How to Determine Whether a Website Is Legit and Safe to Use

Website Legit Safe Feat

As the Internet continues to grow and expand worldwide, the dangers of hacks and attacks also continue to increase. One popular way malicious actors steal data from people is through fake websites. Millions of people have fallen prey to such bad actors.

How do you protect yourself against such attacks? Let’s take a look at that below and explore the risks of using fake websites and how to identify them.

What Are the Risks of Fake Websites?

Visiting fraudulent websites carries some inherent dangers.

1. Hacking

Accessing a fraudulent website can expose you to hackers who embed malicious code into website files and downloads that can compromise your security firewall and gain access to your computer.

2. Phishing

Phishing attacks occur when an attacker pretends to be a trusted entity to gain your confidence and steal your data or identity. Often, they attempt to get you to open a fake email, click on a malicious link or install software that can breach your security systems.

An excellent example is spam emails which attempt to persuade you to provide them with login or credit card information. Once they have your credit card info, they can commit credit fraud or steal your money.

3. Computer Malware

Online predators can insert malicious code as pop-ups, defacements, advertisements, and search engine warnings into the website. If you click on any of these links, they automatically install malware on your computer, steal your data, and encrypt your information in a ransomware attack.

4. Identity Theft

Filling out your information in forms on a fraudulent website exposes you to a massive risk of identity theft. Attackers will often use this information to impersonate you, steal your data and/or money or commit other crimes in your name.

How to Identify Fake Websites

Unlike what you’d expect, it’s pretty easy to identify a fraudulent website if you pay attention. Here are some things to look out for:

1. Poor Design and Themes

Examine the website layout. Online scammers don’t often invest in design, as it costs money they’d rather not spend. Usually, they assemble sketchy sites in minimal time.

Most elements on this website won’t work. For example, sliders may fail to move across the homepage. Images may fail to load, and embedded videos don’t play. The overall user interface may also look outdated. Essential elements will make the website responsive.

You can also look out for company brand colors, something hackers often get wrong.

2. Grammatical Errors

Unless malicious actors invest in the scam attempt, they often make mistakes with the language on the website. One thing to look out for is terrible grammar.

A well-organized business often proofreads content on their websites to avoid structural and grammatical errors. Additionally, look for plagiarism if the attackers lift blocks of text and other media from a legitimate website. 

3. Emotional Language

Observe the mood a website uses to convey information. Scammers know how to appeal to your emotions and induce fear, urgency, or outrage to get you to take the desired action. They use manipulative language to extort you, which most legitimate websites won’t do.

4. Lack of Support Pages

In a bid to stay as mysterious as possible, most fake websites lack essential pages you’d find in legitimate websites. Hackers attempt to remain anonymous by burying contact and support pages deep in their fraudulent websites.

If the pages exist, they’ll have bogus contact information. Email addresses will have strange extensions, like .xyz, .site, or .contact, and website phone numbers will have foreign country codes or won’t go through.

Is the Website Safe to Use?

As a general principle, learning a little about identifying safe websites will protect you from many fake websites.

1. Check for HTTPS and SSL certificates

The first thing you should check for on a website is a secure transfer protocol, often displayed as “HTTPS://” just before a website’s domain. HTTPS is a secure extension of HTTP. Websites using only HTTP aren’t always secure, although not all are scam websites.

Mte Website Padlock

Using HTTPS means the website uses an SSL certificate or Secured Socket Layer. An SSL creates end-to-end encryption between the server computer and your PC, ensuring all your communications are secure and clocking malware and attacks.

Do you see a grey padlock next to the domain on your address bar? That’s another way to check for an SSL certificate on a website. Clicking on this padlock also shows you the SSL provider and security of the connection.

2. Use a Website Reputation Checker

Another quick way to check for the legitimacy of a website is to use a website reputation checker. An excellent example of a reputation checker is Google Safe Browsing.

Safe Browsing Site Status

To check whether a website has content that Google flags as dangerous, copy the website URL into the search box of the Safe Browsing site status checker and click “Search.”

Another unique way to inspect your website for safety is VirusTotal. VirusTotal uses over 70 antivirus scanners to test the website for malicious code or malware. In much the same way as the Google Safe Browsing tool, you can determine how safe a domain is using this tool.

3. Double-Check the Domain Name

Before opening a website in your browser, double-check the URL to ensure it’s correct. All it takes is a hover over the website link on your Chrome or Firefox browser.

Url Box

You should see the full URL and its path at the bottom left of your browser. Pay attention to the spelling in the URL. Sometimes cybercriminals clone the original website and use a link that closely resembles the high-profile website. Unless you’re keen, you may fall into a scam.

4. Look For a Privacy Policy Page

The Privacy policy page paints how the website collects, uses, and protects your information. A privacy policy is a legal requirement in some countries and territories (like the EU). Take some time to go through the website’s privacy policy before sharing personal information on it.

Privacy Policy

It’s now global best practice to have a privacy policy, and a website without a one is a massive red flag. 

5. Test the “Trust” Badges 

Trust Badges are authentication tokens from third-party sources that attest to the legitimacy of your website. These badges are often on the website’s footer section, check-out, login, and home pages.

Kaspersky Trust Badges

When you click a trust badge, it should redirect you to the issuer’s website, which in turn tells you how a website you’ve visited meets trusted security standards. If it only opens as an image, that’s another red flag.

6. Use the Safety Tools in Your Browser

Firefox Privacy Security

Most web browsers come with security features that secure you as a user, including Opera’s built-in VPN. These features can also help identify and warn you of potentially unsecured websites.

7. Contact the Website Owners

A legit website will always have an email address, physical address, social media accounts, and phone number. If the website has provided those details, try to contact the owners.

If the owners have no knowledge of the website, it should be a sign it’s a malicious website. Other red flags to look out for are dropped calls, non-existent addresses, bounced emails, and too many redirects.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you get hacked by just visiting a website?

Yes, hackers can breach your computer if you visit an unsecured website. Hackers can use malicious links or code, pop-ups, adverts, and automatic downloads.

When you visit the infected website, they appear aggressively and prompt you to click on them or perform the desired action. Others will open background tasks and install malware into your PC.

2. What information do scammers steal?

Scammers will steal your personal bank account number login details like passwords, social security numbers, physical addresses, and phone numbers. 

Hackers can sell this information for money on the dark web or clean out your checking and savings accounts. They can also use ransomware to lock your files and extort you.

3. Can a link hack my phone?

Like a PC, opening an infected website on your phone can expose you to similar attacks. Beyond that, connecting your smartphone to a public Wi-Fi network can also expose you to possible brute force attacks, and hackers can similarly access your personal details.

Image credit: Unsplash

Ian Derrick
Ian Derrick

Ian is a technology writer with over 11 years of experience with Windows. He also has experience working in Data Analysis, Android, and Computer Hardware. He writes for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of tech topics, including Windows, Android, VPNs, Hardware, and Software tools and Reviews, and How-tos.

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