10 Signs What You're Reading Online Is Bogus

New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer speaks at a press conference 2003 after filing a lawsuit against spammers. ©Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Anyone can express an opinion online, and there is plenty opinion to go around — as of March 2012, there were nearly 650 million active Web sites, and that number grows every day [source: Bort]. So, if you don't stick with the same handful of trusted sites, how can you know if what you're reading is believable or bogus? Where do you go to find out more about the giant alligators living in the sewers of New York City? There are ways, and they don't all have to do with Googling the answer.

But, yes, you can Google the author or the website and see what turns up. That's never a bad idea, because it gives you instant results about the experiences others have had; word of mouth goes a long way in establishing credibility. We often rely on the experiences and opinions of our friends and family when we're forming our own opinion, whether we're looking for a reliable contractor to work on our home or a new columnist to read online. But the search engine strategy aside, there are also a few additional things that might quickly clue you in to a site that's biased or counterfeit. By using your intuition and following some basic rules of thumb, you'll be well on your way to spotting whether or not that e-mail from Citibank is legit (tip: if it asks for your social security number, it's not) or if someone's telling tall tales when you read that President Harry S. Truman didn't have a middle name (it's true; the "S." doesn't stand for anything) [source: Snopes].

Let's begin our list of tips to help you find quality online material, every time, with the importance of making a first impression.