Some .Gov Links Lead to Scams

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Even links that seem to link to official government sites may not be safe. Here's why.

TechNewsDaily reports on a new scam making use of 1.usa.gov URLs to lend credibility to sites that rip consumers off.

Here’s how it works. There are a lot of “link wrapper” or “short link” services now – with URLs that start with small domains like bit.ly or ow.ly. The New York Times has nyti.ms, and the U.S. government has usa.gov. The advantage of these links is they’re less complicated to remember and take up less space, which is important on social networks like Twitter. There is a downside, however…

The drawback to wrapped links, though, is that they obscure what’s on the other side. That’s exactly what scammers are counting on: driving traffic to dubious sites by way of legitimate-looking links.

Between Oct. 12 and Oct. 18, more than 43,000 redirects were made to spam sites, accounting for more than 15 percent of all 1.usa.gov traffic. The problem lies with the practice of “open redirects,” which diverts traffic to the new destination link without first validating the site’s authenticity.

One way to check without putting yourself at risk is to right click a shortened link, select “Copy URL,” and then paste it into a search engine. Without visiting the site, you’ll be able to see what it is or at least who else is sharing that link – that should give you an idea of how reliable it is.

Stacy Johnson

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