Shortened URLs are a fact of life in social media these days. If you’re a regular Twitter user or engage in other social media, then you’ve no doubt seen shortened URLs. Shortened URLs are quite useful and help save space, but how safe are they?
If you’re a regular Twitter user or engage in other social media, then you’ve no doubt seen shortened URLs, also called shortened hyperlinks. They save space, making them convenient for social media messages with character limits. Shortened URLs give you more room to express yourself in a condensed space. And, let’s admit it; they look much better than a link that sprawls across two or three lines of text.
For those who aren’t familiar with shortened URLs, here is an example of one link shortened by five different services so you can see the visual appeal of shaving off character length:
With a shortened URL, it’s very hard to tell exactly where the link is going to take you. Scammers have used this type of link to re-direct consumers to other scam websites or to a malware download. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk clicking on a malicious link.
To stay safe, here are some things you can do before clicking a shortened URL:
- Consider the source. Do you know and trust the source? Scammers will often mimic well-known brands and celebrities. Also, remember that accounts can be hacked, including those of family and friends.
- Even if you trust the source, you should take precaution before clicking that unknown link. You can reveal the destination of shortened URLs in one of the following ways.
- You can use a URL expander website to see the full, original link, such as LongURL.com, Untiny.com, and unFurlr.com. Some expanders, like CheckShortURL.com, offer the ability to check the link for malware.
- You can install a browser plug-in that checks shortened URLs without having to navigate to a separate website.
- You can use the preview option from the URL shortener. For Goo.gl and Bit.ly, simply add a plus sign (+) at the end of the shortened URL. For TinyURL, add the word “preview” with a dot before the shortened URL (for example, preview.tinyurl.com/cqu5cmv).
- If you are creating shortened URLs, consider using a service that checks for malware and only shortens safe web pages. Safe.mn and Mcaf.ee both offer this type of service.
With some diligence and by using the available tools, you can stay safe online. Find the tool that best works for you and make it habit.