While the comparison between the "World Wide Web" and the "Wild Wild West" is cliche and dated, fraud is still prevalent on the Internet. According to The Guardian newsgroup, online fraud costs people and businesses at least double, if not several times higher, than the 2010 estimated annual $100 billion global cost. Despite all the tools at your disposal, your instincts are your first line of defense. Always check out a site's reputation if you're suspicious about a site's legality or think it may be fraudulent.
Check The Site Reputation With McAfee
Computer security company McAfee has a free online tool that checks a site's public reputation to help you determine if the site is legitimate (see Resources). Just copy and paste the questionable site's URL into the site tool and click "Look Up" to use it. The tool checks the site against McAfee's databases and assigns risk rating to the site including "High Risk," "Medium Risk," "Unverified" and "Minimal Risk." Anything other than a "Low Risk" rating indicates questionable legitimacy and you shouldn't submit any personal information.
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Scan The Page With Google Safe Browsing
Google provides a free online tool for scanning any Web page you find questionable. Google's Safe Browsing feature is a service that checks Web addresses against Google's listings for phishing scams and malware-infected pages. Being flagged for phishing is a powerful indicator that the site is fraudulent, whereas being flagged for malware can imply fraud or a temporary security breach. Legitimate sites (including those you visit regularly) can get hijacked, get infected with malware and trip Google Safe Browsing alerts. You can use Google's Safe Browsing tool by entering the following address and swapping "example.com" with the site's address in any Web browser:
Use Your Eyes
Fraudulent sites fake or omit contact information. If you're suspicious, look for the "Contact Us" page and try communicating with the site. If there's no contact information or no one answers, the site's legitimacy is questionable. Illegitimate sites often replicate the look of popular sites to steal your information. Fake sites use a different domain name than the site they are emulating. Check the domain name by looking at the text that appears before the top-level domain (the ".com" or ".net" part) and matching it to the site you're supposed to be on. For example, "developers.google.com" is a Google site whereas "developers.google.scamsitename.com" is not. You can also search for the domain name's owner through a Whois.net search to verify site legitimacy (see Resources).
Let Software Protect You
If you're browsing the Web with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, you're already somewhat protected, as these browsers automatically check the Google Safe Browsing database and launch a "this site may harm your computer" notification before loading potentially harmful sites. You can also install the Web of Trust or Avast browser plugins for all major browsers to add risk assessment information to Web search results (see Resources). Web of Trust uses green, yellow and red icons to assess site security risks as safe, questionable and unsafe, respectively. Avast measures site reliability with one to three bars, granting more reliable sites more bars.