How do I recognize a fraudulent website?

The Internet is an extremely useful tool, one that provides a multitude of services and entertainment right in front of you.  It is also riddled with bad things, places that are trying to steal your information or trick you into giving away personal data.  The risk of encountering such things is minimized if you can learn to recognize signs that indicate a site should be avoided instead.

Attention to Detail

First and foremost, make sure the domain name in the address bar is what you expect.  If you clicked on a link that you expected to take you to, but instead takes you to, that’s probably not where you want to be.  If you click on a link to a website from what you thought was a legitimate email request from your bank, the difference in the URL may not be that obvious.  For example, the website of Credit Union West is, but a fraudulent link might take you to  If you are unsure of what the correct domain for a company website should be, try using your favorite search engine and put in the company name. The first result will almost always be the official website. If you still find yourself at a website wondering if all is well, this is where browser security features come in to play. By looking at the address bar, there are a few ways to tell if a website is legitimate.

Browser Features

This is a valid URL. The domain name is what we expect (, the website is using https, and it has been validated by the browser, as indicated by the padlock icon.

From top to bottom: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome. This website is legitimate. The domain name is what we expect (, the website is using https, and it has been validated by the browser, as indicated by the padlock icon, present on all three browsers (circled in red).

The presence of a globe in the address bar means the website is not authenticated in any way.  This does not necessarily mean it is a fake, it just means there is nothing outside of your own judgement to determine if the site is the one you are wanting to visit.  It also means anything you transmit to the website is not secured and could be read by an eavesdropper.  The presence of https:// in the address bar, and a grey or green padlock indicate that the website connection is secure, and the website has been validated by a third party service.  These are very strong indicators that the site you are visiting is the one you want. A green padlock in particular is the best and most sure way to confirm a website’s authenticity, as it means the site meets additional criteria for verification.

Stay Safe

These tips should make you more adept at spotting web forgeries, but as always it is better to play it safe when it comes to your personal information.  If at any point you still feel uncomfortable putting your information on the Internet, it is best to follow your gut: take care of your business in person, or over the phone using a number from official company material.