Did you know that in 2019 alone, over $1.9billion was lost by individuals and private bodies to internet frauds and scams? That's according to a recent scam report published by the AARP (American Association of retired people). According to the same report, many of the cases reported featured scam activities such as investment, dating and romance, false billing, threats to life, arrest, online shopping scams, classified scams, hacking, remote access scams, identity theft, and overpayment scams.

While there is no putting a marker on the exact number of people that got scammed within the last year, because many of the activities happened via social networking, phone, websites, email, mobile application, in-person, text messages, and mail, the estimated number still stood at around 15 million people.

But guess what? Of these 15 million persons, roughly 300k persons got scammed via the internet. That is, they got scammed because they visited fraudulent websites. And to back this up, let me point out that according to the FBI's 2017 Internet Crime Report, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received by the unit was about 300,000 complaints.

Now while these figures appear disturbing in itself, the greater danger lies in the fact that there is no specific direction for these activities. They happen on health websites, sports, gambling, entertainment, business, movies, and in almost every internet niche that's out there.

So you see, no one is actually safe out there these days.

But in order not to be a part of these growing lists of victims, you need to equip yourself with the right tips to help you spot these fraudulent internet websites before you even visit them at all.

Use your web browser security tools on your device

First and foremost, get security from your browsers. The very first tool we use on our mobile devices to access websites on the internet these days are web browsers, such as Google Chrome, explorer, and Firefox. Unfortunately, most cyber scam perpetrators know about this too, and they target individuals by sending malicious items to them via their browsers. Thankfully though, most web browser manufacturers know about the threats to their products, and as such, they include several security measures in their products to help users stay safe while using them.

Amongst these security measures are built-in security tools. Once activated, these tools block annoying pop-ups, prevent malicious downloads, send Do-Not-Track requests to websites, disable unsafe Flash content, and help control how and when websites can access your device hardware, such as camera, microphone, speaker, screen, etc.

Depending on the browser you're using to read this post right now, take a moment to open a new tab to review your browser settings and activate these features. 

Here’s how to find them:

If you're using Chrome: Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security

Microsoft Edge:  Settings > Advanced settings

Mozilla Firefox:  Options > Privacy & Security

Safari: Preferences > Privacy

Use a website safety checker

Yes, your web browser has a built-in security measure. But you can make extra effort to guarantee your safety by checking the authenticity, safety, and trustworthiness of the website you're visiting. 

To do this, you will need to download an unbiased website safety checker like Google Safe Browsing on your phone or desktop. According to Google, “Google’s Safe Browsing technology examines billions of URLs per day looking for unsafe websites,” meaning that any website certified by this tool is, indeed, a reputable and safe one. 

Just copy/paste the website URL into the checker search box and click on the Enter button. And voilà! Google Safe Browsing checker will test the URL and report back on its trustworthiness in just 1, 2, 3 .... seconds. It’s that easy.

The only question is; will you remember to do this before you click on that site your friend has shared with you? To stay safe when you go online, always use this tool before you access a website you're new to or have never heard of.

Double-check URLs

As obvious as "checking a website URL properly" might sound, it is one of the trickiest things to do. In reality, many people just glance over a website address before clicking on it, without really double-checking the texts and characters in the address. 

But guess what? Cyber scammers and hackers know that you do this quite often, and they take advantage of you by substituting visually similar characters to trick you into visiting their phishing sites and unwittingly giving them your passwords, credit card numbers, and other private data. For example, “G00gle.com” instead of “Google.com” or “SkySportz.com” instead of “Skysports.com" or "Bluckchain.com" instead of "Blockchain.com."

To beat this trick, always double-check website URLs before you click on them. And by double-checking, I don't mean clicking on the site link to check the web address, but hovering your mouse over the link of the site. Usually, when you do this, you would see the URL of that link at the bottom-left of your browser. Once it appears, look through every character and text in the web address and be sure that it matches that of the website you're trying to visit. Please take note of this tip because it’s one of the most prevalent tricks used by these conmen to defraud people online and even off it. You can check this link to see some other tricks fraudsters can use to defraud you offline

Check the site's privacy policy

Perhaps you're already on the site and would like to know whether the site is safe and secure, you can look for the site's privacy policy l. Usually, any reputable website would have a privacy policy page as one of its webpages, as this is the law in many countries.

So take a few moments to look around the site for their privacy policy. If you can't seem to find it, you can check the sitemap to see whether there's a privacy policy page on the site at all. But beware, some sites would have a privacy policy page that consists of nothing but utterly incomprehensible policies. These kinds of sites would make their privacy policy hard to read and filled with irrelevancies. However, you can look for words like "third-parties" "data" "store" "retain" and similar terms using Ctrl-F (or Command-F on Mac) to understand how the site handles your personal data and what they intend to do with it (such as keep it forever or sell it to third-parties). 

Stick with HTTPs sites

Another trick you can use to evade the activities of online scammers is to check the security status of the site you're visiting. That is, does the site use HTTPs safety backing or not?

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the fundamental protocol for sending data between your web browser and the websites you visit. And HTTPS is just the secure version of this. (The "S" simply stands for "secure.")

Now, to check whether your target website has HTTPs or not, you should check for a padlock in your browser navigation bar. That is, that space on your webpage where you can see the address of the site you're on. Usually, there should be a padlock before the address of the site in the bar.  

Once you find this padlock, it means that the site is safe. Please bear in mind that this padlock is the ultimate key to the safety of a site.

While any website, including a phishing website, can have an HTTPs security certificate, only supply your credit card details, passwords, and personal info on sites that have these padlocks. Especially when you're visiting a website that requires you to enter your financial details, like a bank site, or an online trading platform.