10 Tips to help you avoid fake anti-virus software scams: Internet ScamBusters #232
Today’s issue is about a scam that’s growing very fast and
that you really need to be aware of: how fake anti-virus and
anti-spyware software is being used by scammers and identity
thieves in many cunning ways.
Scammers, identity thieves and hackers have grown more
sophisticated. Today, some cyber-criminals are selling — or
giving away — software that supposedly fights viruses, spyware
In fact, their “rogue software” often doesn’t work, or actually
infects your computer with the dangerous programs it is
supposed to protect against!
In this issue, we tell you how to distinguish between useless
— or even malicious — security software and the real deal.
And we’ll explain why you need to be cautious about closing or
deleting these alerts, even when you know they’re fake.
However, before we begin, you may want to spend a moment
looking at this week’s most popular articles from our other
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Now, here we go…
Protect Yourself from Fake Anti-Virus Software
Not long ago, a colleague was conducting Internet research when
— pop! — a yellow triangle appeared on his screen, warning
that his computer had been infected by dangerous spyware. The
alert looked real. He thought it was “issued” by his security
Still, he was skeptical. Using his mouse, he closed the alert
by pressing the “x” in the window’s upper right-hand corner.
That was his first — and last — mistake!
Pop-up ads began sprouting everywhere, his screen froze, and
none of his programs were accessible — even after rebooting.
Basically, his computer was disabled, and he spent hours on the
phone with tech support to correct the problems.
Welcome to the world of fake anti-virus, anti-spyware programs.
Despite what happened to our friend, it’s not that common to
encounter hackers who simply want to harm your computer with
fake anti-virus programs.
In most cases, you’ll confront scammers who want to scare you
into buying “rogue” security software by making you think your
computer is infected. (“Rogue” means software of unknown or
questionable origin, or doubtful value.)
In fact, fake “virus alerts” often mimic ones displayed by
For example: “Your Computer Has Been Infected!” That’s what
some pop-ups and phony alerts will say, hoping you’ll download
fake anti-virus software. Don’t be fooled!
Meanwhile, ID thieves will use the fake software to gather your
personal and financial information — for their own ID theft
scams or for sale to others.
Fake Virus Scam Tactics
Fake virus alerts are usually generated by a Trojan — a
program that takes control of your computer — after you open
an email attachment, click on a pop-up advertisement or visit a
particular website. (Adult sites are special favorites.)
If you run programs that provide file-sharing information —
including some instant messenger (IM) applications — your
computer might be remotely accessed by scammers, hackers and
Sometimes, the Trojan creates “false positive” readings, making
you think viruses and spyware have infected your computer, even
though nothing has. In other cases, scam software actually
implants malicious code into your computer, especially if you
request a “free virus scan.”
In other words, some peddlers of fake anti-virus software
actually design the viruses, spyware and malware that their
software is supposed to detect!
What to Look For Rogue Spyware
Rogue anti-virus/spyware programs often generate more
“alerts” than the software made by reputable companies.
You may be bombarded with pop-ups, even when you’re not
High-pressure sales copy will try to convince you to buy
If you’ve been infected, your computer may dramatically slow
Other signs of infection include: new desktop icons; new
wallpaper, or having your default homepage redirected to
(Mac users: if you run Windows using Boot Camp, Parallels or
VMWare, these tips apply to you. However, at the time of this
writing, Mac OSX does not have these problems.)
Fake Anti Virus Prevention Tips
1. Use Firefox as your browser rather than Internet Explorer.
2. Keep your computer updated with the latest anti-virus and
anti-spyware software, and be sure to use a good firewall.
3. Never open an email attachment unless you are POSITIVE about
4. Do NOT click on any pop-up that advertises anti-virus or
anti-spyware software, especially a program promising to
provide every feature known to mankind. (Also remember: the
fakes often mimic well-known brands such as Grisoft AVG, Norton
5. If a virus alert appears on your screen, do NOT touch it.
Don’t use your mouse to eliminate or scan for viruses, and
DON’T use your mouse to close the window. Instead, hit control
+ alt + delete to view a list of programs currently running.
Delete the “rogue” from the list of running programs, and call
your computer maker’s phone or online tech support service to
learn if you can safely use your computer.
6. Do not download freeware or shareware unless you know it’s
from a reputable source. We use target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Download.com and href="http://www.versiontracker.com/"
Unfortunately, freeware and shareware programs often come
bundled with spyware, adware or fake anti-virus programs.
7. Avoid questionable websites. Some sites may automatically
download malicious software onto your computer.
8. Reset your current security settings to a higher level.
9. Although fake software may closely resemble the real thing,
it’s rarely an exact match. Look for suspicious discrepancies.
10. Check out this list of rogue/fake anti-virus and anti-spyware
If your computer is infected by rogue software, stop work and
contact your computer manufacturer’s tech-support hotline.
Don’t keep using the computer. This may further damage your
machine and provide identity thieves with more information
Use of fake anti-virus, anti-spyware software is a fast-growing
scam, especially as more people become aware of the dangers of
spyware, adware and malware. By following the tips above,
however, you’ll better protect yourself from becoming the next
victim of scammers, identity thieves and hackers.
That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!