How To Check If A Website Is Safe

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Given the amount of times we use the Internet in a day, we probably spend comparatively very little time thinking about which websites are safe to use. Of course, going to a bad website can have major consequences like phishing, viruses, malware, identity theft— you name it. But how are you supposed to know when a website is unsafe, and what are some things you can do to make sure you’re only visiting legitimate websites?

This guide will show you exactly what a safe website looks like and what an unsafe website looks like, with tips, tricks and tools to keep you safe online. Let’s get started!

Signs of a Safe Website

Signs of a Safe WebsiteIf you’re short on time, here are a few quick signs of a website that’s a-okay to use:

  • Padlock symbol next to URL
  • HTTPS in URL rather than HTTP
  • Privacy policy on website
  • Website accepts all major payment methods.
Security Baron Padlock
Security Baron Padlock

I’ll explain these in more detail below.

Signs of an Unsafe Website

Signs of an Unsafe WebsiteJust like in dating, when you’re surfing the web, it’s important to look for red flags like:

  • Browser tells you the website is unsafe
  • Many pop-ups or redirects to other shady-looking websites
  • Website only accepts bank transfers or wire payments
  • No return policy or privacy policy on website.

Let’s dive in a little deeper.

Built-In Browser Safety Tools

How to Check if a Website is Safe
Google Safe Browsing. Photo provided by Google.

Chances are, your browser already does a lot for you in terms of seeing which websites are safe. Personally, I use Chrome, which:

  • Blocks pop-ups
  • Sends “do not track” requests to websites to protect my data
  • Disables unsafe flash content
  • Stops malicious downloads
  • Controls which sites can access my speaker, microphone, and camera

Simply go into your browser’s settings and check in the “Privacy and Security” section to see how your browser filters out the bad. Of course, these built-in browser safety tools don’t catch everything, which is why it’s important to perform other tests.

Website Safety Checks

How to Check if a Website is Safe
URLVoid Website Reputation Checker. Screenshot fromURLVoid website.

 

 

If you’re not feeling confident that a website is safe, the easiest thing to do is enter it into a website checker like the Google Transparency Report, the Norton Safe Web Checker or URLVoid pictured above. It’ll tell you whether the website is safe or not in under two seconds!

Of course, you don’t want to have to enter every website you go onto into an online checker, as that would be pretty time-consuming and inconvenient. So, there are a few things you can scan for yourself to see if a site is legit.

Use Trusted Retailers

Signs A Website Is Safe
Amazon Shopping Page. Photo provided by Amazon.

This one may seem obvious, but especially if you’re doing any online shopping, try to use retailers who you’ve heard of, Amazon being the most obvious choice. Remember, you are giving this site your credit or debit card information along with your name, email, and address, which could be really dangerous if it got into the wrong hands.

Double-Check URLs

How To See If Websites Are SafeSometimes, scammers will misspell names of trusted URLs or replace one of the letters with a number, like writing go0gle.com instead of google.com. In a rush, this is something you can easily miss, and with fake websites imitating real websites as well as they do, it’s pretty easy to give your personal information to the bad guys. Luckily, you have use Firefox or Chrome, you can simply hover your mouse over the “anchor text” (AKA the text that is linked), to see the URL before you click on it; it’ll show up in the bottom left hand corner of your browser. If you’re a Safari-user, just go to the view menu and click show status to get the same feature. Do a quick spell check to make sure you’re safe!

Note Payment Methods

How to See if a Website is Safe
Check that the website accepts all major credit and debit cards.

Any normal website will have normal payment methods from the major credit/debit card companies, like Mastercard, Visa, American Express— you get the drill. If a website only accepts bank transfers or wire payments, steer clear.

Check Review Sites

How to check if a website is safe
Trustpilot is a review site you can use to verify sites’ legitimacy. Photo provided by Trustpilot.

The Internet is the perfect place for people to air out their problems to as many people who will listen. Chances are, if there’s a subject, people have reviewed it on the web, from restaurants to e-commerce sites. Take advantage of people’s insatiable need to publicly rate everything and check review sites like TrustPilot, especially if it’s an e-commerce site. You don’t even necessarily have to use a review site. Simply ask Google if the website/ company is a scam and see what people have said. If multiple people say it’s a scam, they are most likely correct.

Check For HTTPS

Now, this isn’t 100% foolproof, but most reputable websites will have URLs that begin with HTTPS rather than HTTP; and yes, if you’re wondering the S does stand for secure. Basically, that tiny little letter is the difference between a secure website that encrypts your data and a scam website that steals it (with exceptions, of course). If the website’s secure, you’ll see a padlock to the left of the URL, but note that some unsafe websites have HTTPS, so it’s not guaranteed to be safe. However, one hard and fast rule that you can follow is never enter your password or financial information on any website missing the padlock.

