How to report a website?

5 min
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Nowadays, almost everyone and everything is online – work, social contacts, and entertainment. But there are some dishonest people on the web, just like in the real world. What to do if you encounter a malicious website or become a victim of Internet fraud? How to report websites with illegal content? Let’s see.

Who is responsible for the safety of the Internet?

The Internet has become a place for many of our everyday activities. If one can work, make friends, and trade online, offenders can also easily break the law there. As a consequence, it’s possible to witness financial fraud, scams, illegal item promotion and trading… the list goes on. In such cases, it’s a good idea to immediately inform the police. 

In many countries, special government entities are in charge of cybersecurity. But while particular countries have their own law regulations, the World Wide Web spreads globally. That’s why it’s worth reporting to the international institution as well. You can for example report bad websites to Google.

Since most Internet users want to be safe online, it is important to cooperate in order to maintain this safety. Of course, some of the dangers can be avoided by:

  • visiting the sites with TLS certificates (their addresses begin with https://…),
  • installing antivirus software suite,
  • installing VPN application,
  • avoiding connecting with unsecured, public networks.

But you cannot totally eliminate the risk. 

Illegal or malicious website: what is it?

Over the years, hackers have developed many ways to sustain damage in the online world. The motivation is financial, political, or pure malice. The stakes are regular users’ personal data and money. The most popular illegal ways of using the Internet are:

  1. Web Spam. It shouldn’t be confused with spam email – unwanted ads and frauds. Web Spam is websites that cheat their way to the top positions on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The techniques are e.g. sneaky redirecting or hidden text (like written in white or size 0). Such sites rank high in Google search results, though they’re usually useless. The truly useful websites are unjustly pushed back and receive fewer visits.
  2. Scam. It can take the form of inappropriate ads. But scam websites often look like legitimate investing, dating, or online shopping sites. As a consequence, the user can lose their money. Scammers usually offer the “great opportunity to easy and fast earnings”. That is why you should report a website for fraud when you think that it could be dangerous. It prevents other users from financial losses or getting cheated.
  3. Phishing. Hackers use this method to gain important data like passwords, logins, account numbers, and credit card numbers. The general method is to manipulate the victim into making a fatal mistake, like revealing sensitive data to unauthorized parties. For example, they send an e-mail or SMS with a link leading to a fake site. It could be very similar to e.g. online banking site. The victim of phishing can lose all the money from the internet account. Truly determined criminals use sophisticated psychological tricks to deceive even the most serios and pragmatic businessmen.
  4. Malware that can be downloaded online. It includes many forms: viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, keyloggers, and ransomware. All they have in common is bad intentions of the creators of this malicious software. If you install an infected application or spyware on your computer, you risk a lot. So, if you believe that a specific online website encourages downloading infected files, report a malicious website to the proper institutions.

Report scam websites… but where to?

Who should you inform in case of a suspicious website? There are at least several places to consider.

  1. Google – the number one search engine company. If you found a potentially dangerous site through Google, they should know about it. It’s in their interest to bring valuable content only. The search engine also wants to ensure that browsing is safe. Reporting a web address to Google is not a legal way to deal with a malicious website, but it helps the whole Internet community to stay safe online. There is a dedicated site that allows reporting websites to Google when there is a risk of phishing.
  2. Local department of police. It isn’t a common case that the Internet becomes a crime scene, but it happens. Financial frauds, illegal substance exchange, thefts, and child abuse are just some examples. Law is also on your site when it comes to breaking the copyright. This applies only if you know the crime falls within the local jurisdiction.
  3. Europol. The mission of this organization is to support many European countries to prevent crime – also cybercrime. Its site has gathered links to organizations operating in many European countries, where you can report illegal webpage regionally.
  4. Here you can report a website for fraud. If you recognize a malicious website while doing online shopping, searching for a job, contacting telemarketers, or taking a loan, do not hesitate to report it here. The project is an initiative of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), operating in more than 65 countries worldwide. The website itself is multilingual, too.
  5. Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Here, US citizens can not only file complaints about illegal websites but also learn a lot about how to avoid Internet fraud in the future. The Center provides a lot of knowledge about common types of cybercrime: business email compromise, ransomware, elder fraud, and others. There are also the latest news and annual reports.

How to report a website for illegal content to Google?

Google Search Central is a place where you can inform the search engine about malicious websites. Here you can report any spammy web content, malware, or phishing. Dedicated buttons will lead you to the short forms. Then you have to give the URL address of the suspicious site and, optionally, add a comment. You do not have to describe the problem, but more details will be helpful while reporting the website to Google. So think of what precisely happened when you entered the site, how you encountered it and what were you looking for. If it is possible, you can also take some screenshots. Such proofs are also helpful when reporting fraud to the police. 

To report paid links (buying and selling as well) and spam, you need to have a Google Account. Odds are, you already have one, don’t you? For reporting malware and phishing, that type of account isn’t needed.

And what’s the need to do it if you personally didn’t lose anything? Well, that would be your own contribution to the safer World Wide Web. You could just behave as a responsible citizen who happens to witness something suspicious. These few minutes of reporting are worth it.

Why Google wants us to report malicious websites

Google has very good reasons to act as a ‘policeman’ of the Internet. Its most renowned and important asset is the search engine. Although it is globally famous and universally used, it still depends solely on people’s trust. In order to remain one of the most trusted websites on the Internet, Google must bring the most relevant content and trustworthy information there is. Anything false, deceitful, or dishonest that ranks high in the search result list might damage a person’s faith he/she puts in this corporation. So there are two ways of direct action:

  1. Demote malicious websites, so they pop up in very few searches. Google has full authority here.
  2. Prosecute them to erase the harmful content. The hosting server can do that, often after someone reports a website.

There is also the area of indirect crime prevention: educating people. Google wishes to raise the risk awareness of all its users. For example, much useful information can be found on Google Safe Browsing site. It explains many of the corporation’s security features and protective policies.

No one is immune to all sorts of attacks. Pretty often, the weakest link in a security system is the user’s psyche – the target of phishing. That’s why proper education about cybersecurity is essential to stay safe online. It helps to recognize a dangerous website and react properly. Thanks to that awareness, you can prevent fraud – committed against you, but also against other users of the Internet. And to increase your security above an average netizen, don’t trust everything that you find online. Have your antivirus up to date and consider subscribing to a reliable VPN service. After reading this article, you already know how to report suspicious websites to Google or other organizations. And why you really should. Stay safe online!

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