BBB Tip: Beware the perils of clickbait

Thanks to clickbait, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to know what to trust online.

Clickbait, which can spread quickly through social media and sharing sites such as Facebook and Twitter, involves “baiting” an unsuspecting reader into clicking on a link by using enticing verbiage, a salacious headline or an ad that seems too good to be true.

Scammers and misleading advertisers also use remarkable current events or disasters to drive clicks.

So, why is clickbait so dangerous? Simply put, it could represent a serious threat to your cybersecurity. Not only could the information you read online be false, you could be clicking on a malicious link and installing viruses or spyware onto your computer. When dealing with cybersecurity risks, it pays to be cautious.

Even when a clickbait link doesn’t install malware, the information presented can be incredibly misleading, making exaggerated claims that can’t possibly be true. Headlines often are a form of “native advertising,” in which advertising or marketing content is presented to look like news, feature articles and product reviews.

The risk of these ads, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Guide for Businesses, is that consumers will not know that the article that they are reading is an advertisement rather than a factual news piece.

The FTC often finds this type of advertising to be deceptive. For consumers, it also can be annoying. For marketers, this type of approach can backfire and erode brand credibility.

To avoid the perils of clickbait, the BBB offers these suggestions:

  1. Don’t take the bait. Always hover over the post, use your mouse and look at the link. If it seems suspicious, or you don’t recognize the source, avoid it.
  2. Avoid unnecessary updates. Be cautious of videos that redirect you to update your video player. Hackers could be using this seemingly routine download to obtain personal information or to access to your computer.
  3. Avoid “buzzwords.” Words like “shocking,” “exclusive” and “miracle” are designed to divert your attention and convince you to click.
  4. If you are curious about a headline, search credible media outlets for similar information before clicking.
  5. Check the URL address. Even if links appear to be sent to you by friends, take caution. Scammers often hack social media profiles in order to send malicious links.
  6. Is it skillfully written? Pay close attention to issues with grammar, diction or capitalization.  
  7. Would you otherwise pay for this information? If the link promises to deliver something that you would otherwise have to pay for, this is a red flag. Consumers tell BBB that links to IQ tests, credit info and miracle cures often lead to malware.