So how do I tell what's what?
A little bit of common sense goes a long way. Genuine websites will display a company name, address, and other contact details. Less reputable sites will use lots of big, bright flashing banners to try to attract your attention. The more a website looks like Las Vegas at night, the more careful you should be. Also, whilst we're not here to tell you what you should and shouldn't look at on the Internet, there's something else you need to bear in mind. If your mother wouldn't approve of a website, it's more likely to be malicious. Pornography and gambling websites, and sites offering pirated movies, music and software are MUCH more likely to harbour malicious software than pretty much any other type of site.
I'm sure a website is genuine. Is it safe to click on anything on the page?
No! You need to be careful, even if you know that the website you're looking at is 100% bona fide and safe. Why? There are two reasons. Firstly, many sites use advertising links to bring in advertising revenue. These links may not have been chosen by the site owners, but selected by an automated service that matches the content of the website with the content of the adverts. Thus, the service might select adverts for flower shops to go on websites related to gardening. The trouble is, advertisements for dodgy sites can slip through, even if the advertising service tries its best to filter its ads. We have come across perfectly reputable Internet security websites that were inadvertently advertising rogue antivirus products. So, although a site may be perfectly safe in itself, the advertising links might not be.
The second reason why you need to be careful, even with bona fide websites, is that they can be hacked. That is to say, if there is any security weakness in the website, fraudsters can exploit this to put their own program code on the website. This might mean that when you visit the site, a pop-up window will appear, telling you that you have 96 viruses on your computer, and that you need to buy something called "Antivirus XP" to get rid of them; this is of course a hoax, attempting to defraud you. The pop-up has appeared because the perfectly genuine site has been nobbled with malicious code.