Make us your home page

Protect yourself from spam

Most of our ventures onto the Web still begin with a search — a fact readily exploited by spammers and swindlers who rely on excessive use of keywords, link exchanging and other techniques to push their content higher on the list of search results, hoping you will click on them. Here are some ways to avoid search spam.

Learn to spot spam

Mastering the art of smarter searching won't always shield you from getting spammed. That is why, as a first step, you should look before you click.

Don't assume that the top results are the most useful or even the safest. Look at the letters that follow the period at the end of a Web address. Top-level domains such as .com and .info, as well as top-level country code domains such as .fr (for France), are prime targets for spammers.

One reason is that spammers know that spelling mistakes happen. It's common to forget the "o" in a dot-com search, for instance. So if you want a site that ends in .com, but mistakenly type in .cm, you might get spam instead of the page you wanted.

Both Google and Bing tip off searchers to potentially unsafe sites, wherever possible. In addition, before making any purchase on a lesser-known site, take a look around. Do you see a listed address? If so, map it. Look for the email address. If your only contact option is a Gmail or Yahoo account, something may be awry.

A site's language, too, may be a giveaway, especially when you are conducting a local search. Flagrant grammar and spelling errors may signal that the owner is based elsewhere. And if you spot the term "free" scrawled across a website, proceed with caution.

Some sites are riskier

It is important to know what separates a potential spam site from a harmless one. The difference may be counter-intuitive. For example, pornography domains may be safer to browse than some mainstream content. According to Cisco's 2013 annual security report, "online advertisements are 182 times more likely to deliver malicious content than pornographic sites."

Matt Cutts, who heads the Web spam team at Google, said this is because pornography sites are well monitored.

"People who run porn sites are tech-savvy, and they pay a lot of attention to visitors, so they notice unusual things quickly," he said.

Though a search result may be safe, it may not be useful. A prime example is Yahoo Answers. The community-driven site consistently ranks high across the major engines on question-related queries. But the quality of its answers varies greatly, and the site is often more useful for a chuckle than legitimate insight.

Be wary of Web pages that oversell you on their supposed legitimacy. One Better Business Bureau logo is fine. A series of logos promoting a site's professionalism or expertise is a red flag.

It is also a good idea to check whether a Web site is certified. The Department of Homeland Security offers more information on this at

Some searches attract spam

Some searches are more enticing to spammers than others. Credit report queries are a top target. Remember, there are only three major national credit agencies. If you are using an outside party to check credit reports, do so carefully.

Be extra cautious when conducting travel and insurance searches. Some sites create travel tips for the express purpose of drawing you into their hotel or other travel-related business.

Search results for lyrics, videos and screen savers also pose an increased risk. For example, pages with downloadable content, such as those offering ring tones, provide an enticing built-in audience for spammers because the user is actively looking to install software.

Beef up your browser

As the search leader, Google is targeted more than any other engine. Chrome users can install a spam extension that lets users identify potential spam sites and block them from their search results by clicking on a "spam" text link next to each result.

You can also change your Google ad settings and opt out of the company's advertising cookies.

Protect yourself from spam 06/16/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 16, 2013 7:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  2. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  3. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo


    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    Dr. Frederick Locke at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is a principal investigator for an experimental therapy that retrains white blood cells in the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these so-called "CAR-T" treatments for adults this month. In trials, 82 percent of cases responded well to the treatment, and 44 percent are still in remission at least eight months later, Locke said. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Regulator blasts Wells Fargo for deceptive auto insurance program


    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]