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How to identify secure sites and avoid malicious, scam or fake websites

Internet offers many possibilities and while there are many positive sides, there is also a dark side that can’t be ignored. Education, businesses and communications have advanced, but criminals and fraudsters have also found ways to take advantage of the widespread use of the internet. They have come up with a wide variety of methods to steal information, including fake websites. You may have come across one of these websites, which aim to make visitors provide their information. Fake, fraudulent or scammed websites are traps that could lead you to give away valuable personal and financial details to cyber criminals.

The people behind malicious websites target anyone who will fall into the trap and those who can’t spot the danger can get their data stolen. Cyber criminals seek to get access to any information that can be used for their own gain. Usually, the data stolen includes bank account and credit card details, usernames, password, postal addresses, social security numbers, just to name a few. Scam websites have evolved over time and in many cases, it is very difficult to recognize a website of this type. However, there are a few things that you can keep in mind and that will help you to differentiate a fraudulent website from a legitimate one.

Compare the website address with the page content

It is important to check the URL if you ended up on a page after clicking a link that took you there. You may be redirected to a malicious website after you click on a link received in an email, or links from ads. Usually, scam websites try to copy popular websites to trick visitors into thinking that they are accessing the real deal. They attempt to get the login details that you use on those sites. These are known as phishing websites and their goal is to attract customers through its design. Then they try to get you to provide your private and confidential information. Social media sites like Facebook and online payment services like PayPal are among the sites that are often spoofed.

Although the website may look just like the one that it is trying to copy, if you check the URL you will notice the difference. Phishing websites are relatively easy to create, but if you check the URL, you will be able to see that the address is not the same one as the one of the original site. For instance, they can use underscores, dashes and other symbols, or they may make a subtle change in the name of the site. Make sure that you always check the URL, particularly if you landed on the website after clicking on a link in an email or another website.

Look for an SSL/TLS certificate and padlock symbol

SSL/TLS certificates are loathed by fraudsters because this security measure makes things more difficult for them. If you see a green padlock symbol next to the website address, it means that the website has received SSL/TLS security certificate from an authorized seller like Symantec. SSL/TLS certificates are issued following extensive background checks and verification of the ownership of the website. This means that only legitimate websites can get this security. When you see the lock symbol, along with HTTPS in the website address and the URL matches the content of the page, it is very likely that the website is legitimate. However, it is important to be always mindful because scammers are always trying to get one step ahead and they may even manage to get SSL/TLS certificates from questionable sources. This is why the best option is to always type in the address of the website directly, instead of following a link.

Look for additional content and information on the website

If a website has only one page, it is likely to be nothing but a scam. Modern websites are unlikely to rely on a single page where you need to scroll down to see all the content. if the website lacks a site map or website search bar, it is possible that it is not a legitimate one. It is also advisable to check for common sections such as “About”. A legitimate website is likely to include information about its purpose and about those who are behind it. In addition, unreliable websites probably won’t have a “Contact us” section because scammers don’t want you to contact them, unless it is to provide the information they are after. A fake website probably won’t include details such as an email address, a physical address, phone number and other data of this kind. Other piece of information that scammers may fail to include is the copyright status, which usually appears at the bottom of legitimate sites.

Pay attention to the spelling and grammar

Although anyone can make a mistake, professional and reputable websites are less likely to let spelling and grammar errors slip. Just because a website contains this type of mistakes it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is fake or scam. However, if a website is trying to pass as an official, well-established website, spelling and grammar errors can give it away.

Check if they have social media presence

Another thing that you can look for is if the website has active social media profiles. Scammers probably won’t want to invest time and effort setting up and maintaining social media presence for their website. While the lack of social media presence is not a guarantee that the website is fake, it is something to pay attention to.

In the case of marketplaces, or websites pretending to be a marketplace, it is worth checking the return or refund policy. A website that is meant to be focused on selling goods should have a return policy including information on the return process for the items purchased. Even if a fake website includes this section, it probably won’t provide real contact information or detailed explanation about the return policies.

Trust marks and security seals

Security seals and trust marks are an indicator of the legitimacy of a website. If you see them at the bottom of a web page, it means that the website has been checked for authenticity and its security features have been verified. That being said, the presence of these seals and marks doesn’t always mean that the website is 100% reliable. Some fake websites have managed to copy these seals.

Research the website and read reviews

Another thing that you can do is to look for what others say about the website. It is possible that other people have already shared their experience with the website on the internet. This will allow you to find out how reliable the site really is. If there is no information at all, it may be better to avoid the site. In addition, if the website makes claims and offers that sound too good to be true, it is better to be careful.

On the other hand, if a website claims that you have a virus, of that you are in some sort of legal trouble, you should also exercise caution. Websites that try to scare you are almost certainly a scam as this is one of the tactics that they try to use to get your information. They may use pop-up warnings or a large message displayed on the website that aims to scare you into handing over money, or your information. If you come across this kind of website, ignore it. It may sound obvious, but if an unknown website asks you for a direct bank transfer, don’t do it.