Is this URL safe? How to check if a link you received is dangerous

“Check out this funny video!” “Click here for savings!” It seems like almost every email we receive these days is just begging us to click on one or several links. But unsafe links can install malware on your device or lead you to fraudulent websites. So how do you know when a URL is safe to click?
Most of us know by now not to click on a link in an email that looks spammy or comes from an unknown sender. Such links can be vectors for ransomware, malware, or phishing scams. Unfortunately, friends and family members can also unknowingly pass on dangerous links when they forward emails to you.

by Alyssa Schmitt
 
Woman sitting on couch with laptop
Can you check if a URL is safe? Yes! And these tools make it easy

Should I check if a URL link I received is safe?

If you received a link you didn’t ask for, it’s best to assume the worst – even if you know (or think you know) the sender. Given the very real risk posed of having your data or your device compromised, our advice is to always be suspicious of links and check them carefully. And if you are unable to determine whether a link is safe, don’t click on it!

Luckily, there are some quick tricks and tools you can use to verify the links you receive in emails.

Check if a link is safe: The basics

When you receive a link in an email, you often don’t see the actual URL (e.g., https://www.mail.com/blog/) itself – instead it appears as regular text, e.g., “Click here” written in a blue font and underlined. So, you can’t immediately see the web address where the link will take you. Even if you see a complete URL, that is no guarantee that clicking the link will actually take you to that address – the text for the link could be false or fake.

If you are reading your email on a computer, you can check the link by positioning your mouse cursor on the link WITHOUT CLICKING ON IT. Simply hovering over the link will cause the underlying address to be displayed. Now you can check:
  • Does the URL match the link? If the email is really from Amazon, for instance, the URL should be from amazon.com
  • Does the URL start with https? If it starts with http instead, that is a sign that the website is not secure
  • Is there a full URL? A shortened URL will look like this “https://t.gl/ls9rbG“ making it difficult to tell where it really leads.
This simple hovering trick will help you eliminate any obviously dangerous links. However, if you still are not sure if a link is 100% trustworthy, you can check the URL safely in just a few clicks – keep reading to find out how!

I’m still not sure! Where can I check if a URL is safe?

Sometimes it can be hard to spot a fake link – but not to worry, there are several free and reliable tools you can use to check if a URL is safe. Here are a few that the experts at mail.com use regularly:

Google Safe Browsing

In its Transparency Report, Google offers a free tool to check whether a website has hosted malware in the last 90 days and if poses a phishing risk. Simply go to https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/search and enter the URL in the search bar under “Check site status”.

Site Shot

If you’ve ever wanted to take a look at a site without the risk of actually opening it, Site Shot can help. It creates a safe screenshot of the page that you can view in the browser. All you have to do is enter the URL in the search bar and click “SHOT”. Depending on the size of the image, you may have to wait a few minutes for your results.

Trend Micro Site Safety Center

The Trend Micro Site Safety Center also lets you type in a URL and check for risky activity. It rates the website as Safe, Dangerous, Suspicious or Untested, and provides some details about the content – e.g., is it a commerce site, does it have adult content, etc. An additional plus: it will tell you if opening a site could significantly affect your available bandwidth.

CheckShortURL

If you have received a shortened URL, CheckShortURL is a link expander that will help you view the full URL and check its safety. It also lets you get a peek at the page by providing a screenshot.
 
Bonus Explainer: How to copy a link safely

Remember, it’s VERY important not to click on the link that you are trying to check! If possible, it’s best to type it manually into the search bar. If not, carefully hover your mouse cursor over the link and click with the RIGHT mouse button to open the context menu. Then click “Copy Link” to copy it to your clipboard. (The command may vary depending on your program, e.g., “Copy Link Location”, “Copy Link Address”, Copy Shortcut”, etc.) Now you can paste the link into the URL checker search field. Be careful not to click on it with the LEFT mouse button, as this will probably open the link.

Now that you know how to check if a URL is safe, you can better protect yourself from online scams. And if you still don’t have an email account with mail.com, you can sign up for free here

Images: 1&1/Monstera
 
 

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