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Peek behind abbreviated Web links with Unshorten.it

Not sure where that tiny URL will lead? This handy service/browser extension will tell you if it's safe.

Shortened links are everywhere these days, especially on Twitter, where long Web addresses are at odds with the 140-character message limit.

You've seen them: bit.ly this, ow.ly that, pcwrld.us the other.

Convenient and space-saving though they may be, shortened links can actually be Trojan horses: links that lead you to scam sites aimed at stealing personal information and/or infecting your PC with viruses (including Trojans, ironically).

So how can you vet those links before clicking them? How can you peek behind that shortened URL curtain?

One option: Unshorten.it. True to its name, this site shows you exactly where any shortened link will lead, at the same time providing a screenshot of the target site and safety ratings courtesy of Web of Trust (one of my favorite Web tools). It will also alert you if the site appears in something called hpHosts, a community-managed blacklist.

All you do is copy the URL you want to investigate, head to Unshorten.it, paste the URL, and then click the Unshorten.It! button. In a flash you'll get all the key details about that destination.

Of course, that's a lot of steps. If you're using Chrome or Firefox, you can install the Unshorten.it browser extension. Once that's done, you can right-click any shortened URL and then click Unshorten this link to get the same results as if you'd manually copied and pasted it.

To my thinking, using a tool like Unshorten.it is a no-brainer. So many people unwittingly end up with viruses and spyware just by clicking seemingly harmless shortened links. This helps you take the mystery out of what you're clicking.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at [email protected], or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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