Links and websites can be forged. So when you click a link in an email that claims to be from a bank or credit card company, how do you know it’s taking you where says it’s taking you? Well, you don’t, that’s why you should always be careful.

A link in an email can be part of a phishing scam or linked to a virus. So even if it seems to link to a well known organisation, you should still double check. This is especially true when it comes to organisations that are expected to take your payment details, like eBay, Amazon, banks and even supermarkets.

To check if it’s the real McCoy, right click on the link and choose “properties” to reveal the link’s actual destination. Then see if the address makes sense. If it’s different to the organisation’s normal web address, then it’s almost certainly bogus – even if it’s just one character out. So get into the habit of looking at web addresses very carefully indeed. If you’re providing personal details of any kind you need to make sure the site is real and secure. Identity theft is common online, but is totally avoidable and all internet users should know certain facts to avoid their bank accounts being accessed.

How do you know if a site is secure? Well, if you’re a regular online shopper or use a range of personal finance tools, or if you receive your bank statements and access your bank account online, you should know to check for two key things:

1.      A padlock in the browser window to signify that the site has a security certificate

2.      An address that starts ‘https://’ – rather than the usual ‘http://’

If you’re asked to enter bank details or private information and these two key features are missing, you are doing so in a site that is not secure. And remember, if you’re ever asked for full details of personal information like your user name or password, when you are normally only asked for some of it, something isn’t right.

A further word of caution – just because these features appear in an email before you click on the link, don’t assume they are real. Furthermore, when you double click the padlock, the security certificate for the site should be displayed. So if you ever get a warning that the address of the site does not match the certificate, do not continue.

That’s why it’s good to get into the habit of entering the address of any banking, shopping, auction, money management or financial transaction website into your browser yourself – don’t just depend on the email links, no matter how convenient that might seem.

Finally, make sure you’ve installed the latest version of your web browser – Internet Explorer version 7 and Firefox version 2 have built in filters to detect fake sites – and check your credit card statements and online bank accounts regularly, to make sure nothing is amiss.

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