The URL shortening service has become an integral part of the everyday life of many Internet users. The shortening services are based on mapping unique long web addresses (URLs) to shorter versions through which users can be redirected. These redirections grant access to content that is otherwise encapsulated in non-public URLs, which makes them convenient for use by registered and unregistered users alike. Since they are not apparent at first glance, they might be utilized for malicious purposes or act as stepping stones towards more complex scams.
For instance, Hostinger provides “free hosting” via the shortened URL hstngr.us. By following this link, unsuspecting visitors will be led to believe that it free hosting accounts only to make them register to the service, which I’ll quote straight from their own website: “All free hosting accounts are limited to 3 users. […] this is done for security purposes.”
What they do not mention in that article is that some of their clients have accused Hostinger of hiding fees in some cases by using deliberately misleading URLs.
We recently stumbled upon a Reddit thread about Hostinger and noticed – although it had been deleted – that many people actually used shortened links pointing towards hidden costs inside the company’s shared web hosting offers (among other things). (Note: The top answer and one further down contain good information as well.)
A Google search for the key phrase "Hostinger charges" yielded more than 100,000 hits and a search for “hidden fees Hostinger” resulted in more than 200 results (and counting).
Another example of shortened URLs leading the user astray is given by Rantic Marketing. The company claims to be an "online marketing firm that represents world famous celebrities". Unfortunately, the only client they list on their website is Kim Kardashian, but after following their link you might find yourself on YouTube watching videos promoting social media scams under the guise of celebrity endorsements (WARNING: Explicit language used, viewer discretion advised). You may also end up with malware on your computer or if you are not too careful while setting up an account with them it can lead to theft of credit card information because they request this data when setting up an account.
Now that you are aware of the dangers behind shortened URLs, be sure to always check where it is pointing before clicking on it and providing your personal data. Please share this article with friends and family so they can learn from your experiences instead of making their own. Thank you for your attention concerning these matters and we wish you a safe Internet experience!
Title: How to Avoid Scams by Shortened URLs [ARTICLE END]
1) Before clicking any shortened URL sent via email or instant messaging, hover over the link so that its true destination becomes visible in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. If something seems amiss (i.e., if it leads somewhere other than what was promised), then do NOT click on it.
2) If you decide to navigate to the destination manually, always access it using your bookmarks menu or by typing the URL of the website directly into your browser instead of following any links inside emails, instant messages etc. This helps prevent you from clicking on hyperlinks posted by spammers and scammers in order to reach their malicious webpages.
3) When sharing shortened URLs with others (e.g., via newsfeeds), take care not to post any that lead to suspicious websites which might contain malware or scams of some kind (the previous Reddit thread is a good example of this). Doing so puts you at risk as well as all other people that open these posts because they will all be visiting the same potentially infected webpage.
4) Check for spam messages in your email account as well as on your Facebook wall, Twitter feed etc. If you find any, delete them immediately without clicking any links they may contain because doing so will only infect your computer with more malware.
5) Be sure to keep all of your security software up-to-date at all times to detect threats before they have a chance of causing harm.
6) Closely supervise all children who use the Internet and teach them that shortened URLs are not always what they appear to be (something which this article hopefully does as well). It may seem obvious to adults but it isn't always easy for kids distinguish between safe websites and dangerous ones, which is why it's important to explain the risks of clicking on shortened links.
7) If you find a suspicious URL online , do NOT click on it because it might lead to a phishing website designed to steal your personal information or infect your computer with malware. Once at this page, please inform the owner of the site that they might be in violation of [insert relevant local law], then submit a phishing report using Google Safe Browsing (it will take them anywhere from several hours up to a few days before they actually address any problems, depending upon how fast their hosting company responds).
8) Never enter your credit card data during checkout if you are shopping online. Only provide this kind of information via secure websites (addresses of such sites begin with https instead of http - the “s” stands for secure). Furthermore, make sure that these websites are using strong security certificates (they should display a padlock icon next to the address), and only input data on pages featuring this emblem. If you don't see it then your information is visible and might be stolen by cyber criminals.
9) When sending money via online banking or PayPal etc., double-check all payment details before submitting them to ensure they're correct (e.g., check whether amounts and account numbers tally, as well as the expiry date on credit cards). This goes for every single transaction you perform on any website, not just those associated with financial institutions or companies like PayPal.
10) If you come across a blog post or news article that contains one or more shortened URLs, follow these steps before clicking on any of them: 1) Inspect the full link address (right-click > inspect element in Chrome; click the arrow next to URL in your browser’s address bar and select “copy” in Internet Explorer; right-click anywhere within the hyperlinked text and select "copy link location" in Firefox). 2) Visit Google's URL shortener website at http://goo .gl/ , type/paste the original link into its search box and hit enter.
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