How to Check Emails for Fake Hyperlinks

Person on computer checking email
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It is easy to send an email with hyperlinks that appear to lead to a trusted site, when in fact they take you to a spam site or trigger a virus download. To safeguard your computer and your identity, it is important to check all suspicious emails for fake hyperlinks.

Suppose you get an email from the ASPCA requesting a donation, or perhaps a digital newsletter with links to click for more information. You love animals, and you want to help. What do you do? What about an email with the option to unsubscribe from future mailings? Are these legit?

First, remember that reputable organizations will not automatically subscribe you to their newsletters; newsletter subscriptions are initiated by you. Therefore, always assume that any and all unsolicited email is spam or fake. This is especially true of nonprofit fundraisers who, for the most part, will not send you any unsolicited email.

How Hyperlinks Are Faked in Emails

The email in question might say, "Help save animals today ... click here." Or the email might even show a valid-looking URL hyperlink like http://aspca.org. However, where you think you're going is not always where you end up when you click these links.

Checking for Fake Hyperlinks in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express

If you use Microsoft Outlook to view your email, it is easy to verify legitimate hyperlinks. In the email:

  1. Right Click on the link (do NOT left-click as this may open the link)
  2. Select "View Source"

If the email was sent in HTML format, the HTML code will pop up in a new window. If nothing pops up or you do not see the "View Source" option, the email message is in another format. To check hyperlinks in plain text email messages, follow the instructions below for plain text messages using AOL and other email clients. Once you see the HTML code, don't worry, you do not have to know how to read HTML to find links.

  1. Click "Edit"
  2. Click "Find"
  3. Type in "http"
  4. Click "Find Next"

You will then be taken directly to the code that has an embedded hyperlink. Look at each link in the entire email. Links will look just like any web URL you normally type in (beginning with http://). You can often tell by looking at the real URL if a link is unsafe. Be sure to look at each hyperlink by selecting "Find Next" until there are no more links to review.

Checking for Fake Hyperlinks in Plain Text Messages, Using AOL or Other Clients

Generally, if an email contains no attachments, it is safe to open as long as you do not click on anything, download images, or reply to it. Open the email, but do not attempt to open the links or cut and paste a link from an email (you might open the link).

  1. Highlight the entire email message (do not just highlight the hyperlink)
  2. Copy and paste the email into a blank, unsaved Word document
  3. Hover over the link, but do NOT click

A small pop-up will show you where the hyperlink leads to, not where the text claims it will lead you. Remember, what you see is not always what you get: It is incredibly easy for the novice spammer to fake hyperlinks in emails. It is important to safely check suspicious email hyperlinks using the tips and methods above. If you're unsure of its validity, don't click—delete!