The internet has made it so much quicker and easier to bank, shop and interact with businesses. Thanks to the pandemic more of us are even socialising online too. However, the downside is that cybercrime has flourished as a result, with more criminals out to rob our personal information and commit fraud.
This means it’s vital we all have our wits about us when we’re online and learn how to work out whether a website we are visiting is legit. Find out more about how cybercrime works and what to look out for with our top tips.
Phishing is the most common technique used by hackers to access sensitive information about you. This could be your passwords, banking information, or card details.
Potential victims might receive a tailored, expertly designed email which looks just like it’s from a trusted source.
You’ll be directed to a website designed to look just like one you normally use, such as PayPal or your online bank. Once there, the hackers hope you’ll enter your sensitive information which they can then use to commit fraud.
Here are five things you can do to check a website and find out if it's legit:
The URL is the address you see in the address bar at the top of your browser. Paying attention to this is crucial. The most important part is the bit between the first double slashes and the first single slash.
If this references a well-known product but isn’t the official website, that should ring alarm bells. For example, a domain like ‘iphonedeals.net’ clearly is not the official Apple website. Websites that end in .net or .org aren’t usually used for online shopping and .com or .co.uk are much more common.
You could also run the URL through Google’s Safe Browsing Transparency Report to find out whether that website is safe.
When you shop online or share your personal details, make sure you are using an https:// or secure server internet connection.
This ensures that other web users can't spy on your personal details, for example, your banking or credit card information.
If you visit a website that asks you for personal information or login details without taking you to a https:// connection, leave immediately.
When you visit a secure connection online, you should see a padlock symbol next to the URL to indicate you are logged on to a secure connection.
You should also look for the padlock symbol next to the URL. This indicates that the site is secure and cannot be intercepted.
Alternatively, if the address bar goes green and you see the words ‘Verified Company [US]’ then that’s also an indication that the site’s secure.
If you see a warning symbol in the address bar and the words ‘Not Secure’ this means there’s an issue with the security.
Have a good look around the website, paying attention to how it’s written. Are there:
If it doesn’t read well, it’s highly likely to be a scam website. No reputable website would ever go live without being properly checked. If you see lots of errors, it’s likely it’s been put together in a hurry by someone looking to make a quick buck. Also check the ‘contact us’ page. If the only way to contact them is through a form, you’d be right to feel suspicious.
And if the offer seems too good to be true – then it probably is.
All domains have to register their web address or URL, so check who has registered the URL or web domain of the website.
It's free to look this up, and knowing the name of the company or individual responsible for the domain will help you identify if a site is a genuine business.
There are also lots of popular review websites that share user experiences, both about the quality of customer service and products, and warning against scams. These include:
You should be able to work out quite quickly whether other people have had good or bad experiences of the site you’re looking at. Watch out for fake reviews, too – if they all look new, or are all similar, they might not be genuine. Also be wary if there aren’t many reviews available to read.
It's not always easy to tell if a website is legit as scams become increasingly sophisticated. If you're still unsure about whether a site is legitimate, it's best to be extra cautious. If you're trying to visit a specific website, type the URL into your web browser directly rather than following links. And if you have any doubts listen to your gut and don’t enter any personal or financial information into the website.
It's always better to be safe than sorry.