Inserting links has become a standard method for sharing URLs and directing people to web pages. It eliminates the hassle of typing in or copying and pasting lengthy and often complex website addresses.
But if you are not careful, these seemingly innocent links can get you into unexpected trouble. In this article, we explain potential threats they can pose and what you can do to ensure your safety.
The Dangerous Links: 4 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Them
Despite the obvious conveniences, links can be unsafe and easily manipulated by scammers and other bad actors. As a result, they can pose significant threats to the safety of ordinary individuals.
Therefore, as with everything else in the digital space, exercising caution is critical when clicking on a suspicious link. Here are four reasons why.
1. Links are often part of identity theft scams.
Fraudsters frequently rely on links to phish for sensitive information and target victims for identity theft. These scams usually work by taking you to a malicious site designed to steal personal data.
For example, a scammer can email you impersonating the IRS and ask you to log into your IRS account using a link and confirm your tax filing information. When you click, you are taken to a spoofed site identical to the official IRS website.
Without suspecting a scam, you could type in your username and password. But when you click enter, you get an error message stating the site is temporarily down. Meanwhile, the criminals collect your login credentials, visit the real IRS site, and note down your tax ID and other personal information.
Similarly, fraudsters could mimic a social media platform and message or email you to warn that your account is temporarily blocked. To reactivate it, you will need to click the provided link and enter your login details. This is a common trick criminals use to access social media accounts.
There are many other ways scammers can deploy links to steal critical information. The details they obtain enable them to target you for various scams or commit fraud by assuming your identity. For instance, in the examples given above, criminals could file a tax return under your name to defraud the IRS or dupe your friends and family by messaging them through your social media profile.
2. They are used by criminals to commit financial fraud.
To demonstrate this with an example, imagine receiving an email from your bank about a system upgrade or suspicious account activity. It asks you to reset your password to ensure continued access to the bank’s online services. The email has a link to make things easier.
Little do you realize that it is sent by a fraudster looking for a way into your bank account. By entering your password on the linked web page, you could be allowing them to walk away with your savings.
Another common financial scam involves emails that imitate well-known retailers. They could offer too-good-to-be-true deals to tempt you into clicking links and purchasing products from spoofed websites. These sites are set up to steal credit card information, which criminals could use to make expensive purchases without your knowledge.
3. They can download malware.
Malicious links can take you to websites that install malware.
Ransomware, for instance, can take over your device and its data and hold them hostage until you pay a ransom. Spyware, on the other hand, may track your online activities to steal critical information.
4. They can make you a target for spam.
An email or message could offer the chance to enter a raffle draw, win a gift, or obtain a discount. All you need to do is follow a link and enter a few personal information—from your name to phone number and email address.
Soon after you enter your details, you will notice an uptick in marketing emails, phone calls, and messages from various businesses. But you will likely not connect them to the one innocent link you had clicked earlier.
Some parties could use links to confirm valid email addresses, which they could then add to their databases and monetize. Certain spam links are designed to increase footfall to websites deceptively. While none of these may threaten your safety, they are still an unnecessary hassle and inconvenience you would want to avoid.
Useful Tips to Steer Clear From Dubious Links
Here are proven steps you can take to protect yourself from malicious links.
- Ignore links altogether
This is the easiest way to stay out of trouble.
Be especially careful with forwarded messages and even those shared by people you trust. Remember, a malicious actor could impersonate your loved ones by gaining access to their account. So, never be too quick to trust emails and messages.
- Identify suspicious links
Hover the cursor over email links and check the URLs that appear on the bottom left corner of your screen. These should match the web addresses provided on the email body. If your email service provider doesn’t offer this feature, you can copy and paste the link to a Word document and try again.
However, keep in mind that this technique will only work with links shared in emails and not with those on regular messages you receive via social media, messaging apps, or SMS.
- Verify the sender
Depending on the type of message, you could authenticate its sender in several ways. For instance, if the link is sent by an organization you know and the message requires your urgent attention or action, call them first to verify whether the message originated from them. However, if you don’t know them, visit their official website to find another way to communicate.
When the link is shared via SMS or messaging app, reverse search the sender’s number on Nuwber to check who owns it.
- Take safety precautions
Installing a reliable virus guard is an essential step for protecting your data in the event you encounter a malware threat. Many anti-virus software can also help identify and block spam emails.
Protecting your personal information without readily disclosing it to third parties is critical, too.
A simple link on an email, social media message, or SMS can pose numerous threats to your safety if you are not careful. Shady actors can use links to steal your personal data, commit financial fraud, download malware, and target you for spam and other unwelcome activities.
So, practice caution the next time you see a link, even when it is sent by someone you know, and take adequate measures to ensure your safety.