Beware of ‘Scarewares’

Free Security Scan Could Cost you Time and Money
by: Jerry Liao

Have you experienced surfing the web and then all of a sudden a popup message appears offering a free virus scan? Aside from being free, unsuspecting users will say yes to the offer just to make sure that their computers are free from viruses.

This kind of free virus scanning offer is called “Scareware” because they exploit a person’s fear of online viruses and security threats, and make money out of it.

Once you click YES to the offer, the free scan begins and it will claim that it found a host of problems, and within seconds, you’re getting urgent pop-ups to buy security software. After you agree to spend around PhP2,000 (US$40) or more on the software, the program tells you that your problems are fixed. The reality: there was nothing to fix. And what’s worse, the program now installed on your computer could be harmful.

Scammers have found ways to create realistic but phony “security alerts.” Though the “alerts” look like they’re being generated by your computer, they actually are created by a con artist and sent through your Internet browser.

Other scareware techniques used by scammers are:

– you may get ads that promise to “delete viruses or spyware,” “protect privacy,” “improve computer function,” “remove harmful files,” or “clean your registry;”
– you may get “alerts” about “malicious software” or “illegal pornography on your computer;”
– you may be invited to download free software for a security scan or to improve your system;
– you could get pop-ups that claim your security software is out-of-date and your computer is in immediate danger;
– you may suddenly encounter an unfamiliar website that claims to have performed a security scan and prompts you to download new software.

Scareware purveyors also go to great lengths to make their product and service look legitimate. For example, if you buy the software, you may get an email receipt with a customer service phone number. If you call, you’re likely to be connected to someone, but that alone does not mean the company is legitimate. Regardless, remember that these are well-organized and profitable schemes designed to rip people off.

Scareware schemes can be quite sophisticated. The scam artists buy ad space on trusted, popular websites. Even though the ads look legitimate and harmless to the website’s operator, they actually redirect unsuspecting visitors to a fraudulent website that performs a bogus security scan. The site then causes a barrage of urgent pop-up messages that pressure users into downloading worthless software.

If you’re faced with any of the warning signs of a scareware scam or suspect a problem, shut down your browser. Don’t click “No” or “Cancel,” or even the “x” at the top right corner of the screen. Some scareware is designed so that any of those buttons can activate the program. If you use Windows, press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to open your Task Manager, and click “End Task.” If you use a Mac, press Command + Option + Q + Esc to “Force Quit.”

Another tip is if you get an offer, check out the program by entering the name in a search engine. The results can help you determine if the program is on the up-and-up.

The good news is that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has requested a U.S. district court to issue a temporary halt to a massive “scareware” scheme. According to the FTC, the scheme has tricked more than one million consumers into buying computer security products such as WinFixer, WinAntivirus, DriveCleaner, ErrorSafe, and XP Antivirus. The court also froze the assets of those responsible for the scheme, to preserve the possibility of providing consumers with monetary redress.

As my final advice, make it a practice not to click on any links within pop-ups.

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