the old wisdom used to be don’t click on anything that you don’t recognize and only follow links from someone you know, but lately with so many of our methods of communications being shortened (twitter, texting, mobile phones, netbooks, etc.) there is definitely a new set of confusing looking links around the internet – the one i use is bit.ly, but there are these shortening programs all over now.

i think the first one i encountered was tinyurl.  i can’t say the first time i noticed it, but the name made it less concerning to follow.  the wikipedia article i found on url shortening even linked me to a list of url shortening services (now over 100).  so now how do you avoid getting duped by a good facebook friend that suggests you click on something or from that email with a link?  it still goes back to becoming familiar with what is something new and worth checking out and what is a hoax.  here’s some of my thoughts on the subject:

1) start with a simple search from a trusted source.  for me this is bing.  you can type in the site name, the offer, the “internet safety concern” that you should immediately forward to everyone in your address book (or popup you should click on to rid your computer of viruses, etc.).  then learn not to be duped.  i (try to) never click on anything that i am not intended to (if a window appears under a web page i was using i never click or trust it – i usually close them from task manager – ctrl + shift + esc to start from the keyboard).  many websites use “pop unders” so you don’t see the ad until you close the window.

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i meant to go to insanepictures.com, but in navigating i have now opened this super useful page to smiley central (which you won’t see if insanepictures.com is full screen – and it might continue to “pop under” ads if you use the site).  close smiley central from task manager to avoid clicking something you didn’t intend to.

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2) is there a preview or cached page from a trusted web search provider for the site or content you are thinking about clicking on?  does the intended link seem to be the same site you will be sent to if you click or follow it?  some email blasts for newsletters or other mass communications use some sort of tracking to see who has followed the links and these can be legit, just be cautious and ask if you aren’t certain.

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looks like a real site – i might go check it out…

3) after you have done some research, if you still think it’s something you need to send to everyone you know, think about validating it first.  double check with someone else that might be “in the know” if this is the next big internet worry – why haven’t you received this from your work’s it department or another trusted source?  do you know the source?  is the email or message riddled with errors or misspellings?  is it sending you somewhere you’ve heard of before?

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4) send an email or call the original person.  this has saved me a lot of public internet embarrassment – send an email “did you really mean to send this?”  usually if you’re questioning something it’s worth hearing from the person who decided you and everyone else they know should definitely go check this out (link to somewhere you’ve never heard of).

someone will probably make this post obsolete by thinking of something else that i haven’t warned about, but when it comes to online safety, better safe than sorry.