October is Cyber Security Awareness Month — and as we continue to join the arena of millions of digital citizens, it’s important to remember the basics of keeping yourself secure online. One of those basics: Check your links.
Unfortunately, scammers often create websites imitating existing sites, with the goal of tricking you into thinking you’re on the legitimate site. For example, it could be a Facebook login page or the checkout page of your favorite retailer. The fake website will have similar or identical visual elements and a URL that mimics the real one.
Recently, two businesses used a fake website to change their Better Business Bureau rating to an A+, then linked their fake BBB profiles to their websites and social media accounts. But, when consumers clicked those links, they were directed to a different website imitating BBB.org, using BBB logos and other trademarks. While the BBB was able to get the imposter website taken down, this type of behavior is still a problem. And one that BBB consistently watches.
Both Sapa Auto Sales and SEB Freight currently have an F rating with the (real) BBB.org, due in large part to a pattern of complaints alleging that the companies failed to ship vehicles consumers purchased online. A BBB investigation also found licensing issues and disconnected contact information.
In this case, both companies were likely frauds to start. That’s why it is critical to know how to check the security of any URL before you enter any information — or trust the page!
Check before you click. An easy way to find out where a link is directed is to hover your mouse over the link. Your browser will show the website it is directed to in the lower-left corner of your browser. Make sure it goes to the real domain you are expecting. All business profiles and BBB resources will start with “https://www.bbb.org.” If it doesn’t, don’t click.
Be cautious. If the URL begins with a short URL like “bit.ly” or “tiny.cc,” be careful. Link shorteners make it easy to send links to friends and others, but they also obscure the destination of the link. Never click on a shortened link from a source you don’t trust. If it’s a message about a problem from a company you do business with, call the company directly or visit their website instead.
Look for the S. Ensure the website address begins with https:// and check the address bar for a “not secure” message. A trustworthy online seller will have a secure domain, keeping your information safe from hackers. Many websites will also have security certification logos visible on their page. Always click them to ensure they open an attached security policy because many scam sites will simply display these logos without an option to click through to a policy.
If you spot a scam website, whether you lose money or not, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report will help other consumers avoid scams.
Marjorie Stephens is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana. Contact the BBB at 800-552-4631 or visit www.bbb.org.