8 effective methods for knowing if a website is safe
October 03, 2023
Millions of users navigate the web daily, making purchases, sharing personal details, and browsing social content. And only a small portion of these users consider whether a site is safe.
Maybe you’ve wondered, as you shop on an unheard-of brand or input credit card details into a site form. But as savvy as you are to consider safety threats, you might not even understand how to know if a website is safe — some signs of danger might surprise you.
What’s an unsafe website?
An unsafe website puts user information at risk. This might be the site owner’s intent — they created a fraudulent site to steal credit card information, for instance. Or it might be inefficient security protocols that make the site easily hackable, so cyber-thieves can steal sensitive data the website collects.
Here are a few of the most common forms of threat on websites.
Phishing websites are entirely fake and designed to steal your information. This typically involves receiving an email that offers a link to the fake site. When you arrive, you’re prompted to confirm login details (which they then steal).
Domain spoofing (using a domain name that closely resembles a legitimate one) is a common tactic that makes this approach most convincing, so always double-check URLs and be wary of unsolicited communications.
Malware is a broad term encompassing various software-based techniques, including the following:
Viruses attach themselves to clean files and spread throughout your computer system.
Worms replicate themselves without attaching to other programs.
Trojans are disguised as legitimate software but deliver a malicious payload once downloaded.
Ransomware locks users out of their devices or encrypts their data, demanding a ransom for its release.
Spyware secretly monitors user activities and collects personal information.
To avoid malware, be cautious of clicking links within an email, instead entering in the domain yourself. If the site’s legitimate, you should be able to reach the page you’re after. And avoid downloading files from suspicious emails, checking whether email addresses and business contact information within are accurate first.
Some websites exist solely to trade or use stolen login credentials. These sites are a goldmine for cybercriminals, providing access to various online accounts, from email to financial services. Be cautious of the sites you share your information with — or use masked or anonymous credentials — as hacked information from fraudulent sites might end up on a data marketplace.
How to tell if a website is safe: 8 methods
When determining whether a website is legit, it’s best to have a robust arsenal of techniques and tricks to spot fraudsters in every situation. Here are eight tried-and-true methods for smoking out fakes:
Inspect the URL: A site’s URL is a quick clue into its security, so it’s valuable to know how to check if a URL is safe. Look for sites that have “https” rather than “http,” as the “s” stands for secure and indicates that the site has an updated secure socket layer (SSL) certificate. This layer ensures that sensitive information like login credentials or credit card numbers remains confidential. You can also look for a padlock icon beside the site’s URL to check for this certification. And watch for simple yet easy-to-miss tricks, like an “I” they’ve replaced with a “1.”
Check out website reviews: Platforms like Trustpilot and Sitejabber showcase user reviews that answer the question, “Is this website legit to buy from?” and other common queries about site safety.
Find the company’s contact info: Legitimate sites showcase verifiable contact details, including phone numbers and physical addresses.
Look for trust seals: Trust badges from organizations like Verisign and McAfee indicate that a website has undergone security checks and is deemed safe.
Be wary of clickbait titles: Sensationalist or too-good-to-be-true headlines can indicate deception — approach these cautiously.
Look for updated content: A regularly updated site, especially with recent blog posts or news articles, is often a sign of a legitimate and active business.
Avoid pop-ups: Excessive pop-ups, like those prompting you to download something or enter personal details, are a red flag.
Use website safety check tools: Tools like Google's Safe Browsing or Norton's Safe Web can quickly scan a site for potential threats.
How to protect yourself from cyber-threats
As meticulous as you might be, you could still land on a problematic site. And other cyber-threats exist, like debit card fraud and phishing scams.
Here are a few protective measures you can take to fortify your digital defenses.
Set up regular software updates
Every piece of software, from your operating system to your favorite apps, is a potential entry point for hackers. As vulnerabilities are discovered, software developers release patches to fix them. And by regularly updating your software, you gain new features and close doors that hackers could enter.
Use antivirus software
Protect yourself from various forms of malware, such as trojans and worms, with robust antivirus software. These programs work in the background, constantly monitoring for and neutralizing threats.
Avoid public Wi-Fi for transactions
Public Wi-Fi networks, like at coffee shops or airports, are convenient — but you’re less in control of their safety measures. These open networks make it much easier for hackers to intercept data.
Use virtual private networks (VPNs)
A VPN is a private tunnel between your device and the internet. It encrypts your online activities, making it nearly impossible for hackers to monitor your actions. Beyond security, VPNs can bypass geo-restrictions, granting access to content available only in specific regions.
Get IronVest’s app and extension
IronVest is a comprehensive digital shield that uses bank-grade biometric fraud prevention to verify user identities, ensuring that only authorized individuals gain access to any account. With features like biometrics-enhanced secure password management and masked emails, phone numbers, and credit cards, IronVest offers a holistic approach to online safety, setting it apart from conventional security solutions.
Set up two-factor authentication (2FA)
Make it increasingly difficult for fraudulent sites and outside actors to steal your information by setting up 2FA across platforms and devices. While slightly more inconvenient — you need to provide two authentication methods to access an account — the safety measures this tactic provides are worthwhile in the long run. And IronVest offers a robust biometric 2FA feature for further protection.
Secure your digital footprint with IronVest
Knowing how to spot fraudulent or unsafe sites is the first step — arming yourself with the right tools to avoid and mitigate data breaches comes next.
IronVest believes safeguarding your digital footprint is a collective duty — and our personal privacy-focused super app takes that responsibility seriously. Get IronVest today and enjoy an enhanced layer of protection across all digital activities.