11 Signs a Website Might Be Untrustworthy

11 Signs a Website Might Be Untrustworthy

Even with tons of great resources, the web contains thousands of websites (if not more) that aren’t trustworthy. Unless you’re aware of the red flags, it can be tricky to spot counterfeit and scam websites.

So here, we’ll take a look at 11 signs a website might be untrustworthy. While one sign might not be definitive, if you see any of these red flags, you should be alarmed.

1. Domain Name

Fake Amazon Domain Screenshot

To spoof reputable websites, scammers pick domains similar to the actual websites. It works well, as most people don’t notice. Scammers use the following ploys to make their domain names look like legitimate sites:

  • Misspelled Domains: Since the correct spelling is registered by the legitimate site, untrustworthy websites use misspelled words. Defrauders add extra letters, punctuation, and substitute similar characters (for example, o with 0). Moreover, they can add modifiers to make the websites look trustworthy.
  • Different Extension: To spoof legitimate sites, scammers can use a different extension than the actual site. For example, if the real website is example.com, the fake website might be example.net or example.org. Similarly, if you ever land on a website with an unusual domain extension, beware and look for more red flags.
  • Subdomains: The actual domain name is the one appearing just before the extension. So, a website pretending to be Amazon can use amazon.example.com. Beware that the real name of this site is example.com, and it has nothing to do with Amazon.


2. Page URL

Other than the domain name, paying heed to the URL of web pages can help you spot untrustworthy sites. Usually, the URL of spam sites contain several numbers, special characters, and random letters. For example, example.com/k4-5j-9nw3.

Related: Ways to Spot Fake and Useless Reviews Online

Remember that though shortened links often contain a random string of letters, they redirect you to the page with the proper URL and domain. However, if the address bar still displays some shady URL after landing on a website, better be careful.

3. SSL Certificate

padlock icon showing valid SSL certificate

Simply put, an SSL certificate encrypts the data transferred between you and the server. This ensures that hackers or even the admin of the website can’t view or change the data transferred.

It’s become common practice for all kinds of websites to have an SSL certificate. But always check the SSL certificate for websites that requires you to add credit card details or other personal information.

Related: What Is an SSL Certificate, and Do You Need One?

When you visit a website without a valid SSL certificate, you’ll see a Not Secure on the left of your address bar. A padlock indicates that the connection is encrypted.

Screenshot of MUO contact page

Every legitimate website has proper contact information. If you notice that a contact page is missing from any site you’d expect to see one, it’s a red flag.

Ideally, the contact information should include a physical address, phone number, or email address. A contact form is usually not enough, especially for online stores or websites of businesses.

Similarly, content sites and blogs should contain information about the authors. Authors’ information can also be faked, but most spam sites don’t bother adding it.

5. Spam Ads

Despite being irritating, ads are vital for most websites to survive. Nevertheless, if you visit a website with spam or misleading ads, you need to be vigilant.

Most of these ads will have clickbait titles with promises too good to be true. Though it’s tempting to click on these ads, it’s a sign of a website that you can’t trust.

6. No Privacy Policy or Terms of Use

screenshot of MUO website footer

Privacy policy, terms of use, and copyright policy are a must for any legitimate website. Most counterfeit and shady websites don’t have these pages. Even if they do, they are either incomplete, copied, or full of errors.

So, when you visit a suspicious site, take a moment to go through its privacy policy and all the fine print. You don’t have to read it all (who has time for that), but you should make sure it’s there. For online stores, you should also check the return and shipping policy.

If a website contains links to spam or malicious sites, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t trust it or click the links. Similarly, scammers display ads with fake download buttons to trick you into clicking them.

Even if the download button works, you should be careful when downloading anything from suspicious websites.

To check the links, you can hover your cursor over them and check the destination page in the bottom-left corner of the screen. Alternatively, you can right-click and copy them in your address bar.

8. Spelling and Grammar Errors

Broken English is a major red flag. Pages on most spam websites are written by text spinners or sloppy writers.

So make sure to read some different pages on the site. And, if you find frequent spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, it’s likely an untrustworthy site.

9. Trust Seal

website footer with multiple trust seals

Trusted seals indicate security and authenticity of a website. There are different kinds of trust badges, like privacy seals, payment methods, and safe checkout seals.

These trust seals are issued by various organizations, though the most popular ones are Norton, Google Trusted Store, TrustedSite, and PayPal.

However, these trust seals can also be faked, so you should check the trust badge. Clicking on it will show the information about the issuer and the website to which it was issued.

Related: Ways to Spot a Fake Retail Website

Trust seals are common for ecommerce stores or websites that require registration. They are usually displayed in the footer, registration page, or checkout page. If you don’t see these seals on other types of websites, it’s typically not a big concern.

You can search the name of the websites you want to check. Counterfeit sites won’t appear in the search results, or at least not above the actual ones.

Similarly, spam sites are very less likely to show up in the search results. Another sign of a legitimate site is that other websites will be mentioning and linking to it.

11. Using Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report

Google Safe Browsing Tool Screenshot

Lastly, you can use Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report to check whether the website or link is trustworthy. Google scan billions of web pages each day to find unsafe, compromised pages.

Related: Quick Sites That Let You Check If a Link Is Safe

To check any website or web page, paste its address in the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report. The tool shows whether it’s safe and, in case it isn’t, the potential threats.

Keep An Eye Out While Browsing

You can’t trust everything on the internet. Especially on the sites that you’re visiting for the first time, be a little cautious and watch out for the above-mentioned red flags.

You can also use your common sense to spot unreliable websites. Poorly designed websites with few pages and emotional titles or promises are mostly scams.

Apart from the websites, scammers can fake people, reviews, emails, and images. So, always be cautious while browsing.

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