Click with Caution: Unmasking the World of Deceptive URLs

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By Adam Mohammed 7 months ago

Navigating the digital landscape can feel like threading through a minefield due to deceptive URLs. Recognizing these URLs is essential for online safety. This guide offers an engaging walkthrough.

1. Suspicious Domains: 
Major organizations often use familiar domain extensions like ".com," ".org," or ".net." Rare extensions like ".xyz" or ".click" require caution. 
For instance, if you're used to "yourbank.com," a link from "yourbank.xyz" should raise suspicions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a case in point. Their official domain is “who.org.” However, links from domains like “who.og” or “who.click” should be viewed skeptically, as they could be scam attempts. The WHO has alerted the public about such deceptive practices.

2. Extra Characters or Words:
Deceptive URLs may modify a genuine site's name to appear legit. 
Take the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as an example. Their domain is “nnpc.com.” But domains like “nnpc-funds.com” or “nnpc-group.net” could be fraudulent attempts. NNPC has disclaimed such misleading websites.

3. The Absence of 'HTTPS':
The "https://" prefix indicates encryption and better data security. While not a foolproof sign, its absence can be alarming.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) uses “https://” for its website “https://www.cbn.gov.ng”. Websites like “http://cbn-funds.com” or “http://cbn-group.net” lack this prefix and may be unsecure. Always check for “https://” and the padlock icon in the browser before entering personal or financial details.

However, HTTPS combined with a trustworthy domain name ensures better security. Some deceptive sites might have HTTPS but use misleading domain names like “https://secure-bank.xyz”. Always scrutinize both the HTTPS prefix and domain name.

4. Subdomain Trickery:
Subdomains precede the main domain in URLs. Scammers often misuse this to deceive.

For example, "www.africanaid.org" has "www" as the subdomain. A scam site might use “africanaid.scamwebsite.com”, misleading users into thinking they're on the “African Aid” site.

5. URL Shorteners:
Shortened URLs, like those from bit.ly, can hide the actual destination. Be wary.

Consider the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which uses the ".gov.ng" extension at "https://www.nimc.gov.ng". Shortened URLs like "https://cb.run/LyLM" or "https://bit.ly/3nQ8ZpR" can mislead users to fraudulent sites. Always treat shortened URLs with suspicion.


Safety Protocols:

  • Always scrutinize links before clicking, especially if they promise high rewards.
  • When unsure, verify a URL's authenticity by reaching out to the related organization through known channels.
  •  Use URL checkers to validate suspicious links.

URL checkers, also known as link scanners or URL verification tools, examine URLs to determine if they lead to malicious sites. Here are some popular URL checkers along with brief descriptions:

  1. VirusTotal: VirusTotal scans URLs using multiple antivirus engines and website scanners to detect harmful content. It provides comprehensive feedback, making it one of the most popular tools for checking URLs and files Website: VirusTotal
  2. Google Safe Browsing: A tool by Google, it allows users to enter a URL to check if it's listed in Google's list of suspicious or malicious sites. Website: Google Safe Browsing
  3. URLVoid: URLVoid checks a website through various blacklist engines and online reputation tools to facilitate the detection of fraudulent and malicious websites.
  4. PhishTank: PhishTank is a community-driven site where users submit, verify, and track suspected phishing sites. It's a great place to verify if a URL is a known phishing attempt.
  5. Norton Safe Web: Powered by Norton, this tool evaluates websites for safety and security issues.

When using URL checkers, keep in mind:

  • No tool is infallible. Even if a URL passes one checker, it's still a good practice to be cautious, especially if you have other reasons to suspect its legitimacy.
  • Always make sure you're using the official website of the URL checker. Scammers sometimes create fake versions of popular tools to mislead users.


Conclusion:
The digital space offers myriad opportunities but also harbors dangers. Safe navigation hinges on awareness and prudence. When uncertain, pause and verify. Knowledge is your best defense.

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