Any time we have a question or are looking for something, our first stop is likely Google. It is so ubiquitous that it’s become a verb – just Google it. While it has made our lives easier, some cybercriminals have chosen to take advantage of its Google Ad services to prey on the unsuspecting.
Google Ads pop up at the top of the page, so some people assume this means they are the most accurate listing for the searched term. However, ads can be purchased by anyone for any reason, and Google leaves it up to the consumer to gatekeep.
Here’s how to keep yourself safe when using the popular search engine.
Check for Spelling Errors or Incorrect URLs
Above every Google listing is a small print URL which should read something like https://evolvebank.wpengine.com/ . Beware of listings that are similar to your desired site but have additional brackets or are off by just a word or a letter. For instance, if it reads gelevolved you might not notice the “t” has been replaced by an “l.”
Go Straight to the Source
As shocking and as bold as it may sound, there are cybercriminals impersonating government agencies. Many people have been taken advantage of while completing tasks such as applying for an Employer Identification Number. Go straight to the government sites which end in .gov. If you have doubt, do further research about whether the task you are trying to complete costs money – since in the case of applying for an EIN, it’s free.
Similarly, if you see an ad when searching for a customer service number, be wary of this. When you call this fake call center you will unwittingly give away your personal information. They may try to gain remote control of your computer under the guise of helping you with tech issues. Perhaps worst of all, they can get your credit card information under the guise of refunding or shipping your order. In any case, it is best to get your customer service number directly from the official site of the company you wish to contact.
Some cyber criminals are so advanced that they are able to format their ads to look like Google Snippets. These are the featured listings which are selected by Google as representative of the search, and which appear summarized near the top. By formatting the ads as Snippets, this lends further credibility, so be sure to look for the ad designations.
Finally, perhaps the cleverest criminals are those who utilize redirects. This allows their URL to appear completely legitimate – then the code redirects the user countless times in a matter of a second, and they have fallen into the trap. Perhaps this is the best case for avoiding ads all together since malicious ads can be masked as harmless.
If you come across a suspicious ad, avoid it, and follow Google’s steps to reporting it safely.