites.
Likewise, spammy sites are very less likely to show up in search results. Another sign of a legitimate site is that other websites will mention it and link to it.
11. Use of Google’s Safe Browsing Transparency Report
Finally, you can use Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report to check if the website or link is trustworthy. Google scans billions of web pages every day to find dangerous and compromised pages.
To verify a website or webpage, paste its address into the Google Safe Browsing Transparency report. The tool indicates whether it is safe and, if not, the potential threats.
Keep an eye out while browsing
You can’t trust everything on the internet. Especially on sites you are visiting for the first time, be a little careful and watch out for the red flags mentioned above.
You can also use your common sense to spot unreliable websites. Poorly designed websites with few pages and titles or emotional promises are mostly scams.
Besides websites, scammers can fake people, reviews, emails, and images. So always be careful when browsing.
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