Before you input your address and credit card information into a website, you probably pause to think: Can I trust this site?
Or what about just clicking into a link on a page? Could this lead to a malware download? Or will the site be able to know who you are and where you’re located?
Usually we’re more trusting of big-name sites (although Big Tech comes with its own data-collection problems). Here are a few simple ways you can be confident that a site is safe to use and not out to scam you.
1. Check if the URL starts with ‘https’ or ‘http’
When you’re visiting a website, check whether its domain name starts with “https”—which indicates it’s SSL-certified and keeps your data encrypted from the moment it enters a web browser to reaching its server. If the website has an SSL, there should also be a padlock icon you can see in the address bar.
When you use an https website, your internet service provider and other third parties might be able to see which sites you’re visiting, but they can’t see what you’re doing on those sites or any information you enter into the site. Meanwhile, http websites, which do not have an SSL certificate, leave your personal data exposed.
A majority of legitimate, modern websites are https. It’s easy and affordable to get an SSL when the website is being set up. Most browsers also alert you when you’re visiting an unsecured site. But it doesn’t hurt to check the URL and decide whether to proceed if you’re warned that the website isn’t secure.
But just because the website you’re visiting is SSL-certified doesn’t mean your online activity is safe. A website with SSL will encrypt the information that enters it—but it can’t hide your IP address and online activity like a VPN.
Read more: Why HTTPS vs. VPN makes no sense
2. Judge if a website looks old
In the case of websites, do judge it by its appearance.
We should think twice when visiting a website with a theme that isn’t modern-looking, as it can say a lot about its security, not just its brand or style. Old-looking website themes mean the code is not regularly updated and might include security vulnerabilities, bugs that make the site difficult to use, and compatibility errors that might prevent you from using it at all.
3. Be wary if payment options are limited
On e-commerce sites, it’s a red flag if the payment options are obscure.
Legitimate websites usually offer Visa and Mastercard as payment methods, as well as other popular payment gateways like PayPal and Stripe, which encrypt your transactions. Be on guard if it only offers options like wire payment, bank transfers, or cryptocurrency.
Read more: Safety tips for online and in-store shopping
5. Be skeptical of pop-up overload
It’s not at all weird for a website to show you pop-ups that ask for your attention to join their newsletter or grab their offers. But if a website shows you a lot of pop-ups, it could be “malvertising”—advertising that directs you to malware.
Clicking on them could direct you to a website that looks legitimate but will trick you into surrendering your personal information—a form of phishing. It could also download spyware, viruses, or other types of malware on your device.
If you happen to visit a website that blows up with pop-ups, best to close the website. Even if it’s not malicious, you don’t need that kind of annoyance in your life. Take your business elsewhere.
6. Use Google’s website safety checker
Google’s Safe Browsing service lets you check if it has identified a website as being unsafe. It does so by checking URLs against its regularly updated lists of unsafe web resources. You can simply paste the URL of the website into the search bar and hit “Enter”—and it’ll report back any unsafe content found. Often, an “unsafe” site is a legitimate one that has been compromised in some way.
What turns you off a website? Let us know in the comments!
Wow, great content for my 70 year old grandmother, circa 2002.
What you didn’t say, Millie, is that if you click on the padlock, it will tell you how many cookies have been set when you access the page. (Reader, click padlock now to see that). It also gives the reader the opportunity to block the cookies. I can see why you didn’t mention that. Yes, tell us how innocuous that is. How it helps you to provide a better product, etc., etc.