Receive links in emails, text messages or via WhatsApp? This is how to test and find out whether it is dangerous or not.
There are so many online scams around these days that you may already be very aware of the risk of clicking unsolicited links. The so-called phishing emails are increasingly convincing, and the makers seem to be working harder to eliminate typos and bad grammar, making their messages look authentic.
Whatever the purpose of the link, whether it is legitimate or fraudulent, there are various things you can do to test it before clicking on it.
If you use Gmail, you will see a warning like the one below if you think the message is dangerous. This isn’t specifically about links, but it’s taken into account. The large red bar must ensure that you do not accidentally click or reply to messages.
- Type web address manually
The first option, which only works in certain circumstances, is to type the website address yourself. For example, if you get an email from your bank, government or whatever service you have an account with, then you can browse to the official website by typing in its official address, or searching on Google.
One of the things that scammers like to do is register a similar website address that can fool you into thinking it’s a real transaction.
For example, the Amazon website is www.amazon.com. But fraudsters might create a website called www.amazon-deals.com which – at first glance – might look legitimate.
Usually, you will receive an email saying that you must return the money or your account has been locked and click the link to claim it / reset it.
Again, instead of clicking the link, open the website, log in to your account and find out if that’s the problem.
2. Use the link checker
If the other methods here are too tiring for you, then consider installing an extension for your web browser that will color you from websites that are considered dangerous and will stop you from visiting those web pages when you click links in other applications.
This only applies to desktop web browsers, not mobile.
There are many available and many free; the other is part of an antivirus package. There are McAfee Web Advisor, Kaspersky URL Advisor, Norton Safe Search and many others.
You can also use these tools manually to check the URL if you don’t like installing extensions, but this somewhat beats the point of making your life more comfortable.
What we recommend trying is Bitdefender TrafficLight which is free and available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. This will give a little color code check next to the search results. If it’s green, they are safe to click.
3. Use link expander
Often, you will not be able to see where the link will take you because the sender has used link shortening services such as engineer, Bit.ly or Goo.gl. In this case, you can copy and paste a short link to an expander service such as CheckShortURL.com which will show you the actual URL it is pointing to.
This will help you see whether it is safe to click or not. In this example, the link to a website in China that is considered safe by the reputation scanner below, is a copy of the Mirror website. So it can be fooled, but it does not threaten your device.
4. Use security software
Although all of these methods work, they are effectively the second line of defense. Your main method should be antivirus software that will function no matter what web browser you are using and will keep your device protected from malware.
Most antivirus security suites also have an email scanner that will check suspicious attachments and will also give you color about phishing links in e-mails as well as blocking dangerous websites.
If you only use the default Windows defender then you might want to check out our best collection of antivirus software and choose a package that offers more comprehensive protection.
Do you think you can find a phishing message? Take this test and find out – only five percent of Britons find the 10th.