Look For Privacy Policy

Security Baron Privacy Policy
Security Baron Privacy Policy.

You may not know this about me, but aside from being Security Baron’s Director of Content, I’m also a lawyer, familiar with the privacy policies at the bottom of websites that you probably gloss over. The truth is, most reputable websites have privacy policies, as many countries require them by law. Now, I’m not saying you’ll be able to understand these policies, as they’re often written in what we in the industry call “legalese”. But to get a good idea of how the website will use your data, press Control F and search for things like “third-party,”, “data,” “store,” and “retain”. If a website lacks a privacy policy at all, I wouldn’t trust it.

Don’t Blindly Trust “Trust” Badges

Trust Badges
Trust Badges are easy to download online. Photo by PNGKey.

Do you know how easy it is to get one of these so-called “trust badges” on your website? It’s so easy that you can literally type in “trust badges” to Google images and drag them onto your site. Although these seals may look legitimate, literally anyone could add them to their website, from huge companies like Barnes & Noble to the shadiest foreign prince on the web. I’m not saying these trust badges automatically make a site untrustworthy; however, you shouldn’t mistake them for security.

Look For Red Flags

There are a number of red flags that not only make a website a poor user experience, but also might be a clue that something is amiss. Watch out for:

  • Flash warnings
  • Pop-ups
  • Too many exclamation points!!!!!
  • Redirects to other sites that look unsafe
  • Search engine warnings from your browser or search engine
  • Bad spelling and grammar
  • Illogical text
  • Weird pictures
  • No space to leave product reviews
  • No return policy or privacy policy on site
  • Prices that are too good to be true.

As much as I hate to judge a book by it’s cover, these are all signs of a website that’s not super safe.

Use Whois To Look Up Domain Owner

ICANN Lookup
ICANN Lookup

Most reputable websites, particularly for businesses, will have a domain owner, easily lookup-able on ICANN’s Domain Name Registration Data Lookup. This website will also tell you the date this registry expires, the organization and mailing address of the registrant, and the data the registry was created.

Call Company

How to Check If A Website is Safe

I know it sounds old-fashioned, but even the most advanced AI robots have trouble mimicking humans exactly. Therefore, if you’re not sure if a website is from a real company, an easy way to find out is simply by calling them over the phone! Typically, most websites will provide a phone number either on their Contact or About Us pages. If you can’t find it, you can also try looking it up on the exact same whois lookup above, or try contacting them through customer support.

Use Web Security Tools

AVG AntiVirus
AVG AntiVirus. Screenshot from AVG Website.

Finally, a straightforward way to avoid going to harmful websites is to use web security tools that protect you from viruses. Here are some top examples:

With these software programs downloaded, you won’t have to worry about giving your personal data to unsafe sites. It will do the work for you so you don’t have to worry about it at all!

Recap

As you can see, when it comes to checking if a website is safe or not, many roads lead to Rome. With these tools in mind, you can become smarter about which links and websites you’re willing to click on and give your personal information to. Please grace us with any questions or comments below and I’m happy to reach back out. And remember— be secure!

FAQs

How do you know a fake website?

There are a number of red flags that not only make a website a poor user experience, but also might be a clue that something is amiss. Watch out for:

  • Flash warnings
  • Pop-ups
  • Too many exclamation points!!!!!
  • Redirects to other sites that look unsafe
  • Search engine warnings from your browser or search engine
  • Bad spelling and grammar
  • Illogical text
  • Weird pictures
  • No space to leave product reviews
  • No return policy or privacy policy on site
  • Prices that are too good to be true.

What is a .TOP website?

A .TOP website is a website that has a generic top-level domain, most likely delegated through ICANN’s gTLD program.

Is Cartbomber com legit?

The Cartbomber is a scam website, as evidence by its:

  • Lack of domain name owner listed
  • Plethora of discounts
  • Fake trust seals
  • Disorganized pages
  • Lack of privacy policy.
Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner

Gabe Turner is an attorney and journalist with a passion for home tech and secure, efficient living. Since graduating from NYU Law, he has maintained a paradoxical existence of trying to live life adventurously while remaining staunchly risk-averse. He is torn by the dual desires of wanting to only be in Brooklyn writing about housing policy and smart home tech and aspiring to visit his friends scattered across the globe. Gabe believes that stable, safe communities are the cornerstone to a vibrant and healthy society, and it is this passion that brought him to contribute to Security Baron.

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