You don’t have to go far on the internet to find verification symbols. A PC software website might tell its customers that it’s a “Microsoft Gold Certified Partner”, for example.
Or, a local business might display the fact that it’s a “BBB Accredited Business.”
From McAfee to Norton, verification symbols can be found all over the web. And unfortunately, they usually don’t mean anything.
Anyone can copy and paste images online
The most important thing you need to know about these verification symbols is that anyone can copy and paste them online.
You don’t need to ask Norton, McAfee, or Microsoft for permission to use a verification symbol. Legitimate companies will ask permission and go through the verification process. But most companies on the internet are not very legitimate.
So if someone wants to convince you to give your credit card information to a website, they might put up a symbol like this:
Or, if someone thinks they have awesome software they want to sell you, they may put up an image like this:
Maybe the software was independently reviewed by an unbiased third party. Or maybe the website just puts random verification symbols on their site and hopes you trust those symbols.
Ultimately, you wouldn’t trust a website if it typed out something like “We’re verified by Microsoft and we’ve got perfect 5 star reviews from many different review sites!”.
Adding a verification image to a site is just as easy as typing out that text – but for some reason, we’re more inclined to trust the image.
So when can you trust verification symbols?
If a verification symbol is just an image with no accompanying link to an external website, then you can assume it’s meaningless.
If, however, a verification symbol links you to an external website – like BBB.org – and that website has a legitimate entry for the website or software in question, then that verification symbol becomes way more meaningful.
Basically, you need to fact check every verification symbol you see online. The internet is filled with liars and scammers and unfortunately, that means you have to put in a little extra legwork to find the best free products online.
If a verification symbol mentions a review from a website like MaximumPC, for example, then you should go to MaximumPC and look up that review to see if it really did get 5 stars out of 5.
If you do that, and the software checks out, then you can trust verification symbols. But until you do that, you better teach your brain to block out those symbols. Otherwise, you’re stumbling into traps.
Learn what the symbols actually mean
Not all verification symbols mean what you think they mean.
A software website can legitimately display a McAfee logo if it passes a malware test, for example. That doesn’t mean it’s safe to use: it just means that it’s not malware.
Furthermore, SSL certificates are a common verification symbol. When you see “https” in your browser’s address bar, you know you can trust that site, right?
Wrong! Anyone can buy an SSL certificate from Verisign in order to encrypt payment information. That doesn’t mean your payment information isn’t being used maliciously. It just means that it’s secure when passing between you and the server.
Look for green names in your address bar
Trustworthy banking websites go through an additional verification process in order to prevent phishing attacks.
This verification process, if passed, will add a green bar to the front of the address bar:
This green bar shows that the current version of the site (the version you’re looking at right now) has been verified to be legitimate.
This isn’t some scammy image that anyone can copy and paste: it’s a key security feature in your browser that cannot be copied and pasted.
Before you do any banking online, look for the green bar at the front of your address bar. If it’s not there, then you’re probably not using your bank’s official website.