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The Internet is made up of links; we wouldn’t browse too much if we manually had to type every URL into the browser. However, many links you come across aren’t safe — from ad-filled pages to those that want to steal your login credentials, you need to be diligent at all times online. Here are four quick questions you can ask yourself whenever a link seems suspect.

1. Where did I find this link? If you saw a link about a free giveaway on MakeUseOf, you know it’s legitimate. But that flashing advertisement on a video website letting you know that you could win 100 iPhones probably should be avoided.

2. What am I expecting to find on the other side? A link that claims to go to your bank, Facebook, or some other sensitive site should be treated with caution. Likewise, if you’re expecting to find pirated software or illicit content Why Piracy Is Funded By Deceptive Ads, Porn And Malware Why Piracy Is Funded By Deceptive Ads, Porn And Malware Fake download buttons, pop-under ads, porn, and maybe even some malware. Just why is piracy funded by these kind of ads? Read More , be prepared for a site that might be unsafe.

3. What does the URL look like? Know how to investigate a URL’s structure. Don’t take the anchor text (the highlighted text on a page that goes to the link) at face value; mouse over the link and see what URL is displayed in the bottom-left of your browser. If it looks different from what you were expecting, starts with some form of “ad” or “redirect”, or looks like it’s going to PayPal, stay away. Use a link expander Reveal Where Short Links Really Go To With These URL Expanders Reveal Where Short Links Really Go To With These URL Expanders A few years ago, I didn’t even know what a shortened URL was. Today, it’s all you see, everywhere, all the time. The rapid rise of Twitter brought a never-ending need to use as few... Read More if the URL is shortened to disguise itself.

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4. What do others think of this link? Install an antivirus extension in your browser 7 Free Anti-Virus Tools For Your Browser: Scan Links Before You Click 7 Free Anti-Virus Tools For Your Browser: Scan Links Before You Click Viruses, malware, phished websites. Online mousetraps are lying in wait for some poor sucker to click on, so their computer can be added to the collection of zombie computers spewing out spam. Read More that will alert you of unsafe links, like WOT (Web of Trust). If you’re really stumped, you don’t have to guess; get help from the experts!

What methods do you use to stay safe from rogue links? I’m looking forward to hearing your tips in the comments!

Image Credit: iQoncept via Shutterstock.com

  1. FileEagle.com Chris
    March 31, 2016 at 2:49 am

    Google Chrome has Safe Browsing Engine. It is useful in some cases if you are redirected to malicious sites.

    • Ben Stegner
      April 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      This is a nice feature, and can save you if you slip up, but it's better not to test it in the first place if you can help it at all.

  2. Peter Fitzsimmons
    March 24, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I never shortened links -

    If A tweet, or email asks me to click a link to a website it's usually one I already have bookmarked and simply open a new tab and find the relevant page that way.

    It may take a couple of extra seconds, but I'd rather be safe.

    I never use URL shorteners either. I'd rather put the full link up so folks can see exactly where they will end up.
    It can be a bit of an issue for tweets, wit the 140 character limit, but I'd rather be open and honest with links.

    I may have missed out on many brilliant things in the past by ignoring short links but I find it's best practice to ensure I keep safe on line.

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