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Be On the Lookout for Website Trickery

If you saw a sign on a store window that said "FREE! FREE! FREE!" it might catch your attention and you might draw closer to read the sign...and chances are you would look for the fine print. As consumers, we all know that things aren't always what they seem at first glance. We know that to get a free sweater, for instance, you usually have to buy another one first, "at an equal or greater value."

It's the same with online offers, only the "fine print" isn't as obvious. Sometimes the actual deal is disguised in a deceptive headline or graphic—or it might be hidden altogether.

You need to be aware of the traps and lies that pop up on websites and how to avoid them. Here are a few to look for:

Product ads/links hidden near "free" software downloads.

Especially in the PC world, there are always "free download" offers on websites. However, some advertising companies will place an ad that looks like the download button you should hit. If you get fooled, you may wind up downloading that program (which you might get charged for), not the free one you wanted. This is a very common trick and one you have to be on the lookout for.

What to do. You can always "check before you click" by moving your cursor over the link and letting it hover there. The name of the link will pop up, and if doesn't match the name of the software being offered, you know it's an ad. If you want to take it a step further, check out available ad-blocker programs that are available online that can help eliminate annoying ads altogether.

"Free iPad" and other device giveaways.

Apple iPads and other tablets and smartphones are wonderful to have, but cost several hundred dollars. That makes the lure of a "FREE iPad!" hard to resist. Take this advice: Resist! Free offers come with catches that aren't worthwhile. Here's a real example of the "easy steps" for obtaining a free iPad from a website offer:

  • Just complete the required surveys and sign up for the trial offer.
  • The cost of the free iPad is subsidized by promotional offers you must sign up for.
  • Free iPads for residents of the U.S.
  • 100% "reputable"! Thousands given away a year.

Here's what can go wrong if you take the bait: 1) You may never really receive your free iPad; 2) you'll end up spending a lot of time and money in other ways to get it, and 3) there could be so many "catches" (requirements to meet) that you never "qualify" for it.

What to do. Save some money and buy a used iPad from a trusted source, or buy the old version when a new version is released...just DON'T fall for the "FREE" scheme! Chances are the only way you're likely to get a free iPad is if you get one as a gift.

Fake Facebook ad-ons ("Who viewed your profile?") with infected links.

As social media grew, it wasn't long before pranksters and hackers began to exploit users. One popular trick has been an ad for a Facebook app that promises to let you see who has viewed your profile. The ad, complete with a download button, will use fake quotes and fake view counts along with actual photos of your friends (which it can snag online). The whole thing is a scam. If you click on the download button, instead of getting the app, you've given someone access to your account—a hacker who will use it to spread spam and malware.

What to do. Facebook itself tells its users to "be skeptical of any suspicious link...if you're well-informed and know what to look for, you can easily avoid (trouble)." Facebook, unlike LinkedIn, does not offer a feature that tells you who viewed your profile, and no one else (no other company) offers such an ad-on. If you want to protect yourself on Facebook, check out the type of products that Norton Safe Web has to offer you.

"Let the browser beware."

These days, you don't have to go looking for trouble on the Internet—trouble will come to you. It takes only a second to mindlessly click on a (deceptive) ad and run into a huge mess. But it also takes only a second to pause and closely examine all links before clicking through, especially when they promise goodies or special offers. Choose wisely!

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