Yes. In fact, there are a couple of ways.
But first, let’s talk about links in email and short links in general.
Links in email: avoid them if you can
This is an excellent time to remind everyone of something I always say.
Be extra cautious when clicking links in email.
If the link is obviously spam, or you just don’t trust where it came from, it’s simple to assume it’s bad and get on with your life.
Sometimes it’s not obvious, however. Some clues about the email might be:
All of these are potential clues that the email isn’t what it claims to be, and that the link should best be avoided. It could lead to scams, malware, phishing attempts, and more.
URLs, or Uniform Resource Locators, are those strings beginning with http or https. They tell a web browser what website or page you want to view.
Sometimes URLs can be quite long. For example, here’s a URL for a Google map of Microsoft’s location in Redmond:
The problem with long links is that they often break when they’re wrapped to fit a particular line length, window, or screen size, particularly when sent in email.
Enter “short link” services. They allow you to create a short, manageable URL that redirects to the longer one. For example:
This is a short URL (using my own service) that takes you to the longer URL listed above. It’s easier to type, easier to remember, and not prone to break in email programs and the like.
There are many link shortening services; examples include TinyURL, Bit.ly, and Goo.gl.
The problem with a short URL is that it’s not obvious where it’ll take you until you click on it. In fact, they’re often also referred to as “cloaking links”, because they hide, or cloak, the final destination.
Typically, the only way to find out where this link goes is to click on it: https://go.askleo.com/mystery. That one’s safe, but there’s no way to know for sure.
Particularly if you have reason to be concerned, suspicious, or skeptical about a link you get in email, it’s not unreasonable to want to know where it goes before you click.
Previewing shortened URLs
Some services do have preview features. For example, if you visit tinyurl.com/preview.php, TinyURL will help you turn on a cookie-based feature in your browser. Then, when you click on a link, you can preview where it goes prior to going there.
Bit.ly also allows you to do this. Simply add a plus sign to the end of the URL, and Bit.ly will display where you would have gone rather than taking you there.
There are also several sites that show you where a shortened link will take you. Some current services1 include:
Each of these display the target and some additional information about a short URL.
The bottom line, really, is to stay away from mysterious links sent to you through spam. But when you receive a shortened link from a trusted source and you aren’t sure why, investigate with these preview tools.