How Scareware Works

If you have ever received a pop-up that tells you your computer has been infected with a virus along with an offer for a free scan, the first thing you want to do is shut down your browser and then re-open it. The pop-up usually prompts you to click on it to install bogus software that promises to remove the virus it claims you have in your computer.

Although the pop-up appears to be legitimate, the chances are that it was created by a scammer with the intention of invading your computer with spyware. This unscrupulous tactic is known as "scareware" because it is designed to scare you into thinking your PC has a virus and convincing you to click to remove it.

While you are focusing on getting the virus out of your computer, the unethical person that created the scareware pop-up is sneaking spyware into your computer in an effort to steal your passwords, your identity, and your bank account numbers, to name a few things.

How to Recognize Scareware

The pop-up appears to be coming from your antivirus program when in reality, it is being sent over the Internet by a scammer. Depending upon the type of antivirus program you have, in most cases a legitimate antivirus program will automatically perform scans at regular intervals and then notify you that the virus has been quarantined and then removed.

However, the pop-up that is created by the scammer is designed to look like the real thing and if you are not observing carefully it is very easy to be fooled. Scammers know this and this is the reason for creating this type of malicious software.

How to Avoid Scareware

  • Understand Your Antivirus Program: Make sure you understand fully how your antivirus program works and become familiar with the ways that the program alerts you when it has detected a virus.
  • Close Your Browser: If you suspect the pop-up is a scam, do not click anywhere within the advertisement because it is possible to pick up malicious software by clicking anywhere within the ad. Instead, simply shut down your browser and then open it again.
  • Perform Regular Checks: Check your antivirus program on a regular basis to ensure it is up-to-date and provides protection against spyware and adware.
  • Change Your Surfing Habits: Change your surfing habits and avoid clicking on pop-up advertisements altogether. If you happen to click by mistake, immediately focus on the URL address at the top of your browser window. If the URL address appears after you click and then suddenly changes before the website appears, you are being hijacked to a different website.

For example, the authentic McAfee antivirus site would include the URL address: If you click on an advertisement for McAfee and the URL in the top of your browser window switches from to another URL, this is a sure sign you are being taken to a bogus website that is going to do anything from ask you for your personal information to encourage you to download a free scan.

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