There is no denying that the Internet has made doing business easier, more convenient, and faster. However, the sad fact is that while you also want to ensure that all that speed and convenience also comes with safety and security issues. There are so many websites that are scams, fraudulent, or fake. The ease and speed of the Internet has given rise to so many cybercrimes that it has ballooned into a $1.5 trillion (yes, with a “T”) industry.
There are many types of cybercrimes, such as third-party content injection (where external parties can “inject” content into your system where you connect to unsecured WiFi connections), fraud ($40 brand new iPad anyone?), or most commonly, phishing.
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What is Phishing, exactly?
Phishing is a type of cybercrime where a scammer will try to gain your sensitive information, particularly financial information, by providing false pretenses. There are various methods of phishing, such as sending out fake emails about your bank account getting hacked, or websites asking you to “validate” your account. Usually these messages have a link attached that will lead you to another website where you will enter your financial information, thus making it available to the scammer. These messages will often appear as legitimate emails from banks, online payment portals, or other financial companies, luring you into a false sense of security.
When you try to buy checks online, you are a prime target for these scammers because you will need to provide your financial information in order to complete the ordering process!
How Can I Protect Myself?
While there is no 100% guaranteed method of protecting yourself from scammers online, there are ways to avoid websites that can make you a more vulnerable target. Here are some tell-tale signs that you can look out for, and if you see even one of them, you should immediately close that window.
- The URL is your first clue
You might think that a suspicious URL would be a dead giveaway, but you would be shocked how many people don’t take the time to actually check the address bar when they visit various websites. Trusted and reliable websites will have a URL that begins with “https://” and there is a small padlock icon on the right side of the address bar. Google will even do a lot of the work for you; if the site is safe and trusted, it will highlight the URL in green. If there is something suspicious about the URL, it highlights the whole address bar in red and you might even get a warning message!
There’s even a concept called “The Line of Death”, which is an idea that an Internet user should not trust anything below a certain point on your browser, as it is easy for a scammer to make the website appear legitimate. In the case of websites where you will give sensitive financial information, the “Line of Death” is as early as the address bar.
- Trust seals should be available
Many companies that handle sensitive financial information for their clients will go out of their way to show that they invest in their security protocols, so you will most likely find trust seals on top of their website. These can include logos from trusted anti-virus companies such as McAfee or Norton, or even an accreditation from the Better Business Bureau. However, it is also quite easy to just copy-paste these seals into a website’s layout, so make sure to click on these seals to see if they are legitimate.
- The content CAN be a red flag
In the past, it was quite easy to spot a website that was fraudulent. These websites often used stock images, the layout was cheap, and the grammar of the content was horrible. These days, however, scammers have gotten more sophisticated, and you can find fraudulent websites that are difficult to distinguish from the real thing at a glance. If you are in doubt (some websites do use generic images and content while still being actual businesses), try looking for other details such as a physical address for the business, contact numbers, a policy page, or customer reviews. Most scam websites won’t go as far these details because they simply won’t have the time, manpower, or resources to create such a detailed scam website. They want to be able to scam as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, so they go for quantity over quality.
- Google can be your best friend
Google can be a useful, if not completely foolproof, tool in determining if a website is legitimate or not. You can use their Google Safe Browsing Transparency feature. Simply copy-paste the URL of the website in question, and Google will give you an idea whether or not you can trust a website. However, the simplest way is still the most basic way: if in doubt, just close your browser and look for another website.