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 or links. 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.
But can you trust shortened links? The risk is that they (usually) don’t give you a hint of where they lead. That unknown destination could be a phishing site or a malware download. While shortened URLs are useful for everyone using social media, they also give scammers and identity thieves an easy way to reach you and your data.
For those who aren’t familiar with shortened URLs, here is an example of one link shortened by five different services. Let’s take a look at the BBB’s Online Complaint System located at https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started. When shortened by the following popular URL shorteners, the link becomes:
- TinyURL.com: tinyurl.com/cqu5cmv
- Bit.ly: bit.ly/LFdTAV
- Ow.ly: ow.ly/tcRBO
- Goo.gl: goo.gl/0sBBRz
- Tiny.cc: tiny.cc/wxmoax
You can see the appeal of shaving off the character length of that long URL. But you can also do something to mitigate the risk. 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. Also, share your online safety strategies with family, friends and colleagues. Let’s all stay safe online!
Social media marketers can learn more about the FTC’s 2013 Disclosures regarding internet advertising, including social media, by downloading the .com Disclosures Guide at http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/bus41-dot-com-disclosures-information-about-online-advertising.
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